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On December 26, 2018, Brazil’s Centrais Elétricas Brasileiras S.A. – Eletrobras (Eletrobras or the company) entered into an administrative order to settle the SEC’s claims that Eletrobras violated the books and records and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA and agreed to pay a civil monetary penalty of $2.5 million.
Eletrobras, which is majority-owned by the Brazilian government, is alleged to have – through former officers of its nuclear power generation subsidiary – rigged bids and paid bribes through private construction companies in relation to construction of a nuclear power plant in Brazil. This matter was first announced publicly in October 2016 when the company hired outside counsel to conduct an internal investigation into related conduct.
In entering into this administrative order, the SEC consider the company’s cooperation efforts, including sharing facts discovered in its internal investigation and producing and translating related documents, as well as its efforts towards remediation, including discipline of involved employees, enhancement of internal accounting controls and compliance functions, and adoption of new anti-corruption policies and procedures.
Previous coverage can be found here.
On December 26, 2018, Polycom, Inc. (Polycom or the company), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Plantronics, Inc., entered into an administrative order to settle claims by the SEC that Polycom violated the books and records and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA. The alleged conduct involved improper payments made through distributors and resellers of Polycom Communications Solutions (Beijing) Co., Ltd. (“Polycom China”) to Chinese government officials from 2006 through 2014 in an effort to obtain business from public sector customers.
According to the administrative order, at the instruction of the Vice President of Polycom China, sales personnel used a sales management system outside of the U.S.-based company-approved database to parallel-track sales to public sector customers in China. The scheme involved providing discounts to distributors and resellers that were used to cover the costs of payments to Chinese government officials. These discounts were not passed on to the end customer, and the purpose of those discounts was not tracked in the company-approved database. Polycom China sales personnel were also instructed by the VP to use non-company email addresses when discussing and arranging these deals.
Pursuant to the administrative order, Polycom will pay to the SEC approximately $10.7 million in disgorgement, $1.8 million in prejudgment interest, and a $3.8 million civil monetary penalty.
On the same day, DOJ released a December 20, 2018 declination letter settling its investigation of the same conduct. Pursuant to the declination letter, Polycom agreed to disgorge approximately $10.15 million to the U.S. Treasury Department and $10.15 to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service Consumer Fraud Fund.
In settling these matters, both the SEC and DOJ cited Polycom’s identification of the misconduct, thorough internal investigation conducted by outside counsel, prompt voluntary disclosure, full cooperation, and remediation efforts. Polycom’s lauded cooperative efforts included making certain employees available for interviews, as well as producing all requested documents and translating large volumes of those documents from Mandarin to English. The remedial efforts cited included termination of eight employees and discipline of eighteen others, termination or reorganization of certain channel partner relationships, enhancement of third party oversight, and improvements to anticorruption and related trainings provided to China-based employees (certain materials of which had previously not been translated into Mandarin, the first language of many Polycom China employees).
On December 18, the former CEO and CFO of U.S.-based Panasonic Avionics Corporation (PAC) settled SEC charges that they knowingly violated books and records and internal accounting controls provisions of the federal securities laws and caused similar violations by PAC’s parent company, Osaka, Japan-based Panasonic Corp. (Panasonic). As detailed in prior FCPA Scorecard coverage, Panasonic and PAC settled related FCPA charges in April and agreed to pay a combined $280 million to the DOJ and SEC.
PAC’s former President and CEO, Paul A. Margis, and its former CFO, Takeshi “Tyrone” Uonaga, consented to the entry of their administrative orders without admitting or denying the findings and agreed to pay penalties of $75,000, and $50,000, respectively.
The SEC alleged Mr. Margis authorized the use of a third-party to pay more than $1.76 million to several consultants who provided little to no services. One of these consultants, a Middle East government official, was paid $875,000 to help secure over $700 million in business from a state-owned airline, but the position “required little to no work.” The bribery scheme involving this foreign official was previously described in the DPA with DOJ and the SEC Settlement Order. Mr. Margis was also charged with making false representations to PAC’s auditor regarding internal accounting controls, and books and records.
The SEC charged Mr. Uonaga in connection with a backdating scheme that resulted in Panasonic improperly recording $82 million in revenue. Mr. Uonaga was charged with making false representations to PAC’s auditor regarding the company’s financial statements, internal accounting controls, and books and records. The order against Mr. Uonaga suspends him from appearing or practicing before the Commission as an accountant for at least five years.
