FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

December 22, 2014

The Avon FCPA Settlement, Part I

AvonIt is finally done. The long awaited Avon Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action is on the books. I would say what a long, strange trip it has been but that does not really seem to capture everything that went on in this case. Before we only knew such things as a whistleblower contacting the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the company with allegations of bribery in the company’s China business unit, to the Head of Internal Audit being caught up directly in the scandal, put on administrative leave and then terminated; to a professional fee burn rate on the case which would rival the Gross National Product (GNP) of many countries; to Grand Jury subpoenas being issued (or threatened to be issued) to corporate executives to secure their testimony in criminal proceedings; to publicly negotiating with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); we all thought this FCPA matter had it all. But it turns out just how little we knew about the company’s conduct and just how bad it was which led to this settlement because to say it was bad would demean and belittle the word bad. So over the next few blog posts, I will be exploring Avon, its conduct and the FCPA enforcement action.

For the Record

The amount of the total fines and penalties was $135 million. As noted by the FCPA Professor, “the settlement is the third-largest ever against a U.S. company.” The enforcement action included several resolution vehicles, including a Criminal Information against Avon China resolved via a Plea Agreement; a Criminal Information against Avon Products resolved via a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) with an aggregate fine amount of $67.6MM. There was a separate SEC resolution through a Civil Complaint against Avon Products, which it agreed to resolve without admitting or denying the allegations through payment. The amount of the SEC settlement was $67.4MM. While the company’s internal investigation began in China, it quickly expanded so that it went far beyond China, including Japan, Argentina, Brazil, India and Mexico.

How Did We Get Here?

It all began back in May 2008, when an employee from Avon’s China business unit sent a letter to the head of the company alleging the China entity had engaged in bribery and corruption. In October 2008, Avon reported, in a Statement of Voluntary Disclosure, that it was investigating an internally reported allegation by an undisclosed whistleblower that corrupt payments had been made in its China operations. These allegations claimed that certain travel, entertainment and other expenses might have been improperly incurred. Although the details of the Avon case have not been disclosed, direct selling was not allowed in China under a law passed in 1998. The National Review reported that Avon was able to secure permission in late 2005 to begin direct selling on a limited basis. Later the Chinese government issued direct-selling regulations and granted Avon a broader license in February 2006 to make such sales.

In its 2009 Annual Report, Avon noted that the internal investigation and compliance reviews, which started in China, had now expanded to its operations in at least 12 other countries and was focusing on reviewing “certain expenses and books and records processes, including, but not limited to, travel, entertainment, gifts, and payments to third-party agents and others, in connection with our business dealings, directly or indirectly, with foreign governments and their employees”. The FCPA Professor, citing the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), reported that Avon suspended four employees, including the President, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and top government affairs executive of Avon’s China unit as well as a senior executive in New York who was Avon’s head of Internal Audit.

One of the significant pieces of information to come out of the Avon matter is the related costs. As reported in the 2009 Annual Report the following costs were incurred and were anticipated to be incurred in 2010:

Investigate Cost, Revenue or Earnings Loss
Investigative Cost (2009) $35 Million
Investigative Cost (anticipated-2010) $95 Million
Drop in Q1 Earnings $74.8 Million
Loss in Revenue from China Operations $10 Million
Total $214.8 Million

Marketwatch also reported that after these investigations were made public Avon’s stock prices fell by 8%. Lastly, in addition to the above direct and anticipated costs and drop in stock value, the ratings agency Fitch speculated about the possibility of a drop in Avon’s credit ratings. But as bad as these numbers appear they only got worse for Avon as by 2012 its spend on professional fees was estimated to be over $247MM. As of this date, the total professional fees are closer to $300MM.

Grand Jury Investigation and Terminations

The WSJ reported in February 2012 that the DOJ had gone to a grand jury with evidence of FCPA violations against US executives at Avon. Joe Palazzolo and Emily Glazer reported that several company employees were terminated for their role in the scandal. They wrote, “The company said it fired Vice Chairman Charles Cramb on Jan. 29 [2012] in connection with the overseas corruption probe and another investigation into allegedly improper disclosure of financial information to analysts. Mr. Cramb couldn’t be reached for comment. In May [2011], Avon said it fired Ian Rossetter, its former head of global internal audit and security and previously Avon’s head of finance in Asia. Mr. Rossetter didn’t respond to requests for comment and his attorney declined to comment. Bennett Gallina, a senior vice president responsible for the company’s operations outside the U.S. and Latin America, left Avon in February 2011, two days after being put on leave in connection with the internal corruption investigation, the company said at the time.”

Negotiating in Public

I do not know who was advising Avon but the decision to try and force the government’s hand by making public its negotiating position was one of the most bone-headed moves I have seen a similarly situated company make. Avon initially announced that it had opened negotiations with the US government over the terms of a resolution in August 2012. In mid 2013, the FCPA Blog reported that Avon low-balled the SEC with an opening offer of $12MM. Later, in 2013, the company reported in an SEC filing that the “Securities and Exchange Commission offered an FCPA settlement last month with monetary penalties that were ‘significantly greater’ than the $12 million the company had offered.” But not to take such government tactics sitting down, Avon publicly announced in the filing that “Monetary penalties at the level proposed by the SEC staff are not warranted.” That certainly was great information to put out to the public enforcing that you are taking a hardball approach with the SEC and telling them their fines and penalties are not deserved for a company that has gone through all Avon has during this FCPA journey.

As I said, this matter was a long strange journey but as strange as things were that we knew about before last week, they became much stranger. Tomorrow we take a look at the facts that came out through the settlement documents to see the nefariousness of Avon’s conduct.

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


December 10, 2014

The Nobel Prize and FCPA Enforcement Going Forward

Nobel Prize MedalOne hundred and 13 years ago on this date, the first Nobel Prizes were awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. The ceremony came on the fifth anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite and other high explosives. In his will, Nobel directed that the bulk of his vast fortune be placed in a fund in which the interest would be “annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” Although Nobel offered no public reason for his creation of the prizes, it is widely believed that he did so out of moral regret over the increasingly lethal uses of his inventions in war. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decides the prizes in physics, chemistry, and economic science; the Swedish Royal Caroline Medico-Surgical Institute determines the physiology or medicine award; the Swedish Academy chooses literature; and a committee elected by the Norwegian parliament awards the peace prize. The Nobel Prizes are still presented annually on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death. Each Nobel Prize carries a cash prize of nearly $1,400,000 and recipients also received a gold medal, as is the tradition.

Just as important in the area of anti-corruption and anti-bribery is the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD). Earlier this month the OECD issued a report entitled “Foreign Bribery Report-An Analysis of the Crime of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials”. To say the findings were eye opening, if not disheartening, would be to put it mildly. As reported by Shawn Donnan in the Financial Times (FT), in an article entitled “Big companies blamed for most of the world’s bribery cases”, he said that “Large companies and their senior managers are responsible for the vast majority of the world’s bribery cases and are giving up a third of their profits from related projects to corrupt officials”. Donnan summarized the reports key findings as follows:

  • Companies with more than 250 employees accounted for 60 per cent of the cases of corruption studied. In 31 per cent of the cases the companies brought the bribes to the attention of authorities themselves. In just 2 per cent of the cases were whistleblowers involved.
  • The cost of bribes averaged 10.9 per cent of the value of the related transaction and 34.5 per cent of the profits. The largest bribes paid in a single case were worth $1.4bn. The smallest were valued at just $13.17.
  • A majority of the bribery cases involved company executives. Managers were involved in 41 per cent of the cases. A further 12 per cent involved the president or chief executive officer of a company.
  • Corruption is not just a poor world phenomenon. Almost half the cases studied involved bribery of public officials from countries with “high” or “very high” levels of human development.
  • The number of bribery cases brought around the world has grown substantially since 1999 but has fallen in the past two years after reaching a peak of 68 annually in 2010. Moreover, the time needed to prosecute cases has risen substantially from an average of 2 years in 2003 to 7.3 years in 2013.
  • Executives at state-owned companies accounted were the target of almost three in 10 bribes while customs officials accounted for just 11 per cent. Almost 60 per cent of the bribes were paid in order to obtain government contracts.
  • More than two-thirds of all sanctions levied were the result of legal settlements rather than convictions. In almost half the cases studied the fines levied were worth less than 50 per cent of the profits made by defendants as a result of the bribe.
  • Oil and mining companies on average paid bribes worth 21 per cent of the value of projects whereas those involved in the education sector or in water supply paid just 2 per cent.

