FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

June 9, 2014

GSK Faces a Bad Day at Black Rock

Bad Day at Black RockOne of my favorite movies is Bad Day at Black Rock. It is one of the few movies to combine elements of film noir into something approaching a traditional Western. It also attacks directly the prejudice and hate against Japanese-Americans in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor. I thought about that eponymous title when I read a recent article in the Financial Times (FT), entitled “GSK salesmen want ‘bribes’ reimbursed”, by reporters Patti Waldmeir and Andrew Ward.

You know it is going to be a bad day when your employees line up to testify against your company in an ongoing investigation for bribery and corruption. But those rainy day sighs can go up to the Bad Day at Black Rock level when these same employees publicly announce that the company they work for owes them for the creation of fraudulent invoices used by a business unit to fund bribery and corruption which violates not only the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the UK Bribery Act but also domestic Chinese anti-corruption laws. This happened to the UK pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) last month when it was announced that certain current employees in its China operation were petitioning the company to reimburse them for bribes they were ordered to pay by their superiors.

In their article, Waldmeir and Ward wrote “the UK pharmaceutical company at the centre of a Chinese corruption scandal, is facing protests from junior employees who say the company is refusing to reimburse them for bribes they were ordered to pay by their superiors.” While my initial thought was that these Chinese employees had quite a bit of ‘cheek’ in raising this claim, the more I read into the story, the more I think it may portend serious problems for GSK in any attempt to defend the company going forward. Waldmeir and Ward reported “some Chinese sales staff are complaining that GSK has denied bonuses, threatened dismissal or refused to reimburse them for bribes they say were sanctioned by their superiors to boost the company’s drug sales. In some cases, managers instructed them to purchase fake receipts that were used to cover up bribes paid in cash or gifts to doctors and hospitals, according to salesmen interviewed by the Financial Times.”

The article went on to highlight just how some of these fake invoices, used to gain funds from the corporate headquarters to facilitate bribery and corruption, were generated. “In some instances, managers disguised their involvement by using their personal email address to instruct staff to pay bribes and by ordering junior staff to claim on their personal expense accounts – even if the bribe was actually paid out by the manager – according to these people.” Last March, a group of current GSK employees sent a letter to the company that said, in part, ““All the expenses were approved by the company,” the group wrote in a letter to management. “The expenses were paid with our own money, and although the receipts were not compliant, it was our managers who told us to buy the fake receipts,” said one former GSK salesman.”

The article quoted that GSK said, “We have zero tolerance for unethical or illegal behaviour and anyone who conducts such behaviour has no place in our company. We believe the vast majority of our employees uphold our values and we welcome employees speaking up if they have concerns.” Talk about a ‘Speak Up’ culture at your company. Probably not exactly what the company had in mind when it invited employees to raise their concerns.

However, as damning as this is, and it would certainly appear to be quite damning, was the following revelation, which was also reported by Waldmeir and Ward, regarding witness prep during GSK’s internal investigation. They wrote, “Some staff were warned not to implicate their supervisors, according to a former salesman: “Our manager approached each person before they were questioned and asked them not to mention his name. He even prepared a story for them to tell the investigator.””

Dissecting all of the above, it would appear that GSK has several real problems on several fronts from this article. The first is that there appears to have been clear China business unit management participation in the bribery and corruption scheme. While it is still not clear whether the corporate home office was involved in the scheme, simply knew of it or choose to bury its collective head in the sand as to what was going on in China, if your in-country business unit management is involved, it is not too many steps to the corporate home office. Conversely, the question might be that if this fraud against the corporate home office was so open and obvious, why did the corporate office not detect it going forward?

Yet the real issue for the corporate office may be the information about employees being coached to hide evidence during the investigation. If such activity was limited to the ‘managers’ in the Chinese business units only, what does it say about a corporate office, which allows such witness intimidation? Think that is an investigation best practice? However, if the corporate office was involved in any way in such witness intimidation, it will bode extremely poorly in the eyes of the Chinese regulators, the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which has opened an investigation into the GSK matter and probably the US Department of Justice (DOJ) as well, since GSK is still subject to the Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) it signed back in July of 2012; when it pled guilty and paid $3 billion to resolve fraud allegations and failure to report safety data in what the DOJ called the “largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history” according to its press release. Think witness tampering or hiding of evidence might garner the attention of the DOJ for a company already under the equivalent of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA)?

