FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

August 19, 2015

BNY Mellon Settles First Sons and Daughters (and Nephews) FCPA Hiring Matter – Part I

Prince and PrincessYesterday the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced a resolution with Bank of New York Mellon Corporation (BNY Mellon) for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). This was the first enforcement action around the now infamous Princesslings and Princelings investigations where US companies hired the sons and daughters of foreign government officials to curry favor and obtain or retain business.

While JPMorgan Chase has garnered the most attention around this issue, probably because of its notorious spreadsheet tracking of sons and daughters hires to develop business in China, there are multiple US companies under scrutiny for similar conduct. The FCPA Blog has reported that Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and UBS are all under investigation by the SEC for their hiring practices around the sons and daughters of foreign government officials. BNY Mellon has the honor of being the first company to reach resolution on this issue.

This is an important issue for many companies going forward and since this is the initial enforcement action on this issue, I am going to take a deep dive into the matter over the next couple of days. Today, I will discuss the facts of the case and tomorrow I will discuss not only the lessons to be learned from this FCPA enforcement action but also how the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner can use those facts to graft a hiring program around the sons and daughters of foreign government officials which will not violate the FCPA.

In its Press Release, the SEC noted, “The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that BNY Mellon has agreed to pay $14.8 million to settle charges that it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by providing valuable student internships to family members of foreign government officials affiliated with a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund.” Andrew J. Ceresney, Director of the SEC Enforcement Division, was quoted in the Press Release as stating, “The FCPA prohibits companies from improperly influencing foreign officials with ‘anything of value,’ and therefore cash payments, gifts, internships, or anything else used in corrupt attempts to win business can expose companies to an SEC enforcement action. BNY Mellon deserved significant sanction for providing valuable student internships to family members of foreign officials to influence their actions.” Kara Brockmeyer, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s FCPA Unit, said, “Financial services providers face unique corruption risks when seeking to win business in international markets, and we will continue to scrutinize industries that have not been vigilant about complying with the FCPA.”

The Cease and Desist Order (Order) entered found that BNY Mellon violated the anti-bribery and internal controls provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.  BNY Mellon, “Without admitting or denying the findings, the company agreed to pay $8.3 million in disgorgement, $1.5 million in prejudgment interest, and a $5 million penalty. The SEC considered the company’s remedial acts and its cooperation with the investigation when determining a settlement.”

The underlying facts and BNY Mellon’s conduct as laid out in the Order provide some clear guidance for the CCO or compliance practitioner regarding what will be a violation of the FCPA in terms of hiring sons, daughters and close family relatives going forward. It should be noted that two of the hires were sons of foreign governmental officials and one was a nephew. However, the first important lesson under this enforcement action is around the parties involved. Although not identified by country, the foreign governmental entity involved was a Middle Eastern Sovereign Wealth Fund. If there was any question as to whether foreign sovereign wealth funds were covered under the FCPA, that answer is now clear, they are covered. All corporate actions should be cloaked with this knowledge going forward.

The Order also specified how the hiring of the relatives led directly to BNY Mellon obtaining and retaining business. One foreign government official, (Official X), “made a personal and discreet request that BNY Mellon provide internships to two of his relatives: his son, Intern A, and nephew, Intern B. As a Middle Eastern Sovereign Wealth Fund department head, Official X had authority over allocations of new assets to existing managers such as the Boutique, and was viewed within BNY Mellon as a “key decision maker” at the Middle Eastern Sovereign Wealth Fund. Official X later persistently inquired of BNY Mellon employees concerning the status of his internship request, asking whether and when BNY Mellon would deliver the internships. At one point, Official X said to his primary contact at BNY Mellon that the request represented an “opportunity” for BNY Mellon, and that the official could secure internships for his family members from a competitor of BNY Mellon if it did not satisfy his personal request.”

There were clear statements by the BNY Mellon official involved that hiring this son and nephew were being done to obtain or retain business. As reported in the Order:

  • BNY Mellon was “not in a position to reject the request from a commercial point of view” even though it was a “personal request” from Official X. The employee stated: “by not allowing the internships to take place, we potentially jeopardize our mandate with [the Middle Eastern Sovereign Wealth Fund].”
  • Another employee was quoted as saying, ““I want more money for this. I expect more for this. . . . We’re doing [Official X] a favor.”
  • Yet another employee was quoted as saying, “I am working on an expensive ‘favor’ for [Official X] – an internship for his son and cousin (don’t mention to him as this is not official).”
  • Finally, to demonstrate the nefarious nature of the arrangement and lack of transparency in the entire process, this final BNY Mellon employee said, ““[W]e have to be careful about this. This is more of a personal request . . . [Official X] doesn’t want [the Middle Eastern Sovereign Wealth Fund] to know about it.” The same employee later directed his administrative assistant to refrain from sending email correspondence concerning Official X’s internship request “because it was a personal favor.”