I thought about the implications of these key findings in the context of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement going forward. At the 2014 Securities Enforcement Forum, held in October of this year, Jesse Eisenger reporting in the New York Times (NYT) DealB%k column, in an article entitled “In Turnabout, Former Top Regulators Assail Wall Street Watchdogs”, noted that white-collar defense lawyer Brad S. Karp, the chairman of Paul, Weiss, discussed some of the defense tactics that he uses when the government comes knocking against banks. “First, he pushes to move the charges to a subsidiary. Second, he tries to lower the charge. Third, he said, he focuses “on the powerful individuals in an organization” meaning that lawyers need to put top management first as they prepare a defense.”

Now consider those tactics in the context of the OECD report. Where do you think that the Department of Justice (DOJ) or Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) might look if they wanted to beef up enforcement? I ask this question because of a second article, which got my attention this week. In the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Joel Schectman wrote a piece based upon in interview with University of Virginia School of Law professor Brandon Garrett, entitled “Professor Says Corporate Penalties Aren’t Working”. Schectman wrote, “many critics have said the government is still fighting companies with kid gloves.” Garrett delivered some direct criticisms when he was quoted as follows:

Of course, companies, like children, can’t go to jail. You can fine them, but the fines might not affect the right person. There is much more focus on rehabilitation compared with other areas of the criminal justice system. 

What you can do with companies is supervise them strictly, not through the lenient means they are using. People would be really troubled if the most serious individual offenders were let out and told to just behave for a couple years without supervision. And that is what’s happening with companies. In cases that are not plea bargains, there is no probation, there is no court supervision of probation, and with these deferred and non-prosecution agreements, most of them are not even supervised by an independent monitor. Only a quarter get monitorships. 

Most companies don’t have to audit their compliance to validate whether it’s working or not. Obviously a prosecutor is not in any position to obtain a sense of whether a big multinational company is complying with anything. Even a monitor needs a big international team working for them onsite to look at documents and interview employees.

Garrett does not seem to favor the DOJ going to trial but does believe that by getting a criminal plea in front of a court, the DOJ could use the resources and power of a federal court to deal with recidivists. Moreover, he believes that rehabilitation should be more rigorous and stated, “And if prosecutors aren’t getting anything more than the company’s assurance that it will do a systemic fix, that should leave us uneasy. We are starting to see recidivist banks and it’s looking like this compliance stuff isn’t working. A monitor isn’t a cure-all either. There are concerns about how a monitor is appointed. Do some of them go over budget without doing good work? But having someone independent seems a much better way to supervise compliance than rely on the company’s own assurance.”

What does all this mean for FCPA enforcement going forward? On the one hand you have the OECD saying the myth of the rogue employee is simply that, a myth. Corporations are intentionally violating anti-corruption laws such as the FCPA or certainly are aware of the conduct. Couple that with Garrett’s concerns that companies are getting off too easily and you may have a storm of more severe and stringent FCPA enforcement coming out of the DOJ and SEC. It may mean more and greater fines and penalties. It may mean greater use of external monitors who have unlimited budgets. It may mean more court supervision and interpretation of what compliance programs a company may implement going forward. It may mean longer and more thorough investigations as the DOJ and SEC strive to ascertain as much as they can that companies are remediating not only during the pendency of their investigations and enforcement actions but continue to do so while they are under resolution agreements such as Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) and Non-Prosecution Agreements (NPAs).

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

November 24, 2014

The FCPA Guidance: Still Going Strong at Two

Brithday TwoOne of the great things about Sunday afternoon is that Mike Volkov posts his Monday blog, when I usually have time to read it when I get the email notification that it is up. Yesterday he wished the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) jointly released 2012 A Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (Guidance) a belated Happy 2nd Birthday and bemoaned the fact no one else had done so. Inspired, and somewhat chagrined by Volkov, I decided to blog today about a couple of the highlights from the FCPA Guidance.

I. The Ten Hallmarks of Effective Compliance Programs

As a ‘Nuts and Bolts’ guy I found the DOJ/SEC formulation of their thoughts on what might constitute a best practices compliance program, the most useful part. The Guidance cautions that there is no “one-size-fits-all” compliance program. It recognizes a variety of factors such as size, type of business, industry and risk profile a company should determine for its own needs regarding a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance program. But the Guidance made clear that these ten points are “meant to provide insight into the aspects of compliance programs that DOJ and SEC assess”. In other words you should pay attention to these and use this information to assess your own compliance regime.

  1. Commitment from Senior Management and a Clearly Articulated Policy Against Corruption. It all starts with tone at the top. But more than simply ‘talk-the-talk’ company leadership must ‘walk-the-walk’ and lead by example. Both the DOJ and SEC look to see if a company has a “culture of compliance”. More than a paper program is required, it must have real teeth and it must be put into action, all of which is led by senior management. The Guidance states, “A strong ethical culture directly supports a strong compliance program. By adhering to ethical standards, senior managers will inspire middle managers to reinforce those standards.” This prong ends by stating that the DOJ and SEC will “evaluate whether senior management has clearly articulated company standards, communicated them in unambiguous terms, adhered to them scrupulously, and disseminated them throughout the organization.”
  2. Code of Conduct and Compliance Policies and Procedures. The Code of Conduct has long been seen as the foundation of a company’s overall compliance program and the Guidance acknowledges this fact. But a Code of Conduct and a company’s compliance policies need to be clear and concise. Importantly, the Guidance made clear that if a company has a large employee base that is not fluent in English such documents need to be translated into the native language of those employees. A company also needs to have appropriate internal controls based upon the risks that a company has assessed for its business model.
  3. Oversight, Autonomy, and Resources. This section began with a discussion on the assignment of a senior level executive to oversee and implement a company’s compliance program. Equally importantly, the compliance function must have “sufficient resources to ensure that the company’s compliance program is implemented effectively.” Finally, the compliance function should report to the company’s Board of Directors or an appropriate committee of the Board such as the Audit Committee. Overall, the DOJ and SEC will “consider whether the company devoted adequate staffing and resources to the compliance program given the size, structure, and risk profile of the business.”
  4. Risk Assessment. The Guidance states, “assessment of risk is fundamental to developing a strong compliance program”. Indeed, if there is one over-riding theme in the Guidance it is that a company should assess its risks in all areas of its business. The Guidance is also quite clear that when the DOJ and SEC look at a company’s overall compliance program, they “take into account whether and to what degree a company analyzes and addresses the particular risks it faces.” The Guidance lists factors that a company should consider in any risk assessment. They are “the country and industry sector, the business opportunity, potential business partners, level of involvement with governments, amount of government regulation and oversight, and exposure to customs and immigration in conducting business affairs.”
  5. Training and Continuing Advice. Communication of a compliance program is a cornerstone of any anti-corruption compliance program. The Guidance specifies that both the “DOJ and SEC will evaluate whether a company has taken steps to ensure that relevant policies and procedures have been communicated throughout the organization, including through periodic training and certification for all directors, officers, relevant employees, and, where appropriate, agents and business partners.” The training should be risk based so that those high-risk employees and third party business partners receive an appropriate level of training. A company should also devote appropriate resources to providing its employees with guidance and advice on how to comply with their own compliance program on an ongoing basis.
  6. Incentives and Disciplinary Measures. Initially the Guidance notes that a company’s compliance program should apply from “the board room to the supply room – no one should be beyond its reach.” There should be appropriate discipline in place and administered for any violation of the FCPA or a company’s compliance program. Additionally, the “DOJ and SEC recognize that positive incentives can also drive compliant behavior. These incentives can take many forms such as personnel evaluations and promotions, rewards for improving and developing a company’s compliance program, and rewards for ethics and compliance leadership.”
  7. Third-Party Due Diligence and Payments. The Guidance says that companies must engage in risk based due diligence to understand the “qualifications and associations of its third-party partners, including its business reputation, and relationship, if any, with foreign officials.” Next a company should articulate a business rationale for the use of the third party. This would include an evaluation of the payment arrangement to ascertain that the compensation is reasonable and will not be used as a basis for corrupt payments. Lastly, there should be ongoing monitoring of third parties.
  8. Confidential Reporting and Internal Investigation. This means more than simply a hotline. The Guidance suggests that anonymous reporting, and perhaps even a company ombudsman, might be appropriate to have in place for employees to report allegations of corruption or violations of the FCPA. Furthermore, it is just as important what a company does after an allegation is made. The Guidance states, “once an allegation is made, companies should have in place an efficient, reliable, and properly funded process for investigating the allegation and documenting the company’s response, including any disciplinary or remediation measures taken.” The final message is what did you learn from the allegation and investigation and did you apply it in your company?
  9. Continuous Improvement: Periodic Testing and Review. As noted in the Guidance, “compliance programs that do not just exist on paper but are followed in practice will inevitably uncover compliance weaknesses and require enhancements. Consequently, DOJ and SEC evaluate whether companies regularly review and improve their compliance programs and not allow them to become stale.” The DOJ/SEC expects that a company will review and test its compliance controls and “think critically” about its own weaknesses and risk areas. Internal controls should also be periodically tested through targeted audits.
  1. Mergers and Acquisitions.Pre-Acquisition Due Diligence and Post-Acquisition Integration.Here the DOJ and SEC spell out their expectations in not only the post-acquisition integration phase but also in the pre-acquisition phase. This pre-acquisition information was not something on which most companies had previously focused. A company should attempt to perform as much substantive compliance due diligence that it can do before it purchases a company. After the deal is closed, an acquiring entity needs to perform a FCPA audit, train all senior management and risk employees in the purchased company and integrate the acquired entity into its compliance regime.