In addition to all of the above conduct, it will be interesting to see the effect of this ongoing investigation on the stock value of GSK. In a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, entitled “FCPA Hits Companies Harder if they Committed Fraud”, Sam Rubenfeld reported “A study of U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement issued by the Searle Civil Justice Institute, a research division of The Law & Economics Center at George Mason University School of Law found that public companies lost an average of 2.9% of market capitalization as a result of an investigation. But, the study found, the number masks an important distinction: Companies charged with bribery only suffered an initial 1.5% loss, while those charged with bribery and financial fraud saw a initial drop of 16.3% in market cap.” It will be interesting to see the effect the apparent fraudulent activities of GSK’s China employees will have on not only the overall penalty assessed against GSK but if there is any attendant drop in shareholder value.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

 

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

May 13, 2013

In FCPA Enforcement Sometimes Truth is Stranger than Fiction – The Cilnis Complaint

I often marvel at some of the stories which come up in the context of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigations and enforcement. If you made up some of the things which are reported, I fear that people might find you simply crazy. One of these stranger than fiction stories now appears to be playing out in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, where a Complaint was recently filed by the US government against one Frederic Cilnis, for obstruction of justice into an ongoing FCPA investigation.

Cilnis was arrested on April 14, 2013 in Jacksonville, Florida and charged with obstruction of justice for attempting to persuade an individual who is a Cooperating Witness (CW), to destroy documents which purport to show the bribery scheme engaged in to obtain mining concessions. In the Complaint filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) detailed five contracts which Cilnis sought to obtain from the CW and destroy. As reported by the Financial Times (FT), in an article entitled “Contracts link BSGR to alleged bribes”, Tom Burgis, Misha Glenny and Cynthia O’Murchu, reported documents related to allegations that “The resources arm of Beny Steinmetz Group agreed to pay $2m to the wife of an African president to help it secure rights to one of the world’s richest untapped mineral deposits”. The contracts “set out agreements for the company to make payments and transfer shares to Mamadie Touré, wife of the then president Lansana Conté.” As the quid pro quo for these commission payments, “Ms Touré would take “all necessary steps” to advance its efforts to win rights to the Simandou deposit, a February 2008 contract says. A further $2m would be dispersed among other people to facilitate the acquisition of the rights.”

In the Complaint the CW is only identified as “the former wife of a now deceased high-ranking official in the government of Guinea”. Mamadie Touré’s former husband, the then president Lansana Conté is now deceased. Cilnis is identified in the Complaint but his business relationship is only identified as “Entity”. In an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), entitled “BSGR Confirms Engaging Man in Guinea Charged with Obstruction”, Sam Rubenfeld reported that the company BSG Resources, Ltd. now says that it worked with Frederic Cilnis, although Cilnis was never an employee of the company.

The Complaint detailed five separate contracts which are alleged to show the efforts of Cilnis and his business relations to pay bribes and engage in corruption to obtain the mining concession. The Compliant specifies that Cilnis requested the CW produce original copies of the contracts and that he personally witness their destruction. In addition to the five contracts, Cilnis prepared for and had the CW sign an Attestation denying any involvement with him or helping his company obtain the mining rights in Guinea.

Protocol-1

This contract was dated June 20, 2007, and was between the CW and the Guinean subsidiary of the Entity. For her assistance in obtaining permits, the Entity’s Guinean subsidiary would transfer 5% of its shares to a company controlled by the  CW.

Protocol-2

This contract was dated February 28, 2008 and stated that the Entity “commits to giving 5% of the shares of stock of blocks 1 and 2 of Simadou [the mining concession]” to the CW.

Commission Contract

This contract is dated February 27, 2008. In this agreement, the CW’s company commits to “taking all necessary steps from the authorities the signature for the obtaining of the aforementioned blocks”. For this consideration, a $2MM would be made available for the distribution “among persons of good will who may have contributed to facilitating the granting of the blocks”.

Engagement Letter

This is an undated document. In it the Guinean subsidiary proposed to allow the CW up to a 5% shareholding stake in the Guinean subsidiary. There would be a further transfer of 17.65% of the capital by the Guinean subsidiary as well.

August 3, 2010 Contract

This is a contract dated August 3, 2010. In it the Entity’s holding company agrees to pay to the CW the additional amount of $5MM, in two tranches. The first payment of $2.5MM was to be paid at contract execution and the second to be paid 24 months later. Interestingly, the Compliant stated that this contract “required the CW to conceal the CW’s relationship with the Holding Company, reciting that the CW and the CW’s company ‘commit herewith to make no use of the document, in any manner, directly or indirectly, and not to use this document against the [Holding Company] and/or its partner and/or its associates in Guinea or elsewhere.’”

The Attestation

In addition to the documents that Cilnis sought to have destroyed, he prepared and presented to the CW a document entitled “Attestation”. The CW signed this Attestation and copies were made. According to the Complaint, the Attestation was drafted as if it was written and prepared by the CW herself and in it were the following statements:

  1. I have never signed a single contract with the Entity, neither directly or indirectly through anyone else.
  2. I never intervened with Guinean officials in favor of [the Entity]…
  3. I have never received any money from [the Entity], neither directly or indirectly… [The Entity] never gave…any money, neither directly to me nor to anyone else on by behalf. They did not promise to pay me anything, neither to me, nor to anyone else on my behalf.