The second foreign government official, (Official Y), “asked through a subordinate European Office employee that BNY Mellon provide an internship to the official’s son, Intern C. As a senior official at the European Office, Official Y had authority to make decisions directly impacting BNY Mellon’s business. Internal BNY Mellon documents reflected Official Y’s importance in this regard, stating that Official Y was “crucial to both retaining and gaining new business” for BNY Mellon. One or more European Office employees acting on Official Y’s behalf later inquired repeatedly about the status and details of the internship, including during discussions of the transfer of European Office assets to BNY Mellon. At the time of Official Y’s initial request, a number of recent client service issues had threatened to weaken the relationship between BNY Mellon and the European Office.”

When it came to hiring Official Y’s son there were some equally damning communications at BNY Mellon that were featured in the Order.

  • The BNY Mellon sovereign wealth fund relationship manager said, “that granting Official Y’s request was likely to “influence any future decisions taken within [the Middle Eastern Sovereign Wealth Fund].”
  • The same person also worried aloud that if BNY Mellon did not hire the son, it “might well lose market share to a competitor as a result.”
  • He went on to write ““Its [sic] silly things like this that help influence who ends up with more assets / retaining dominant position.”
  • Finally, he noted that to accede to Official Y’s request was the “only way” to increase business share.

Added to all of this was that none of the three individuals met the BNY Mellon requirements for its internship program; they met neither the academic or professional requirement to obtain an internship. BNY Mellon not only waived its own hiring requirements, it did not even go through the pretense of meeting with them or interviewing them. Finally, these three individuals were provided with “bespoke internships were rotational in nature, meaning that Interns A, B and C had the opportunity to work in a number of different BNY Mellon business units, enhancing the value of the work experience beyond that normally provided to BNY Mellon interns.”

The penalty was also interesting. As set out in the order BNY Mellon agreed to the following penalty amount: “disgorgement of $8,300,000, prejudgment interest of $1,500,000 and a civil money penalty in the amount of $5,000,000, for a total payment of $14,800,000.” The SEC noted the cooperation efforts of the bank in stating, “Respondent acknowledges that the Commission is not imposing a civil penalty in excess of $5,000,000 based upon its cooperation in a Commission investigation.” Further, BNY Mellon engaged in extensive remediation. The Order stated, “Prior to the investigation by the Commission of the Interns, BNY Mellon had begun a process of enhancing its anti-corruption compliance program including: making changes to the Anti-Corruption Policy to explicitly address the hiring of government officials’ relatives; requiring that every application for a full-time hire or an internship be routed through a centralized HR application process; enhancing its Code of Conduct to require that every year each employee certifies that he or she is not responsible for hiring through a non-centralized channel; and requiring as part of a centralized application process that each applicant indicate whether she or a close personal associate is or has recently been a government official, and, if so, additional review by BNY Mellon’s anti-corruption office is mandated.”

Tomorrow I will look at lessons learned for the CCO and compliance practitioner and how you can avoid the missteps of BNY Mellon in your hiring program going forward.

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, 2015

December 8, 2013

And The Hits Just Keep on Coming for the ‘Sons and Daughters’ Hiring Program

About the best thing that you can say for the Houston Texans is that they did not lose on Sunday. Of course they did not play on Sunday, pathetically losing Week 14’s game last Thursday. For their season’s effort, the head coach was fired the next day. At least in the National Football League (NFL) there is accountability.

On the other hand, the hits just keep on coming for JP Morgan Chase. On the front page of Sunday’s New York Times (NYT), in an article entitled “Bank Tracked Business Linked to China Hiring”, reporters Ben Protess and Jessica Silver-Greenburg reviewed yet more potentially damning evidence in the Bank’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigation. They were able to view documents which had been recently disclosed by JP Morgan Chase to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in connection with the bank’s ongoing internal investigation into its ‘Sons and Daughters’ hiring program which apparently targeted the children of communist party officials and high ranking officials of state owned enterprises for employment in order to obtain business from their parents. The reporters noted, “Until now, the indications of a connection between the hires and business deals have not been so explicit.”

Emails, Spreadsheets and Whistleblowers

The reporters studied both documents and emails which seemed to indicate that the bank thought hiring of these sons and daughters would and did contribute in bringing business to the bank. The documents included spreadsheets “that list the bank’s “track record” for converting hires into business deals”. Another set of documents discussed in the article were described as “historical deal conversion” spreadsheets. The article went on to detail that in one column there was a list of the job candidates and in another column “the bank recorded its track record for winning business from the companies tied to the candidates.” There were other spreadsheets which listed the hires of well-connected children and the revenue that the bank earned from deals involving with hires linked to those companies. These other documents included spreadsheets which discussed “about 30 employees with ties to state-owned companies or Communist Party officials, including the daughter of the deputy minister of propaganda, a relative of a Chinese financial regulator and the nephew of the executive chairman at Sinotruk, which is part of a state-owned trucking enterprise.”