Mr. Margis and Mr. Uonaga were previously described in the SEC Settlement Order as PAC Executive 1 and PAC Executive 2, respectively. The DOJ has not brought any criminal charges against any individuals in this matter.
On November 30, a U.S.-based agriculture company, CHS Inc., disclosed in an SEC filing that it is cooperating with an investigation being conducted by the SEC and DOJ involving payments made to Mexican customs officials. The payments were made in connection with grain shipments crossing the U.S.-Mexican border by train. CHS Inc. is a Fortune 100 company that is owned primarily by farmer and rancher cooperatives and has extensive operations in the energy sector in addition to agriculture.
The SEC filing states that the company voluntarily self-disclosed the potential violations and stressed the company’s full cooperation with the investigation, which includes “investigating other areas of potential interest to the government.” The DOJ has placed great emphasis on the importance of voluntary self-disclosure and cooperation in recent policy statements. See previous Scorecard coverage here. This investigation is noteworthy because while investigations in the energy sector are common, investigations in the agricultural sector are less so. The eventual resolution of this investigation may provide useful guidance for other agribusiness companies.
On November 19, the SEC announced a settlement with Vantage Drilling International (“Vantage”) based on the improper activities of Vantage’s predecessor, Vantage Drilling Company, in connection with the Petrobras bribery scheme. The Administrative Order found that Vantage Drilling Company had “failed to devise a system of internal accounting controls with regard to [its] transactions with [its] former outside director, largest shareholder, and only supplier of drilling assets . . . and failed to properly implement internal accounting controls related to its use of third-party marketing agents,” noting the company’s “ineffective anticorruption compliance program.” According to the Order, these failures permitted payments that “created a risk that [it] was providing or reimbursing funds that [a director] intended to use to make improper payments to [Petrobras],” a Brazilian company at the center of a massive FCPA scheme.
The settlement with the SEC concludes Vantage’s involvement in the Petrobras investigations. According to Vantage, the company received a cooperation letter from the DOJ last year confirming Vantage’s full cooperation in the Petrobras investigation, and that the DOJ would not move forward with any actions against Vantage.
Further coverage of the Petrobras matter is available here.
On November 15, the SEC released its 2018 Annual Report to Congress on its Whistleblower Program, as required under § 924(d) of the Dodd-Frank Act and § 21(F)(g)(5) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The Report, which covers October 1, 2017 through September 30, 2018, indicates that the SEC received 202 FCPA-related whistleblower tips during the reporting year. Those 202 FCPA tips account for only 3.82% of the tips received in that period. While the overall number of whistleblower tips has steadily risen over the past 4 years, the number of FCPA tips has remained fairly steady. In 2015, there were 186 (4.74% of the tips received); in 2016 there were 238 (5.64% of the tips received); and in 2017 there were 210 (4.68% of the tips received). This relative consistency contrasts with the number of offering fraud tips, which jumped from 758 in 2017 to 1,054 in 2018.
In addition to providing statistics and background on the whistleblower program, the Report discusses rule amendments proposed earlier this year. In particular, the Report reviews proposed amendments to SEC Rule 21F-2 (Whistleblower Status and Retaliation Protection) that are intended to bring the rules in line with the Digital Realty Trust v. Somers decision. The proposed amendments would include instituting a uniform definition of whistleblower that requires the individual to have submitted the information “in writing” to the SEC.
On November 14, 2018, a three judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments in Sanford Wadler v. Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc., et al. Bio-Rad, a life science research and diagnostics company, is hoping to overturn a February 2017 jury verdict ordering the company to pay its former General Counsel and Secretary, Sanford Wadler, $11 million in punitive and compensatory damages. Wadler’s complaint alleged that the company had fired him for being an FCPA whistleblower. As detailed in a previous FCPA Scorecard post, Bio-Rad paid $55 million in November 2014 to settle DOJ and SEC allegations that the company violated the FCPA in Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Wadler’s report to the Audit Committee had involved separate allegations that the company violated the FCPA in China, allegations that did not result in additional penalties against Bio-Rad.