II. Declinations

Many commentators such The FCPA Professor, Mike Volkov, myself and others have advocated that the DOJ release information about Declinations because they are an excellent source of information for the compliance practitioner about the DOJ’s thinking on FCPA enforcement issues. Indeed I had written, “In an area like Foreign Corrupt Practice Act (FCPA) enforcement, where guiding case law is largely non-existent, compliance practitioners must rely on the actions and decisions of federal enforcement agencies for information. Such information is available in the form of enforcement actions, the release of Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) and Non-Prosecution Agreements (NPAs), and hypothetical fact patterns presented to the Department of Justice (DOJ) through its Opinion Release procedure. But one highly valuable source of guidance has been kept from regulated entities and their counsels: DOJ and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) “declination” decisions, opinions which are drafted when the agencies decline to prosecute an individual or organization. A change is needed in this counterproductive policy. The release of substantive information on declinations would help foster greater compliance with the FCPA by providing practitioners with specific facts of circumstances where investigations did not result in an enforcement action.”

Whether the DOJ was answering any of the commentary, it hardly matters. But a significant section of the Guidance is dedicated specifically to six Declinations provided to companies which self-disclosed possible FCPA violations. The types of issues reported to the DOJ were as varied as mergers and acquisitions (M&A); actions by third parties on a company’s behalf which violated the FCPA; payments improperly made by company employees which were incorrectly characterized as facilitation payments; and illegal bribes paid out by a small group of company employees. From these Declinations, I derived the following points (1) The Company was alerted to possible corrupt conduct via its compliance program or internal controls. (2) Possible FCPA violations were self-reported or otherwise voluntarily disclosed to the DOJ/SEC. (3) The entities in question conducted a thorough internal investigation and shared the results with the DOJ/SEC. (4) The conduct violative of the FCPA was not pervasive and consisted of relatively small bribes or other corrupt payments. (5) The company took immediate corrective action against the person(s) engaging in the conduct. (6) Each company’s compliance program was expanded or enhanced and these enhancements were reflected in compliance training, internal process improvements and additional enhanced internal controls.

So here’s to the Guidance at the ripe of age of 2. Thanks for coming into all of our (compliance) lives. I have also held back the best for last; the Guidance is available for free on the DOJ website and you can download it by clicking here.

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

November 18, 2014

FIFA and Good-Faith Investigations

CautionYou know things are getting bad when the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) questions a business’ moral authority. Things certainly cannot be much better when the regulators begin nosing around your own self-indulgence. What happens when you realize all of a sudden that all those actions you have taken may actually fall under the jurisdiction of both the United Kingdom and the United States and their respective anti-corruption laws, the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA)? It turns out all of this may have come through for our friends at Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

Last week FIFA announced that it had considered the investigation into allegations of corruption into the awarding of the 2018 World Cup tournament to Russia and the 2022 World Cup tournament to Qatar and found, as reported in the Financial Times (FT) by Roger Blitz in an article entitled “Fifa thrown into fresh turmoil over Qatar World Cup corruption claims”, that “any improper behaviour in the bidding process for the tournament was “of very limited scope.”” This conclusion was made by a FIFA appointed former judge, “Hans-Joachim Eckert, who is chairman of the adjudicatory chamber of Fifa’s ethics committee.” Eckert had reviewed a 350-page report by investigator Michael J. Garcia, who is a former US prosecutor now practicing law in New York. Eckert released a 42 page “summary study” of the Garcia report, which he claimed supported his decision.

Unfortunately for FIFA and Eckert, Blitz reported in another FT article, entitled “Garcia and Eckert set for showdown over Fifa report”, that “Mr Eckert’s summary was disowned within hours of its publication by Mr Garcia, who claimed it misrepresented his findings. He has protested to Fifa’s appeals committee.” Garcia’s statement “has blown apart Fifa’s attempt to bring to a close nearly three years of allegations of unethical behaviour and has left Mr Eckert under increasing pressure to publish the Garcia investigation.” This action by FIFA led Reinhard Rauball, president of the German football league (DFL), to say, “Europe would have to consider breaking away from Fifa unless the Garcia investigation was published in full.”

All of this came after the summary itself noted that documents and evidence surrounding the Russian bid were lost because the computers on which they were stored had been destroyed. Garcia was not even able to speak with all the relevant witness in the Qatar bid as well. Even with this lack of full investigation, Garcia issues a statement which said that Eckert’s summary contained “numerous and materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions detailed in the investigatory chamber’s report.”

What does all of this mean for FIFA? Certainly if the head of the German football league says that the European soccer federations may have to pull out of the organization because it is so corrupt that portends poorly. In another article in the FT, entitled “Brussels launches sliding tackle against Fifa”, Alex Barker reported “The EU’s top sports official is urging Fifa to come clean with findings from its corruption investigation, in a warning that signals a Brussels rethink over the commercial freedoms enjoyed by football’s scandal-tarnished governing body. In a direct swipe at Fifa’s attempt to clear Russia and Qatar to run the next two World Cups, Tibor Navracsics, the EU commissioner for sports, has called for full publication of a graft report into the 2010 bidding process to “remove doubts” about its findings. While Sepp Blatter’s Fifa is an unregulated Swiss body independent from government, its lucrative business activities in the European market are subject to rules overseen by EU regulators, including sales of television rights.”

What about any criminal issues? A quick Google search reveals that FIFA has offices in both the US and the UK. Given the very broad jurisdiction of the FCPA and perhaps the UK Bribery Act, it does not seem too far a stretch for either the Department of Justice (DOJ), the FBI, the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) or even the Overseas anti-corruption unit of the London police might want to open an investigation. Indeed CNN reported that the FBI is investigating FIFA at this time, saying “Investigators are moving ahead with their probe, which could result in charges against senior FIFA officials, the U.S. law enforcement officials said.”

For the compliance practitioner there are a couple of important lesson in all of this. First and foremost, in your internal investigations, you need to provide access of both documents and witnesses to your counsel. If you do not that alone may certainly compromise your investigation. This point was recently re-emphasized in the ongoing General Motors (GM) scandal over its ignition switch problems. It turns out that over two months prior to the public announcement the company had ordered over 500,000 new switches from its supplier. According to Hilary Stout and Bill Vlasic, writing in the New York Times (NYT) in an article entitled “G.M. Ordered a Half-Million Replacement Switches 2 Months Before Recall”, the order was placed after an internal company committee met. But no records of the meeting were provided to company’s outside counsel investigating this matter, Anton R. Valukas. Interestingly Valukas released a statement which the article quoted, ““To my knowledge, G.M. provided me access to all information in its possession related to G.M. inquiries regarding various repair options and part availability as G.M. considered potential fixes for the ignition switch in the event that a recall would occur,” the statement said.” That is lawyer-speak for I looked at what they showed me.

