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SEC defends whistleblower award delay in foreign bribery case
On July 11, the SEC responded to a petition asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to compel a whistleblower award determination from the agency. In April 2017, the “John Doe” petitioner had applied for an SEC whistleblower award, claiming that beginning in May 2011 and continuing for the next several years, he voluntarily provided original information to the Commission that led to the SEC and DOJ’s $519 million resolution of foreign bribery claims against Teva Pharmaceuticals (previously reported here). Under the SEC Whistleblower Program established by the Dodd-Frank Act, the petitioner could be eligible for up to 30% of that $519 million recovery. In April 2019, after the SEC still had not issued a preliminary determination in connection with his application, the petitioner sought relief in court. The petitioner argued that it was a “simple task” to evaluate his claim, and the agency’s two-year delay was “unreasonable.”
In its response, the SEC argued that the petitioner “greatly misapprehends the work, effort, and time involved in reviewing whistleblower claims,” “overlooks the substantial complexities involved in adjudicating claims regarding the Teva matter,” and “ignores that the SEC is processing a voluminous number of other whistleblower applications that require the attention of the Commission in addition to his claim.”
For additional information about SEC whistleblower awards and procedures under the SEC Whistleblower Program, see the article published here by Buckley LLP attorneys.
Jury acquits former Sarclad executives of U.K. SFO bribery charges
On July 16, a London jury acquitted three former Sarclad executives who had been charged with foreign bribery by the U.K. Serious Fraud Office (SFO). The SFO reportedly failed to prove that the former executives – a managing director, sales head, and project manager – had paid bribes to secure overseas contracts. The acquittal comes three years after Sarclad, a metals industry supplier, entered into the SFO’s second-ever deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). The July 2016 DPA resolved, at a corporate level, some of the same bribery allegations that the executives faced at trial, and resulted in the company paying a £6.5 million fine. Sarclad’s identity in the DPA was not publicly known until restrictions were lifted at the conclusion of the trial.
Two businessmen and two former Venezuelan officials charged in investigation related to bribery at state-owned electricity company
On June 24, two businessmen, Luis Alberto Chacin Haddad and Jesus Ramon Veroes, pleaded guilty in federal court in Miami to conspiracy to violate the FCPA. The charges relate to bribes paid to Venezuelan officials at the state-owned and state-run electricity company, Corporación Eléctrica Nacional, S.A. (Corpoelec), in an effort to obtain $60 million in contracts for their Florida-based businesses. Pursuant to their plea agreements, the businessmen will each forfeit at least $5.5 million in profits, as well as Miami-area real estate obtained with the ill-gotten gains. Sentencing is scheduled for September 4.
In addition, on June 27 the Venezuelan officials they allegedly bribed, Luis Alfredo Motta Dominguez (former minister of electrical energy in Venezuela and the head of Corpoelec) and Eustiquio Jose Lugo Gomez (former procurement director at Corpoelec), were charged by eight-count indictment in the Southern District of Florida. On the same day, the same officials were also sanctioned by OFAC. See related InfoBytes coverage here.
Two Ecuadorians charged with FCPA conspiracy related to PetroEcuador investigation
On May 9, pursuant to an indictment filed in federal court in Miami without announcement by DOJ, two Ecuadorian citizens were charged with conspiracy to violate FCPA, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and nine counts of money laundering. The indictment was first reported on July 1 by the Financial Times.
The charges against Armengol Alfonso Cevallos Diaz and Jose Melquiades Cisneros Alarcon, who both live in Florida, relate to the ongoing investigation and prosecution of bribery and money laundering at Ecuador’s state oil company, PetroEcuador. To date, the investigation has yielded four guilty pleas. One additional defendant has pleaded not guilty; his case is pending.
See prior FCPA Scorecard coverage here.
Federal Judge denies Ukrainian billionaire’s motion to dismiss criminal charges, and Austrian Supreme Court grants U.S. extradition request
Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Illinois denied a motion to dismiss filed by Ukrainian billionaire Dmitry Firtash, allowing several criminal charges––including one count of aiding and abetting an FCPA violation––to proceed. Shortly thereafter, the Austrian Supreme Court reportedly agreed to extradite Firtash to the United States, subject to final review by Austria’s Justice Minister. For prior coverage of Firtash’s motion to dismiss, please see here.
Firtash’s motion argued, inter alia, that he could not be liable under the FCPA as a Ukrainian citizen who does not belong to any class of foreign nationals subject to that statute. Because the Seventh Circuit had not reached the precise question that Firtash raised, Firtash cited Second Circuit precedent holding that “foreign nationals may only violate the [FCPA] outside the United States if they are agents, employees, directors, or shareholders of an American issuer or domestic concern.” United States v. Hoskins, 902 F.3d 69, 97 (2d Cir. 2018). Because Firtash is none of these, he claimed to be exempt from FCPA liability.
