$21.7 million FCPA settlement for consumer lender
On August 6, the SEC announced that a South Carolina-based consumer loan company agreed to pay over $21.7 million to settle the SEC’s claims that the company violated the books and records and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA through its Mexican loan operations. According to the SEC, the company’s former Mexican subsidiary paid more than $4 million in bribes, “directly or through intermediaries, to Mexican government officials and union officials, from at least December 2010 through June 2017 to obtain and retain business” related to the offering of small loans to state and federal government employees. The SEC alleged that in order to “retain the ability to make loans to government employees under all of the contracts” and to ensure loan repayments were made in a timely manner, the former subsidiary paid bribes in several ways, including (i) cash payments; (ii) making deposits into bank accounts linked to government officials and union officials or those of their relatives and friends; and (iii) hiring third-party intermediaries to assist in securing business and making bribe payments, including large bags of cash, to officials.
These bribes, the SEC alleged, were then inaccurately recorded in the company’s books and records as “legitimate ‘commission’ expenses.” The SEC also found that the company and its former subsidiary lacked “internal accounting controls sufficient to detect or prevent such payments,” and that as a result of the subsidiary’s failure to implement a sufficient accounts payable system, managers pre-signed blank checks, which made “it impossible to enforce authorization limits in place over payments.” The SEC further alleged that while the former subsidiary sent spreadsheets to the parent company each month detailing the payments, the company did not require invoices or back-up support to account for the expenses and failed to identify the high risk of bribery and corruption in Mexico. Additionally, the SEC noted that despite incorporating an FCPA policy into the company’s corporate compliance manual in 2013, there was no effective formal monitoring or internal controls to ensure the former subsidiary complied with the policy. The company also allegedly lacked personnel oversight in Mexico, and “the tone at the top” from company management “did not support robust internal audit and compliance functions,” leading to several material weaknesses.
In entering into the administrative order, the SEC considered the company’s cooperation and remedial efforts. Without admitting or denying wrongdoing, the company consented to a cease and desist order, and agreed to pay a $2 million civil money penalty and approximately $19.7 million in disgorgement and pre-judgment interest.