Hiding or not providing access to internal or outside counsel can be a recipe for disaster with the DOJ. The reason is the same as it is a disaster for FIFA in Europe. There is no trust left for the organization. Ask any ex-DOJer and they will tell you that it is all about credibility when you self-disclose to the DOJ or when you are in negotiations with the DOJ over a potential FCPA penalty. I regularly hear Stephen Martin and Mike Volkov say precisely that when they talk about their experiences from working for the US government. If you do not allow your investigators access to all relevant documents and those witnesses under your control, the DOJ will most probably not consider the results of your investigation valid. The DOJ may not even consider your exertions worthy of a good-faith effort.

One thing is also very relevant for the compliance practitioner. If your outside counsel disavows him or herself from the company’s interpretation of it going forward, you are in big trouble. Even the WSJ, in its Op-Ed piece said, “FIFA’s moral failure stands out.”

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

November 17, 2014

Opinion Release 14-02: Dis-Linking The Illegal Conduct Going Forward

Dis-linkOne of my favorite words in the context of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement is dis-link. I find it a useful adjective in explaining how certain conduct by a company must be separated from the winning of business. But it works on so many different levels when discussing the FCPA. Last week I thought about this concept of dis-linking when I read the second Opinion Release of 2014, that being 14-02. One of the clearest ways that the Department of Justice (DOJ) communicates is through the Opinion Release procedure. This procedure provides to the compliance practitioner solid and specific information about what steps a company needs to take in the pre-acquisition phase of due diligence. However, 14-02 directly answers many FCPA naysayers long incorrect claim about how companies step into FCPA liability through mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity.

From the Opinion Release it was noted that the Requestor is a multinational company headquartered in the United States. Requestor desired to acquire a foreign consumer products company and it’s wholly owned subsidiary (collectively, the “Target”), both of which are incorporated and operate in a foreign country, never issuing securities in the United States. The Target had negligible business contacts in the US, including no direct sale or distribution of their products. In the course of its pre-acquisition due diligence of the Target, Requestor identified a number of likely improper payments by the Target to government officials of Foreign Country, as well as substantial weaknesses in accounting and recordkeeping. In light of the bribery and other concerns identified in the due diligence process, Requestor also detailed a plan for remedial pre-acquisition measures and post-acquisition integration steps. Requestor sought from the DOJ an Opinion as to whether the Department would then bring an FCPA enforcement action against Requestor for the Target’s pre-acquisition conduct. It was specifically noted that the Requestor did not seek an Opinion from the Department as to Requestor’s criminal liability for any post-acquisition conduct by the Target.

Improper Payments and Compliance Program Weaknesses

In preparing for the acquisition, Requestor undertook due diligence aimed at identifying, among other things, potential legal and compliance concerns at the Target. Requestor retained an experienced forensic accounting firm (“the Accounting Firm”) to carry out the due diligence review. This review brought to light evidence of apparent improper payments, as well as substantial accounting weaknesses and poor recordkeeping. The Accounting Firm reviewed approximately 1,300 transactions with a total value of approximately $12.9 million with over $100,000 in transactions that raised compliance issues. The vast majority of these transactions involved payments to government officials related to obtaining permits and licenses. Other transactions involved gifts and cash donations to government officials, charitable contributions and sponsorships, and payments to members of the state-controlled media to minimize negative publicity. None of the payments, gifts, donations, contributions, or sponsorships occurred in the US, none were made by or through a US person or issuer and apparently none went through a US bank.

The due diligence showed that the Target had significant recordkeeping deficiencies. Nonetheless, documentary records did not support the vast majority of the cash payments and gifts to government officials and the charitable contributions. There were expenses that were improperly and inaccurately classified. It was specifically noted that the accounting records were so disorganized that the Accounting Firm was unable to physically locate or identify many of the underlying records for the tested transactions. Finally, the Target had not developed or implemented a written code of conduct or other compliance policies and procedures, nor did the Target’s employees show an adequate understanding or awareness of anti-bribery laws and regulations.

Post-Acquisition Remediation

The Requestor presented several pre-closing steps to begin to remediate the Target’s weaknesses prior to the planned closing in 2015. Requestor aimed to complete the full integration of the Target into Requestor’s compliance and reporting structure within one year of the closing. Requestor has set forth an integration schedule of the Target that included various risk mitigation steps, dissemination and training with regard to compliance procedures and policies, standardization of business relationships with third parties, and formalization of the Target’s accounting and record-keeping in accordance with Requestor’s policies and applicable law.

DOJ Analysis

The DOJ noted black-letter letter when it stated, ““It is a basic principle of corporate law that a company assumes certain liabilities when merging with or acquiring another company. In a situation such as this, where a purchaser acquires the stock of a seller and integrates the target into its operations, successor liability may be conferred upon the purchaser for the acquired entity’s pre-existing criminal and civil liabilities, including, for example, for FCPA violations of the target. However this is tempered by the following from the 2012 FCPA Guidance, “Successor liability does not, however, create liability where none existed before. For example, if an issuer were to acquire a foreign company that was not previously subject to the FCPA’s jurisdiction, the mere acquisition of that foreign company would not retroactively create FCPA liability for the acquiring issuer.””

This means that because none of the payments were made in the US, none went through the US banking system and none involved a US person or entity that this would not lead to a creation of liability for the acquiring company. Moreover, there would be no continuing or ongoing illegal conduct going forward because “no contracts or other assets were determined to have been acquired through bribery that would remain in operation and from which Requestor would derive financial benefit following the acquisition.” Therefore there would be no jurisdiction under the FCPA to prosecute any person or entity involved after the acquisition.

The DOJ also provided this additional information, “To be sure, the Department encourages companies engaging in mergers and acquisitions to (1) conduct thorough risk-based FCPA and anti-corruption due diligence; (2) implement the acquiring company’s code of conduct and anti-corruption policies as quickly as practicable; (3) conduct FCPA and other relevant training for the acquired entity’s directors and employees, as well as third-party agents and partners; (4) conduct an FCPA-specific audit of the acquired entity as quickly as practicable; and (5) disclose to the Department any corrupt payments discovered during the due diligence process. See FCPA Guide at 29. Adherence to these elements by Requestor may, among several other factors, determine whether and how the Department would seek to impose post-acquisition successor liability in case of a putative violation.”


Mike Volkov calls it ‘reading the tea leaves’ when it comes to what information the DOJ is communicating. However, sometimes I think it is far simpler. First, and foremost, 14-02 communicates that there is no such thing as ‘springing liability’ to an acquiring company in the FCPA context nor such a thing as simply buying a FCPA violation, simply through an acquisition only, there must be continuing conduct for FCPA liability to arise. Most clearly beginning with the FCPA Guidance, the DOJ and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have communicated what companies need to do in any M&A environment. While many compliance practitioners had only focused on the post-acquisition integration and remediation; the clear import of 14-02 is to re-emphasize importance of the pre-acquisition phase.

Your due diligence must being in the pre-acquisition phase. The steps taken by the Requestor in this Opinion Release demonstrate some of the concrete steps that you can take. Some of the techniques you can use in the pre-acquisition phase include (1) having your internal or external legal, accounting, and compliance departments review a target’s sales and financial data, its customer contracts, and its third-party and distributor agreements; (2) performing a risk-based analysis of a target’s customer base; (3) performing an audit of selected transactions engaged in by the target; and (4) engaging in discussions with the target’s general counsel, vice president of sales, and head of internal audit regarding all corruption risks, compliance efforts, and any other major corruption-related issues that have surfaced at the target over the past ten years.

Whether you can make these inquiries or not, you will also need to engage in post-acquisition integration and remediation. 14-02 provides you with some of the steps you need to perform after the transaction is closed. If you cannot perform any or even an adequate pre-acquisition due diligence, the time frames you put in place after the acquisition closes may need to be compressed to make sure that you are not continuing any nefarious FCPA conduct going forward. But it all goes back to dis-linking. If a target is engaging in conduct that violates the FCPA but the target itself is not subject to the jurisdiction of the FCPA, you simply cannot afford to allow that conduct to continue. If you do allow such conduct to continue you will have bought a FCPA violation and your company will be actively engaging and participating in an ongoing FCPA violation. That is the final takeaway I derive from this Opinion Release; it is allowing corruption and bribery to continue which brings companies into FCPA grief. Opinion Release 14-02 provides you a roadmap of the steps you and your company can take to prevent such FCPA exposure.