Bio-Rad appealed the Wadler award on the grounds that the jury was erroneously instructed that the SEC’s rules or regulations forbid bribery of a foreign official; that the company’s alleged FCPA violations were the result of Wadler’s lack of due diligence; that the trial court wrongly excluded certain impeachment testimony and evidence related to the timing of Wadler’s pursuit and hiring of a whistleblower attorney; and that Wadler did not qualify as a “whistleblower” under Dodd-Frank in light of his reporting only internally and not to the SEC (pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers, No. 10-1276, 583 U.S. ___ (2018)). During the argument, one member of the circuit panel reportedly expressed doubt concerning Bio-Rad’s jury instruction argument, and another told counsel for Bio-Rad, “I don’t see how this can be reversed on the theory you’re offering.”
On October 3, 2018, Steven Peiken, Co-Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, offered remarks at a white collar crime conference in New York City, discussing a range of issues related to FCPA compliance and enforcement. For example, likely responding to increasing criticism about the relatively few enforcement cases that have been brought by the SEC in recent years, Peiken addressed questions regarding the Enforcement Division’s effectiveness and efficiency metrics, noting that the Division is moving away from quantitative measurements of success to more qualitative metrics, such as whether retail investors are adequately protected and whether the agency is “keeping pace with technological change.”
In addition, Peiken addressed the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in Kokesh v. SEC, which held that disgorgement awards are punitive in nature and subject to a five year statute of limitations under 28 U.S.C. § 2462. Peiken stated: “The impact of Kokesh has been felt across our enforcement program. A few months ago, we calculated that Kokesh led us to forego seeking approximately $800 million in potential disgorgement in filed and settled cases. That number continues to rise.”
Peikin concluded his remarks by noting that the Enforcement Division cannot continue to rely upon quantitative metrics to determine success, such as the size of awards and penalties. Instead, the Division must adopt “a nuanced and qualitative evaluation of our overall impact on achieving our investor and market integrity protection mission.” These remarks suggest that the rate of new actions and investigations filed by SEC’s Enforcement Division may not keep pace with recent years, and that the Division may instead be relying on impact cases or those that satisfy the more qualitative metrics Peikin described, when measuring success going forward.
On September 28, the SEC announced a settlement with a Michigan-based medical device company, Stryker Corp., to resolve the SEC’s charges of books and records and internal controls violations. According to the order, the company agreed to pay a $7.8 million penalty and accepted the imposition of an independent compliance consultant to resolve allegations that Stryker’s Indian subsidiary failed to maintain accurate books and records, and that Stryker’s internal controls were inadequate to identify possible improper payments related to the sale of its products in India, China, and Kuwait.
This is the second enforcement action the SEC has brought against Stryker in recent years. In a prior action in October 2013, Stryker paid over $13.2 million in penalties, disgorgement, and interest to settle charges of FCPA violations for bribing doctors, health care professionals, and other government-employed officials in Argentina, Greece, Mexico, Poland, and Romania.
On September 27, 2018, the DOJ announced that Petrobras, the Brazilian state-owned oil company, had entered into a Non-Prosecution Agreement with the DOJ, as well as settlement agreements with the SEC and Brazilian authorities, and agreed to pay a total $853.2 million in penalties to all jurisdictions. Under the terms of the settlement, DOJ and SEC will each receive 10 percent of the penalty amount, with Brazilian authorities receiving the remaining 80 percent.
As part of the settlement, Petrobras admitted that its Executive Board members “were involved in facilitating and directing millions of dollars in corrupt payments to politicians and political parties in Brazil,” while directors were “involved in facilitating bribes that a major Petrobras contractor was paying to Brazilian politicians.” The conduct included bribes related to several refineries, as well as shipyard and drillship contracts, as well as payments to “stop a parliamentary inquiry into Petrobras contracts.”
Petrobras’ penalty reflects a 25 percent discount off the low end of the applicable U.S. Sentencing Guidelines due to its cooperation and remediation. While the company did not voluntary disclose its conduct, it cooperated with authorities by disclosing the findings of its internal investigation, providing document discovery, and facilitating the interview of foreign witnesses. It also took remedial measures by replacing its Board of Directors and Executive Board, as well as implementing reforms in its policies and procedures.
In addition to the criminal penalty, the SEC announced that Petrobras agreed to an administrative order requiring it to pay almost $1 billion in disgorgement and prejudgment interest. However, Petrobras received full credit for payments it already made to resolve a class action for $2.95 billion earlier this year. The net result is that Petrobras will not have to pay any additional funds to the SEC in the separate disgorgement action.
Prior ScoreCard coverage of the Petrobras and related investigations can be found here.
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