Judge Pallmeyer disagreed. Putting aside Hoskins, the judge analyzed generally applicable Seventh Circuit and Supreme Court jurisprudence regarding secondary liability, and concluded that a defendant can be liable for aiding and abetting or conspiring to commit a crime even if he or she would be exempt from primary liability for that crime. Judge Pallmeyer acknowledged that the presumption against extraterritorial application “arguably undermined” the Seventh Circuit precedent upon which her opinion relied, but stated that she was “unwilling to disregard clear guidance from the Seventh Circuit” on the subject of secondary liability. In addition to conflicting with Hoskins, Judge Pallmeyer’s opinion supports the broader scope of FCPA liability for foreign nationals that the DOJ has been pushing for years, and marks the beginning of a potential circuit split on the issue of secondary liability under the FCPA.
CEO and director of investment firm convicted of conspiracy to bribe Haitian officials
After a two-week jury trial in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the CEO of investment firm Haiti Invest, LLC and one of its directors were convicted of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and the Travel Act. Joseph Baptiste, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, was also found guilty of violating the Travel Act and conspiracy to commit money laundering. For prior coverage of the charges against Baptiste and CEO Roger Richard Boncy, please see here.
The evidence that federal prosecutors presented against Boncy and Baptiste included intercepted phone calls in which they discussed their plan to bribe Haitian officials “at all levels of government” in order to obtain governmental approval of a proposed $84 million project to develop a port in northwestern Haiti. In a recorded conversation with undercover agents posing as investors, Boncy and Baptiste allegedly solicited funds and told agents that the funds would be used to bribe the aide of a high-level elected official in Haiti. To conceal the bribes, Boncy and Baptiste allegedly said that they would funnel the agents’ funds through a U.S.-based non-profit organization that Baptiste controlled, which purported to sponsor social programs for Haitian residents.
The case against Boncy and Baptiste began with a sting operation conducted by the FBI in 2017. Boncy and Baptiste are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Allison D. Burroughs on September 12, 2019.
SFO fines FH Bertling Ltd over $1 million for bribery scheme
On June 3, the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced that it had fined FH Bertling Ltd £850,000 (approximately $1.08 million) for bribes paid to secure contracts in Angola. The SFO started investigating FH Bertling in September 2014 and announced in July 2016 that it had charged the company and seven individuals with making corrupt payments. FH Bertling pleaded guilty in 2017. The SFO found that FH Bertling executives had bribed an agent of the Angolan state oil company to obtain $20 million worth of shipping contracts.
Executive pleads guilty in PDVSA bribery case
On May 29, the DOJ announced that Jose Manuel Gonzalez Testino, a dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizen, pleaded guilty for his role in a bribery scheme involving Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) officials. Gonzalez pleaded guilty in the Southern District of Texas to conspiracy to violate the FCPA, violating the FCPA, and failing to report foreign bank accounts. Gonzalez’s sentencing is set for August 28.
Gonzalez controlled multiple U.S. and international companies that provided goods and services to PDVSA. According to the DOJ, Gonzalez and a co-conspirator paid at least $629,000 in bribes to a former PDVSA official in exchange for favorable business treatment for Gonzalez’s companies. Prior FCPA Scorecard coverage is available here.
SEC announces $4.5 million whistleblower award
On May 24, the SEC announced that it had awarded a whistleblower more than $4.5 million for sending an anonymous tip to a company, triggering an internal investigation within the company to review the allegations, while also sending the tip to the SEC within 120 days of reporting it to the company. Following its internal investigation, the company reported the allegations to the SEC and another agency. As a result of the company’s self-reporting, the SEC initiated its own investigation of the alleged misconduct.
This was the first time a claimant was awarded under SEC Rule 21F-4(c)(3), 17 C.F.R. § 240.21F-3(c), which provides that a whistleblower may be eligible for an award when he or she voluntarily provides the SEC with original information within 120 days of providing it to a company through the company’s internal procedures for reporting allegations of possible violations of law.
The SEC’s whistleblower award order can be seen here.
Hawaii man sentenced to 30 months for bribery conspiracy
On May 13, a Hawaiian businessman was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment to be followed by three years of supervised release after pleading guilty in January to a charge of conspiracy to bribe a Micronesian official in violation of the FCPA. The DOJ alleged that the businessman’s consulting company paid $440,000 in bribes to officials to obtain and keep contracts with the Micronesian government worth more than $10 million. One of the officials also pleaded guilty in April. See more previous coverage here.