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

November 13, 2014

Atlanta Burns – the Bio-Rad FCPA Enforcement Action – Part III

Atlanta BurningOn this date in 1864, the Union Army phase of the destruction of Atlanta began. While most Southerners credit Union General William T. Sherman with the burning of Atlanta, it was, in reality, Confederate General John Bell Hood who ordered the burning of the armament works that started the destruction. Sherman merely finished it. But whoever started or finished it, the result was horrific for the city. By one estimate, nearly 40 percent of the city was ruined, leaving, as one commentator noted, “little but a smoking shell.” Unfortunately for the Confederacy, this is not the last we will hear about either General Sherman or General Hood.

The Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc. (Bio-Rad) Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action has provided a wealth of information and lessons to be learned by the compliance practitioner. In Parts I and II I reviewed the facts of the Bio-Rad enforcement action and the specified remedial steps that the company has agreed to take. Today, I want to mine the Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), the company received from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Order Instituting Cease-and-Desist Proceedings (Order) and detail the specific internal controls that I think might have helped the company. (I will really try not to get carried away and have a Bio-Rad, Part IV but there is tons of great stuff in this one so there is no telling as I begin to write this post where I might end up.)

For many managers the default mode is to stay within silos and, as noted by Andrew Hill in his article in the Financial Times (FT) entitled “The default mode for managers needs a reset”, that such persons are “suspicious of ideas that are “not invented here.” This may lead them to becoming “detached from the purpose, and even values, of the company.” This can be particularly true of changes required by an anti-corruption compliance program which many business development types fear will change the status quo in a manner, which “puts at risk predictable, comfortable routines.”

Even with the three different bribery schemes used by Bio-Rad in three different countries, some general statements can be made. Obviously the use of a third party representative in Russia was fraudulent. However a robust system of internal controls might not have only detected such conduct but also prevented it if the Emerging Markets Regional Manager and/or any of the team under him knew that they would be checked by a second set of eyes on what they were doing.

I will focus on four areas of internal controls that were sorely missing from the company during its bribery scheme heyday:

  • Delegation of Authority (DOA)
  • Maintenance of the vendor master file
  • Contracts with agents
  • Movement of cash / currency.

Delegation of Authority 

Your DOA should reflect the impact of FCPA risk (transactions and geographic locations) to result in higher levels of approval for matters involving agents and for funds transfers and invoice payments to countries outside the US. If properly prepared and enforced, the DOA can be a powerful preventive tool for FCPA compliance, unfortunately this is not often the case as very often the DOA is prepared without much thought given to FCPA risks.

Properly utilized in a FCPA risk based process, the DOA takes into account the increased risk posed by certain types of transactions and by certain geographic locations. The DOA then provides for a higher level of scrutiny for higher risk transactions. This means that the DOA should specify who must give the final approval for engaging agents. Yet the DOA might distinguish between approval of vendor invoices for “routine” third party representatives and those from high-risk third party representatives, such as agents. Finally, the DOA should be integrated into the accounts payable processing system in a manner that ensures all high-risk vendor invoices receive the proper visibility. Identifying high-risk third party representatives can often be done within the vendor master file so payments to them are identified for appropriate approval BEFORE they are paid.

Vendor Master File

The vendor master file can be one of the most powerful PREVENTIVE control tools. This file should be structured so that each vendor can be identified not only by risk level but also by the date on which the vetting was completed and the vendor received final approval. Electronic controls should be in place to block payments to any vendor for which vetting has not been approved. Manual controls are needed over the submission, approval, and input of changes to the vendor master file. These controls include verification that all third party representatives have been approved before their information (and the vendor approval date) are input into the vendor master. Manual controls are also needed when “one time” third party representatives are submitted, when vendor name and/or vendor payment information changes are submitted.

Contracts with Third Party Representatives 

As demonstrated with the Bio-Rad enforcement action, contracts with agents are typically not integrated into an internal control system. They are left to operate on their own. Indeed in the case of Bio-Rad it is not clear if the compliance function had visibility into this process at all. However, to provide effective control, relevant terms of those contracts should be extracted and be made available to those who process and approve vendor invoices. This would also include a review of the commission rate for sales agents and the discount rate for distributors. To accomplish this, once the third party representatives are flagged as high-risk, and before any payments are made, the invoices are pulled for review and approval in accordance with the DOA. Such review would require that nonconforming service descriptions, commission rates, etc., must be approved not only by the original approver but also by the person so delegated in the DOA. This provides the necessary PREVENTIVE control to intercept questionable amounts before they are paid.

Disbursements of funds

All situations in which funds can be sent outside the US (accounts payable computer checks, manual checks, wire transfers, replenishment of petty cash, loans, advances, etc.,) should be reviewed from a FCPA risk standpoint. The goal is to identify the ways in which a country manager could cause funds to be transferred to their control and to conceal the true nature of the use of the funds within the accounting system. Controls need to be in place to prevent such activities. This would require that wire transfers outside the US have defined approvals in the DOA, and the persons who execute the wire transfers should be required to evidence agreement of the approvals to the DOA. Moreover, wire transfer requests going out of the US should always require dual approvals. Finally, wire transfer requests going outside the US should be required to include a description of proper business purpose and over certain level, there should be an additional review (yet another ‘second set of eyes’).

What about Hill and his default mode for managers to stay in their silos and never come out or allow change in their regions, such as was the case with the Bio-Rad Emerging Markets leadership team? This can occur in the compliance arena when the compliance function receives push back and is told the controls are too burdensome and also make operations less efficient. One of the areas available to a compliance professional is benchmarking from other company’s compliance experiences. However this can be expanded into solid presentations about why it is important to assess and mitigate FCPA risks using your corporate peers that have been the subject of a FCPA enforcement action. This is some of the best sources of information a compliance practitioner can avail his or herself of to provide good insight into why it was never expected that the company would be subject to FCPA enforcement and insight into the extreme disruption, cost, and anxiety which accompanied the enforcement actions.

Another key factor, as with all FCPA compliance initiatives, is ‘Tone at the Top’. This means that you should meet with and present the case for FCPA-focused internal controls to your company’s Executive Leadership Team (ELT), Audit Committee of the Board or other appropriate group of senior executives. The presentation should include, with examples, the importance of identifying and mitigating the FCPA and fraud risks. Some of these might include the following:

  • Illustrating the examples of how the controls can prevent bribery as well as many other types of occupational fraud;
  • Illustrating that the controls needed are all sound business controls, nothing exotic or out of the ordinary;
  • With proper control design, it may be possible to eliminate some existing detect controls in favor of more useful preventive controls or even prescriptive controls;
  • As a result of your business changes and resulting changes in assessed risks, it may be that some procedures now being performed are no longer needed and the resources can be shifted to more necessary controls; and
  • It may be possible to build in more electronic controls, which can replace existing manual controls.

As we end today’s post with Atlanta burning, Andrew Hill tearing down silos so that a company like Bio-Rad can put appropriate FPCA internal controls in place and arm the compliance practitioner with a wealth of information and lessons which can be applied to your own compliance program, all courtesy of Bio-Rad, I find that there is one more significant lesson to be taking away from this enforcement action, however I will save that for another day.

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

November 12, 2014

John Doar and the Bio-Rad FCPA Enforcement Action – Part II

John DoarJohn Doar died yesterday. He was perhaps most famously known for his role as the House Judiciary Committee Chief Counsel during the investigation of and impeachment proceedings against then President Nixon. However, it was his role in the civil rights movement in the South that in large part inspired me to become a lawyer. He rode with the Freedom Riders in Alabama; walked with James Meredith so that he could register to attend the University of Mississippi, then stayed in the same dorm room with Meredith while the campus rioted; prosecuted the KKK in Mississippi after the murder of three civil rights workers in 1964; and marched for voting rights with Dr. King in Selma. My favorite John Doar story was retold in his obituary in the New York Times (NYT), where he stopped a riot in its tracks with the following ““My name is John Doar — D-O-A-R,” he shouted to the crowd. “I’m from the Justice Department, and anybody here knows what I stand for is right.” That qualified as a full-length speech from the laconic Mr. Doar. At his continued urging, the crowd slowly melted away.”” In my book, he is right up there with Atticus Finch.