There were also emails cited in the article which seemed to indicate that depth and pervasiveness of the ‘sons and daughters’ hiring program. One email discussed “the “existing and potential business opportunities,” a senior JPMorgan executive in Hong Kong emphasized that the father of a job candidate was the chairman of the China Everbright Group, a state-controlled financial conglomerate. The executive also extolled the broader benefits of the hiring program, telling colleagues in another email: “You all know I have always been a big believer of the Sons and Daughters program — it almost has a linear relationship” with winning assignments to advise Chinese companies.”

In addition to these emails and documents discussed in the NYT article, the reporters also interviewed current and former bank employees. Apparently at least two whistleblowers came forward to identify the hiring scheme, “with one filing a complaint in April 2011 with the Hong Kong stock exchange and another coming forward to American authorities this year.” It has not been clear when JP Morgan Chase began its internal investigation or what was the genesis of the investigation.

The Tang Xiaoning Hiring

The article went into specifics with one of the hiring’s, that of “Tang Xiaoning, a onetime Goldman and Citigroup employee whose father is the chairman of the China Everbright Group, appeared to encapsulate the spirit of the “Sons and Daughters” program for state-owned clients. The father, approached a JPMorgan executive in Hong Kong in March 2010 about a position for his son, records and interviews show. The executive, who led JPMorgan’s China investment banking unit, welcomed the request and urged his colleagues in an email a day later to discuss “how we can leverage more on this account going forward.” But in an internal compliance form, the executive played down the significance of hiring Mr. Tang, documents show, saying there was “no expected benefit.”

Tang Xiaoning was subsequently hired on a one-year employment agreement. Thereafter his father, Tang Shuangning, who had done little if any business with the bank prior to the hiring of his son. But thereafter, “a China Everbright subsidiary hired the bank to advise on a $300 million private offering of shares, according to interviews. And in 2011, after Mr. Tang worked at JPMorgan for several months, China Everbright’s banking subsidiary hired JPMorgan as one of several financial advisers on its decision to become a public company, a deal that was delayed amid turmoil on the world’s markets.” In 2012, after two successive one-year extensions of his employment agreement, “China Everbright International, a subsidiary focused on alternative energy businesses, hired JPMorgan to advise on a $162 million sale of shares, according to Standard & Poor’s Capital IQ, a research service.” When the issue of a third one-year employment agreement it was clear what bank officials in China thought of the situation. The NYT article quoted an email which read, ““Given where we are on China Everbright, I think we may need another contract for Xiaoning,” the executive wrote.”

The article notes that the origins of the ‘Sons and Daughters’ hiring program was to comply with the FCPA. The reporters noted, “According to documents and interviews with current and former employees, JPMorgan created the “Sons and Daughters” program in 2006 with the expectation that the hires would receive heightened scrutiny. But by 2009, the “Sons and Daughters” program was putting the job candidates on the fast track to employment. The documents show that applicants from prominent Chinese families faced less stringent hiring standards — and fewer job interviews — than the average junior-level hire.” Moreover, there has apparently been no direct evidence of knowledge by the program at the corporate headquarters in New York.

Ongoing Monitoring is Critical

So for the compliance professional what are some of the lessons that can be drawn from this matter? First and foremost is that there needs to be ongoing monitoring to determine whether employees are staying within the compliance program. Even after all the important ethical messages from management have been communicated to the appropriate audiences and key standards and controls are in place, there should still be a question of whether the company’s employees are adhering to the compliance program. Two of the seven compliance elements in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines call for companies to monitor, audit, and respond quickly to allegations of misconduct. These three highlighted activities are key components enforcement officials look for when determining whether companies maintain adequate oversight of their compliance programs.

Your company should establish a regular monitoring system to spot issues and address them. Effective monitoring means applying a consistent set of protocols, checks, and controls tailored to your company’s risks to detect and remediate compliance problems on an ongoing basis. To address this, your compliance team should be checking in routinely with local Finance departments in your foreign offices to ask if they’ve noticed recent accounting irregularities. Regional directors should be required to keep tabs on potential improper activity in the countries in which they manage. Additionally, the global compliance committee should meet or communicate as often as every month to discuss issues as they arise. These ongoing efforts demonstrate that your company is serious about compliance.

This means that you may want to walk down the hall and talk to your company’s Human Resources (HR) Department to see if there is anything around hiring of the children or family members of government officials. You might also do some transaction monitoring to see if there are new clients, customers or projects which popped up suddenly as new business for the company. Or take it a step further to see if there were contracts or business retained because of any hiring.

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2013

Blog at WordPress.com.