Destruction of Documents

The Complaint specified that Cilnis told the CW several times that the documents need to be destroyed urgently. Moreover, “they need to find a place to burn all of them, adding that they cannot do it at the CW’s house.” When the CW suggested that she could destroy the documents, Cilnis repeated that “Cilnis was instructed to see it happen in person and that Cilnis cannot lie when he is asked whether he, Cilnis, saw the papers being burned.”

For the destruction of the documents, the Complaint notes that Cilnis offered the CW $1MM. $200,000 of this total would be paid now and “$800,000 at a later date.” Further, Cilnis is alleged to have proposed an additional $5MM fee “if the group is not forced out” of Guinea but that the CW will receive “the $1million regardless of the outcome.”

I guess Cilnis has nothing on John Connally who once advised President Nixon to burn the White House tapes on the front lawn of the White House, in the full view of the American people. The WSJ article reported that BSGR said that “allegations of any improper conduct relating to how the company obtained a mining license in Guinea “are entirely baseless and motivated by an ongoing campaign to seize the assets” of the company.” Then BSGR claimed it is the real victim here as it has become “the victim of extortion attempts by individuals who are seeking economic gains.” Further, “The modus operandi of these attempts involved at times the use of forged documentation, blackmail and harassment.” No word from BSGR if anyone has asked them to burn documents.

Like I said, in the world of FCPA enforcement, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2013

February 8, 2013

How Does Your Organization Treat Whistleblowers?

As almost everyone knows, Lance Armstrong spoke for the first time about his performance enhancing drug (PED) use recently on Oprah. On the first night he admitted for the first time that he used PEDs during his seven wins at the Tour De France. The title of my colleague Doug Cornelius’ piece in Compliance Building really said it all in his article “Lance Armstrong – A Lying Liar Just Like Madoff”. Cornelius said “What caught my attention about the Armstrong interview was the window into the mind of a pathological liar. Armstrong had been telling the lie over and over and over. He lied to the public. He lied to the press. He lied to cancer survivors. He lied under oath.”

One of the areas which came up for me was how the people who blew the whistle on Armstrong’s use of PEDs before his admission were treated and how Armstrong subsequently treated them. Armstrong admitted that he was a ‘bully’ to those who said, hinted, or even implied that he had taken PEDs. He attacked ex-teammates; wives of ex-teammates and even a masseur who saw him take such substances. He put on an aggressive PR campaign for the better part of the past decade, to which the wife of ex-Tour De France winner Greg LeMond said “I can’t describe to you the level of fear that he brings to a family.”

While I would hope that most American and European companies have moved past the situation where whistleblowers are ostracized or worse threatened, one can certainly remember the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) whistleblower Cheryl Eckard. A 2010 article in the Guardian by Graeme Wearden, entitled “GlaxoSmithKline whistleblower awarded $96m payout”, he reported that Eckard was fired by the company “after repeatedly complaining to GSK’s management that some drugs made at Cidra were being produced in a non-sterile environment, that the factory’s water system was contaminated with micro-organisms, and that other medicines were being made in the wrong doses.” She later was awarded $96MM as her share of the settlement of a Federal Claims Act whistleblower lawsuit. Eckard was quoted as saying, “It’s difficult to survive this financially, emotionally, you lose all your friends, because all your friends are people you have at work. You really do have to understand that it’s a very difficult process but very well worth it.”

More recently there was the example of NCR Corp., as reported in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) by Christopher M. Matthews and Samuel Rubenfeld, in an article entitled “NCR Investigates Alleged FCPA Violations”, who stated that NCR spokesperson Lou Casale said “While NCR has certain concerns about the veracity and accuracy of the allegations, NCR takes allegations of this sort very seriously and promptly began an internal investigation that is ongoing,” regarding whistleblowers claims of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations. In a later WSJ article by Matthews, entitled “NCR Discloses SEC Subpoena Related to Whistleblower, he reported that NCR also said “NCR has certain concerns about the motivation of the purported whistleblower and the accuracy of the allegations it received, some of which appear to be untrue.”

Lastly, is the situation of two whistleblowers from the British company EADS. As reported by Carola Hoyos in a Financial Times (FT) article, entitled “Emails tell of fears over EADS payments”, Hoyos told the story of two men who notified company officials of allegations of bribery and corruption at the company and who suffered for their actions. The first, Mike Paterson, the then financial controller for an EADS subsidiary GPT, internally reported “unexplained payments to the Cayman Island bank accounts for Simec International and Duranton International, which totaled £11.5M between 2007 and 2009.” Hoyos reported that Paterson was so marginalized in his job that he was basically twiddling his thumbs all day at work.