In an earlier post, I reviewed the Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (Bio-Rad) Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action from the perspective of the Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA) the company was able to secure with the Department of Justice (DOJ). Today I want to review the bribery schemes that the company used to either internally fund the bribes or attempt to evade internal detection. Both the NPA and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Order Instituting Cease-and-Desist Proceedings (Order). The compliance practitioner can use these bribery schemes not only for FCPA training but also to see if any such schemes or their indicia may be present in your company.

Initially I need to discuss the corporate structure. It was apparently quite decentralized. According to the Order, “Bio-Rad’s international sales organization (“ISO”) oversees the company’s international sales operations; this includes all locations outside the United States and Canada. In 2009, the ISO consisted of four sub-divisions: (1) Western Europe; (2) Asia Pacific; (3) Japan; and (4) Emerging Markets. Each sub-division had a general manager, reporting to the vice-president of ISO. The Asia Pacific sub-division included Vietnam and Thailand. The Emerging Markets sub-division included Russia and other eastern European countries. Some countries within the sub-divisions had a country manager who reported to the ISO sub-division general manager.” Emerging markets is clearly a high-risk area for pharmaceutical companies. If your business development or sales organization has such a designation, I would suggest that you check and see if there are sufficient protections in place to at least raise any red flags, which might need further investigation.

However, it was more than the management structure of the business operations that was decentralized, the compliance function was similarly structured. The NPA stated, “BIO-RAD also decentralized its compliance program such that its international offices were responsible for ensuring adequate compliance with its business ethics policy and code of conduct.” This decentralization so defanged the company’s compliance program that it could not perform even the most basic functions of a compliance organization; no due diligence on third parties, indeed no management of third parties at all from the compliance perspective; no risk assessments were performed and, finally, the most damning was that the compliance function could not even ensure compliance with the company’s own business ethics policy.

The Russia Scheme

However the company used third party representatives to facilitate the bribery scheme. In addition to the lack of due diligence or usual steps that a compliance practitioner might put in place to manage third parties under the FCPA there were several other items of note which constitute lessons learned by the compliance practitioner. First and foremost was the commission rate paid to these third parties, that being between 15%-30%. This alone may well have been enough to demonstrate “a conscious disregard for the high probability that the Russian Agents were passing along at least a portion of their commissions to Russian government officials to obtain profitable public contracts for the sale of medical diagnostic equipment.” Further, the payments made to these agents were sent to countries outside Russia, where neither the alleged services were delivered nor where the agents were legally domiciled. Moreover, not only did these agents have no offices in Russia, they had no employees in Russia either.

Apparently there were contracts in place with these agents. The services these agents were specified to deliver included, “acquiring new business, creating and disseminating promotional materials to prospective customers, distributing and installing products and related equipment, and training customers.” But it really is hard to deliver services if you have no employees. Apparently there were times these agents did deliver something identified as “distribution services” for the commission rates between 15%-30%. However the estimated value of these services for the company was between 2%-2.5% of the total sales.

Another area of obvious concern should have been the pre-payment of commissions to these agents. Any time you pre-pay before a service is delivered (other than a retainer into a lawyer’s trust account) you can potentially run into trouble. But Bio-Rad took it a step further by making pre-payments before contracts with the ultimate buyer were negotiated. Any ideas where those pre-paid commissions might have gone? Another area was the amount of the commissions. They were just less than $200,000, which happened to be the authority level of the head of Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets business unit. So there was no oversight or second set of eyes on these pre-payments because it was within the manager’s authority level. Finally, these pre-payments were actually forbidden under the contracts but they were made anyway.

The Vietnam Scheme 

The Vietnam Country Manager had contracting authority up to $100,000 and sales commissions up to $20,000. From 2005-2009 Bio-Rad apparently paid bribes directly to health care workers so they would purchase the company’s products. When it was pointed out to the Country Manager this was illegal, he simply moved to a distributor “at a deep discount, which the distributor would then resell to government customers at full price, and pass through a portion of it as bribes…Between 2005 and the end of 2009, the Vietnam office made improper payments of $2.2 million to agents or distributors, which was funneled to Vietnamese government officials. These bribes, recorded as “commissions,” “advertising fees,” and “training fees,” generated gross sales revenues of $23.7 million to Bio-Rad Singapore.” 

The Thailand Scheme

In Thailand, it was an almost mundane bribery scheme involved compared to Russia and Vietnam. Bio-Rad acquired an interest in a Thai Joint Venture (JV) through an acquisition where it performed “very little due diligence” on the JV. Bio-Rad acquired a minority interest in the JV and it did not communicate directly with the JV’s distributors but only through the majority owners of the JV. The bribery scheme was funded through “an inflated 13% commission, of which it retained 4%, and paid 9% to Thai government officials in exchange for profitable business contracts.” The due diligence was so poor that Bio-Rad did not know that the prime third party sales representative for the JV were the same majority owners of the JV.

Tomorrow, I will discuss some of the internal controls that a company might employ to help prevent such a compliance failure as occurred at Bio-Rad.

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

November 10, 2014

Gordon Lightfoot, the Edmund Fitzgerald and the Bio-Rad FCPA Settlement, Part I

Wreck of the Edmund FitzgeraldThis month there are two dates that are forever tied together in the annuals of maritime tragedies and great songwriters. November 10 is the 39th anniversary of the sinking of the Great Lakes freighter the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, who sank 17 miles from the entrance to Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior taking all 29 crewmembers to the bottom with her. Next Monday, November 17, is the 76th birthday of the Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, who memorialized the tragedy in the song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which he released on the album Summertime Dream in 1976. The song went all the way to Number 2 on the charts. I can still hear Lightfoot’s haunting tale in my head to this day and for me, it was his greatest single.

Earlier this month, Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc. (Bio-Rad) concluded a multi-year Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigation and enforcement action. It was notable for many reasons. First and foremost was the stunning bribery and corruption scheme that the company engaged in; multiple bribery schemes in multiple countries. Also notable were the results that the company achieved. While we do not yet know if there will be any individual prosecutions of this matter, the company received a Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA) from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and a relatively small fine of $14.35MM for what clearly would appear to be criminal violations of the FCPA. Perhaps equally stunning is the amount of profit disgorgement that the company agreed to with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), that amount being $40.7MM.

As with the Layne Christensen FCPA enforcement action from October, both settlement documents provide a wealth of very useful information for the compliance practitioner to use to not only help create a best practices compliance program, but also review your company’s compliance program to see if there might be areas of risk which need to be assessed or have greater compliance scrutiny. Over the next couple of blog posts I want to explore the Bio-Rad FCPA settlement, discuss some of the lessons learned for the compliance practitioner and explore what this settlement may unveil for future FCPA enforcement actions.

With his usual thoroughness, the FCPA Professor went into deep dive mode to lay out the underlying facts involved in this matter, in a post entitled “Bio-Rad Laboratories Agrees To Pay $55 Million To Resolve FCPA Enforcement Action”. According to the NPA, Bio-Rad had bribery schemes running in the following countries: Russia, Vietnam and Thailand. In Russia, persons identified as ‘Manager-1’ who was a high-level manager of the company’s Emerging Markets sales region and ‘Manager-2’ who worked for Manager-1 and was described as a high-level accounting manager of the company’s Emerging Markets sales region, engaged with ‘Agent-1’ paying him “a commission of 15-30% purportedly in exchange for various services outlined in the agency contracts, including acquiring new business by creating and disseminating promotional materials to prospective customers, installing Bio-Rad products and related equipment, training customers on the installation and the use of Bio-Rad products, and delivering Bio-Rad products.”

The commission rates were approved by Manager 1 and 2 even though they were both aware that Agent 1 did not and indeed could not perform the contracted services. Payments were made to a level of $200,000 or less because that was the spending authority of the managers, which did not require a higher level of company review. Both managers communicated with Agent 1 through multiple fraudulent email addresses to avoid detection by the company. Finally, Agent 1 had a 100% success rate in obtaining sales into Russia.

In Vietnam, the system was much simpler and even more directly corrupt. The Bio-Rad country manager was authorized to approve contracts up the amount of $100,000 and to pay sales commissions up to $20,000 without further review. This un-named country manager simply authorized cash payments to officials at state-owned hospitals to obtain or retain business for the company. When the country manager was finally challenged on this direct bribery scheme, he simply “proposed a solution that entailed employing a middleman to pay the bribes to the Vietnamese government officials as a means of insulating Bio-Rad from liability.” The bribery funds were created by giving these middlemen, named distributors, deep discounts “which the distributor would then resell to government customers at full price, and pass through a portion of it as bribes.” These bribes were recorded on the company’s books and records as “commissions”, “advertising fees” and “training fees”.

In Thailand, the company acquired a 49% interest in a joint venture (JV) through acquisition. Initially I would note that there is no record that Bio-Rad either performed pre-acquisition due diligence or engaged in any post acquisition integration or remediation so that an ongoing bribery scheme which began under a previous company’s ownership continued after Bio-Rad took control of the Thailand JV. The bribery scheme involved paying an agent “an inflated 13% commission, of which it retained 4%, and paid 9% to Thai government officials in exchange for profitable business contracts.” Just to top it all off, the agent involved in the bribery scheme was Bio-Rad’s JV partner.

I would say that all of the above is very bad conduct. Yet, Bio-Rad was able to garner a NPA from the DOJ and a civil Cease and Desist Order from the SEC. How did they accomplish this? In the DOJ Press Release, it stated, “The department entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the company due, in large part, to Bio-Rad’s self-disclosure of the misconduct and full cooperation with the department’s investigation…In addition, Bio-Rad has engaged in significant remedial actions, including enhancing its anti-corruption compliance programs globally, improving internal controls and compliance functions, developing and implementing additional due diligence and contracting procedures for intermediaries, and conducting extensive anti-corruption training throughout the organization.”

For the compliance practitioner, yet once again the DOJ and SEC are sounding a LOUD and CLEAR message that even with very bad conduct, the systemic failure of internal controls and having a culture that turned a very blind eye at best to what was going on; you can make a comeback. Moreover, you can make such a spectacular comeback that does not even sustain a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) let alone have to accept a guilty plea. It all starts with putting a best practices compliance program in place and the DPA lists the steps that any company should consider in its compliance regime.

  1. High level commitment by providing visible support by senior management.
  2. An appropriate corporate policy around anti-corruption.
  3. Specific policies and procedures in the following areas: (a) gifts, (b) hospitality, entertainment and travel, (c) customer travel, (d) political contributions, (e) charitable donations and sponsorship, (f) facilitation payments and (g) solicitation and extortion.
  4. Appropriate internal controls to ensure transactions are authorized and properly recorded.
  5. A periodic risk-based review. In other words, a risk assessment. Policies and procedures need to be reviewed no less than annually and updated as appropriate.
  6. The compliance function should have proper Board oversight, independence to act and support within the organization.
  7. Compliance shall provide training on and guidance to the business units on its anti-corruption compliance program.
  8. There should be mechanisms for employees to report internally compliance issues of concern with no fear of retaliation.
  9. A company must maintain and provide “effective and reliable” processes and resources to responding to any raised issues.
  10. A company must use both incentives to encourage behavior and discipline of those employees who violate its compliance program.
  11. Third parties must be subjected to an appropriate due diligence based vetting process, have an appropriate contract and thereafter be managed going forward after the contract is signed.
  12. There should be a protocol for evaluation of any potential acquisitions or merger candidates and then appropriate review and remediation after any acquisition is complete.
  13. There should be ongoing monitoring and testing of the compliance program going forward.

At the conclusion of its NPA, Bio-Rad agreed to ongoing compliance reporting, at annual anniversaries of the date of the NPA by reporting to the DOJ the results of its remediation efforts over the past year. This is one of the most significantly overlooked positive aspects of any FCPA resolution. This allows the DOJ to have a continued view into the company’s compliance function. It is not an ongoing monitor but it does give the DOJ a transparent view into the company’s work towards the overall goal of putting a best practices compliance program in place and not simply stopping work when the settlement is signed. It keeps the company on its toes and allows the DOJ to continue to assess the company’s actions around anti-corruption compliance.

In the next blog post on Bio-Rad, I will review some of the specific bribery schemes that the company used and discuss how a compliance practitioner might use them for some lessons learned.

For a YouTube version of Gordon Lightfoot signing The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, click here.

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

November 7, 2014

Don’t Collapse in the Wind – Knowledge is Power

Tacoma Narrows BridgeOn November 7, 1940, high winds buffeted the Tacoma Narrows Bridge leading to its collapse. The first failure came at about 11 a.m., when concrete dropped from the road surface. Just minutes later, a 600-foot section of the bridge broke free. Subsequent investigations and testing revealed that when the bridge experienced strong winds from a certain direction, the frequency oscillations built up to such an extent that collapse was inevitable. For posterity, the collapse of the Bridge was captured on film.

I thought about this spectacular engineering failure when I read, yet again, commentary about representatives from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) appearing at for-profit conferences to give presentations to attendees. Personally, I was shocked, simply shocked to find out that one has to pay to attend these events. Further, it appears that one or more of the companies running these events, ACI, Momentum, IQPC, HansonWade, among others, might actually be for-profit companies. It was intimated that one of the ways the conference providers enticed registrants to pay their fees was to provide a forum of lawyers practicing in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) space, to whom representatives from the DOJ and SEC could speak. Now I am really, really really shocked to find that people actually pay to obtain knowledge.

Armed with the new piece of information that there is a marketplace where people actually pay to obtain information, I have decided to practice what I preach and perform a self-assessment to determine if I am part of this commerce in ideas. Unfortunately I have come to the understanding that not only do I participate in that marketplace but also I actually use information provided by representatives of the US government in my very own marketing and commerce. So with a nod to Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand of the Marketplace; I now fully self-disclose that I digest to what US government regulators say about the FCPA, repackage it and then (try) and make money from it. (I know you are probably as shocked, shocked as I was to discover this.)

Where can one go to find out information about the FCPA, its enforcement and how the DOJ and SEC view compliance programs? First and foremost is the FCPA Guidance, jointly issued by the DOJ and SEC back in 2012. It is still the best one volume resource on the government’s thinking on a wide range of issues relating to the FCPA. For a ‘Nuts and Bolts’ guy like me, it even has some suggested building blocks of FCPA compliance called the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program. Of course, such a treatise must cost thousands of dollars so that it is only available to a very select few. Oops, it is available for FREE on the DOJ website. Darn, as I planned to buy up all of the copies and then put on for pay seminars across the world as the only source of such knowledge.

Since the FCPA Guidance is available for free, perhaps I can corner the market on all known enforcement actions and Opinion Releases. I am sure that they will provide lots of good information such as what might constitute an effective compliance program, what are some of the actions that got companies into FCPA hot water and suggestions by the DOJ and SEC as to what might have constituted compliance failures. I have even heard that in Opinion Releases, the DOJ will pass upon fact patterns and indicate if they believe such facts might be prosecuted for FCPA violations. Double oops, as all of those are publicly available as well and for FREE. Double Darn.

OK, well if the FCPA Guidance is free and all the enforcement actions and Opinion Releases are available for free; maybe I can corner the market on court opinions, which discuss the FCPA. I am a lawyer and I bet all the other lawyers would pay me if I were the only person in the world who had access to them (or even better yet we were in China where the trials are held in secret-imagine that market!). I know there are only a handful of such cases but imagine the power I would have if only I knew about them. Why I could I put on seminars and pay people to attend. Triple oops, as I just found out that the court decisions are public record and available for FREE. Drat.

Well if all this information about the FCPA is available for free what can I do to make money? Hmm, maybe, just maybe, if I put information together from all of the above sources in a book people might be interested in buying it. What if I wrote multiple books? Do you think there might be a market for such written texts? I certainly hope so and to further entice you to join in this nefarious act of for-profit commerce, I invite you to check out my latest book, Doing Compliance: Design, Create, and Implement an Effective Anti-Corruption Compliance Program, available at Compliance Week. Or perhaps you might want to purchase either of the other three printed or five eBooks I have written on FCPA compliance. But wait a minute, wouldn’t that mean I am making money off free government information? I guess I better self-disclose those facts and let the chips fall where they may. Hopefully Adam Smith will give me a declination of the Invisible Hand.