The second whistleblower was Ian Foxley, a retired British lieutenant-colonel, who had joined the company in the spring of 2010 stationed in Saudi Arabia, to oversee a £2M contract between the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Saudi Arabian National Guard. In December 2010, Foxley discovered some of the concerns which Mike Paterson had raised. According to Hoyos, “The morning after he discovered Mr. Paterson’s concerns he assessed the emails that Mr. Paterson had told him he had written over the previous three years.” This led Foxley to flee Saudi Arabia with documents of these suspicious payments, which he has turned over to the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

What does the response of any of these three companies say about the way that it treats whistleblowers? Is it significantly different from the bullying Armstrong admitted he engaged in during his campaign to stop anyone who claimed that he was doping? While I doubt that companies will ever come to embrace whistleblowers, the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) recent FCPA Guidance stated that “An effective compliance program should include a mechanism for an organization’s employees and others to report suspected or actual misconduct or violations of the company’s policies on a confidential basis and without fear of retaliation.” However, by marginalizing, attacking or even making a whistleblower fear for their life, such actions can drive a whistleblower to go the DOJ, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or SFO. The Guidance recognized that “Assistance and information from a whistleblower who knows of possible securities law violations can be among the most powerful weapons in the law enforcement arsenal.”

So what is the compliance professional to make of the Armstrong confession and how can it be used for a compliance program? A recent White Paper, entitled “Blowing the Whistle on Workplace Misconduct”, released by the Ethics Resource Center (ERC) detailed several findings that the ERC had determined through surveys, interviews and dialogues. One of the key findings in this White Paper was that that a culture of ethics within a company does matter. Such a culture should start with a strong commitment to ethics at the top, however it is also clear that this message must be reinforced throughout all levels of management, and that employees must understand that their company has the expectation that ethical standards are vital in the business’ day-to-day operations. If employees have this understanding, they are more likely to conduct themselves with integrity and report misconduct by others when they believe senior management has a genuine and long-term commitment to ethical behavior. Additionally, those employees who report misconduct are often motivated by the belief that their reports will be properly investigated. Conversely, most employees are less concerned with the particular outcome than in knowing that their report was seriously considered.

This is the ‘Fair Process Doctrine’. This Doctrine generally recognizes that there are fair procedures, not arbitrary ones, in a process involving rights. Considerable research has shown that people are more willing to accept negative, unfavorable, and non-preferred outcomes when they are arrived at by processes and procedures that are perceived as fair. Adhering to the Fair Process Doctrine in two areas of your Compliance Program is critical for you, as a compliance specialist or for your Compliance Department, to have credibility with the rest of the workforce.

In this area is that of internal company investigations, if your employees do not believe that the investigation is fair and impartial, then it is not fair and impartial. Furthermore, those involved must have confidence that any internal investigation is treated seriously and objectively. One of the key reasons that employees will go outside of a company’s internal hotline process is because they do not believe that the process will be fair.

This fairness has several components. One would be the use of outside counsel, rather than in-house counsel, to handle the investigation. Moreover, if company uses a regular firm, it may be that other outside counsel should be brought in, particularly if regular outside counsel has created or implemented key components which are being investigated. Further, if the company’s regular outside counsel has a large amount of business with the company, then that law firm may have a very vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Lastly, the investigation may require a level of specialization which in-house or regular outside counsel does not possess.

Phrasing it in another way, Mike Volkov, writing in his blog Corruption, Crime and Compliance, in an article entitled “How to Prevent Whistleblower Complaints”, had these suggestions: (1) Listen to the Whistleblower – In dealing with a whistleblower, it is critical to listen to the whistleblowers concerns. (2) Do Not Overpromise – At the conclusion of an initial meeting with a whistleblower, the company representative should inform the whistleblower that the company will review the allegations, conduct a “preliminary” investigation and report back to the whistleblower during, or at the conclusion of, any investigation. (3) Conduct a Fair Investigation – Depending on the nature of the allegations, a follow up inquiry should be conducted. The steps taken in the investigation should be documented.

I would add that after your investigation is complete, the Fair Process Doctrine demands that any discipline must not only be administered fairly but it must be administered uniformly across the company for the violation of any compliance policy. Simply put if you are going to fire employees in South America for lying on their expense reports, you have to fire them in North America for the same offense. It cannot matter that the North American employee is a friend of yours or worse yet a ‘high producer’. Failure to administer discipline uniformly will destroy any vestige of credibility that you may have developed.

Lance Armstrong has and will continue to provide the ethics and compliance practitioner with many lessons. You can use his treatment of whistleblowers as an opportunity to review how your company treats such persons who make notifications of unethical or illegal conduct. With the increasing number of financial incentives available to persons to blow the whistle to government agencies, such as the SEC under the Dodd-Frank Act, it also makes very good business sense to do so.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2013

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