If no one will buy any of the books I have written, maybe they would attend training that I might put on. I could talk about all this free government information, put it in power points slides and other written materials and then charge people to get trained. I could even call it ‘FCPA Training’. Maybe I could go to other parts of the country and put on training, maybe in places where they might not have heard about all the free DOJ and SEC information. Of course, I would have to find such a place. But wait a minute, wouldn’t that mean I am making money off of free government information. I guess I better self-disclose that as well.

If no one will buy any books I write or go to training seminars that I might put on, I could always write a blog. Do you think anyone would pay to read a blog? Nah 

How about the following as a business strategy? I will tell people I am lawyer and I will give them legal advice on the FCPA. Of course to do so, I will have to use all of these free resources listed above and then charge clients for my legal services. Think there might be a market for that legal advice? I am not really sure so perhaps I should make a provisional self-disclosure that if any clients came to me for legal advice, I would charge them and hence engage in commerce. It would also allow me to apply to join that hallowed group, FCPA INC. whose members (1) practice law around the FCPA, (2) put on FCPA training, (3) write books on the FCPA and (4) generally pontificate on all things FCPA. Sounds like a great group to belong to, you think they will take me? If so I can’t wait to learn the secret handshake so I can proudly commune, in secret, with its members. Hopefully they will not haze pledges too badly, as I am way too old to survive another Pledge Week.

If you have not quite ascertained the point of today’s post, please consider the following – knowledge is power. If you want knowledge about the FCPA there are plenty of places you can look for free to obtain that knowledge. If you want to hear the DOJ or SEC’s most current thinking on FCPA related issues, you can also attend a (for-pay) FCPA conference. If so, I am sure I will see you there because I certainly value what they have to communicate to us. I also plan to continue to communicate it to you; sometimes even for profit. Long Live Adam Smith and his Invisible Hand! 

Always remember, a little knowledge can go a long way, even if you have to pay to garner it.


To further emphasize some of these articulations, I am pleased to announce that I will present some of my thoughts on the issue of internal controls in an effective compliance program, in a webinar hosted by The Network, next Tuesday, November 11 at 1 PM EST. For details and registration, click here.

On December 4, I will be making a live presentation on the recent trend for the DOJ and SEC to target internal controls in FCPA enforcement actions and the interplay with the COSO 2013 Update at a live event, hosted by The Network, in Houston. Baker and McKenzie partner Stephen Martin will be joining me and will discuss risk assessments in a best practices compliance program. For details and registration, click here.

And best of all both events are FREE, just like this video of the Tacoma Narrow Bridge collapsing.

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

November 5, 2014

A Royal Fan Responds: Russ Berland on the SEC Financial Report for FY 2014

Russ Berland

Ed. Note-today we have a guest post from KC Royals fan and Stinson Leonard Street partner Russ Berland. 

As a Kansas City Royals fan, I would like to use this opportunity to congratulate the Royals on a great season and say to them, “Ya done good.”  Despite losing an extremely close seventh World Series game to a very able and talented San Francisco Giants team, which included a pitcher whose name and face will one day be memorialized in Cooperstown, this year has been a banner, or should I say, a pennant year for the boys in blue.

The SEC likewise would like to take a moment to be congratulated on their banner year in their annual enforcement preview of their Agency Financial Report.  So here goes … The SEC wants us to know that they are using creative means to find misconduct on their own and go after it, to hold people and corporations accountable,  and to pay and protect whistleblowers.  On October 16, the SEC put out its official preview of its upcoming Agency Financial Report for FY 2014.  The SEC’s fiscal year ends September 30, so this spans every enforcement action the SEC has taken since October 1, 2013.  The report has four major themes:

  1. The SEC is enforcing the law against people, not just companies. It takes people to commit misconduct on behalf of companies so those same people should be held accountable.  And if the SEC is counting on you to watch over companies and transactions you better take it seriously.  The SEC does and they will hold you accountable.  The preview made this point in showcasing its major enforcement actions against Fifth Third Bancorp and its former CFO, Diamond Foods Inc. and its former CEO and CFO, World Capital Market and its founder, and many, many others.  The most poignant example was the enforcement action against the Chairman of the Audit Committee of AgFeed Industries, Inc.  The SEC alleges that Ivan Gothner, the chairman of AgFeed’s audit committee received information that AgFeed’s Chinese operations were conducting accounting fraud and instead of taking a fellow director’s advice to “hire professional investigators guided by outside legal counsel,” he directed internal resources to assess the situation.  When that resulted in late and inadequate information, the SEC charged him “with violating or aiding and abetting violations of the anti-fraud, reporting, books and records, and internal controls provisions of the federal securities laws” and ” with making false statements to AgFeed’s outside auditors.”  Andrew Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, called this “a cautionary tale of what happens when an audit committee chair fails to perform his gatekeeper function in the face of massive red flags.”
  2. Corporations must admit their actions. Last year, the SEC Chairman, Mary Jo White, announced that more companies must admit their wrongdoing in settlements.  The SEC’s Admissions Policy states that the companies may be required to admit their wrongdoing when there is “(1) misconduct that harmed large numbers of investors, or placed investors or the market at risk of potentially serious harm, (2) egregious intentional misconduct, or (3) when the defendant engaged in unlawful obstruction of the commission’s investigative processes.”  Now, the Preview adds two more categories to those required to make admissions: “[4] where an admission can send a particularly important message to the markets, or [5] where the wrongdoer poses a particular future threat to investors or the markets.”  For example, in the settlement with ConvergEx for misrepresenting its commissions to brokerage customers, ConvergEx was required to admit the facts stated by the SEC and admit that it had violated Securities Laws.  In one interesting twist, Wells Fargo Advisors LLC was forced to admit its wrongdoing when one of its brokers traded on non-public information about the sale of Burger King to a private equity firm. The “wrongdoing” that Wells Fargo Advisors admitted encompassed inadequate policies, inadequate coordination among internal groups tasked with policing insider trading and the compliance officer who should have spotted the insider trading missing it. This is an interesting view of what constitutes “egregious intentional misconduct.” The message seems to be that in order to settle a matter with the SEC without admitting or denying facts or legal conclusions, the defendant will need to prove they do not fit in one of the five listed categories.  It’s possible that the SEC forced Wells Fargo Advisors to admit it’s wrongdoing because it delayed production of relevant documents or because one of the documents that they turned over had been altered by the compliance officer herself.  Or perhaps they are sending “a particularly important message” to compliance officers that they need to be vigilant in doing their jobs.
  3. Whistleblowing Pays.  In FY2014, the SEC paid $35 million to 9 whistleblowers.  One of them received $30 million by him or herself.   Because the SEC rules protect the identity of whistleblowers, we don’t know who got paid.  But the SEC whistleblowing process has multiple stages, which include bringing original information or an original analysis of existing information to the SEC, having the SEC pursue that information leading to a prosecution, and successfully prosecuting or settling that matter with a recovery of over $1 million.  This takes  a long time from beginning to end.  Dodd Frank was passed in 2010.  The first REAL money ($14 million) was paid last year.  And now someone is getting $30 million.  The pipeline took a while to fill, but it is reaching a full state and we can probably expect to see a lot more whistleblower payments in the next few years.
  4. If you don’t come to us, we’ll find you. The SEC is using more and more data analytics on financial and trading activity to find wrongdoers.   According to the SEC, ” innovative use of data and analytical tools contributed to a very strong year for enforcement marked by cases that spanned the securities industry.”   Right now, they are telling us that they are using those techniques to look at filing deficiencies, hedge fund returns, and insider trading.  But we can anticipate they are looking at more than just those categories and we should expect to see more and more use of these techniques over broader areas in the coming years.  And, the SEC is telling us that they are also currently implementing and developing “next generation tools” to review market and other data for suspicious activity.

So, this Preview of the FY2014 Agency Financial Report suggests that the SEC should not be seen as sitting back and waiting for cases to come to them.  And when companies and people violate Securities Laws, the SEC will work hard to make sure that they each take accountability, either personally through fines and penalties or corporately, through admissions.   Like the Royals, the SEC would like us to know that they have had a banner year.

Berland can be reached at russ.berland@stinsonleonard.com. He was lead investigative counsel for Layne Christensen in its recently concluded FCPA enforcement action by the SEC. In my podcast, the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Report, Episode 104, I interview Berland on how the company was able to receive a declination from the DOJ. The Episode will post Thursday, Nov. 7.

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