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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.
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.
Malaysian national extradited to the United States on embezzlement and FCPA charges in 1MDB Fund scheme
On May 6, the DOJ announced that a Malaysian national was extradited to the United States from Malaysia on charges of conspiracy to embezzle and to violate the FCPA’s bribery and accounting provisions in connection with a scheme relating to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) Fund. Ng Chong Hwa, also known as Roger Ng, was a former Managing Director at a financial institution. The indictment against him alleges that between 2009 and 2014, he conspired with others to launder billions of dollars embezzled from 1MDB, including money from three bond offerings underwritten by the financial institution in 2012 and 2013, and that he conspired to bribe government officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi to obtain and retain business for the financial institution, including the bond transactions. DOJ alleges that the financial institution received approximately $600 million in fees and revenues from its work for 1MDB, and that Ng and his co-conspirators embezzled more than $2.7 billion from the 1MDB bond deals. In his first court appearance, Ng pleaded not guilty to the charges, and press coverage reported a federal magistrate judge’s statement that DOJ and Ng are engaged in plea negotiations, but Ng’s defense counsel denied the judge’s characterization.
As detailed in prior FCPA Scorecard coverage, alleged co-conspirator and former managing director of the same financial institution, Tim Leissner, pleaded guilty in November 2018 to conspiracy to violate the FCPA and to commit money laundering. Another charged co-conspirator, Low Taek Jho, has not appeared in court.
On April 30, 2019, the Department of Justice Criminal Division released updated guidance on the Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs (the “Guidance”). The Guidance sets forth the non-binding factors that DOJ prosecutors utilize to evaluate a company’s compliance program and consequently determine the “(1) form of any resolution or prosecution; (2) monetary penalty, if any; and (3) compliance obligations contained in any corporate criminal resolution (e.g., monitorship or reporting obligation.” The Guidance is, therefore, significant to companies seeking to understand what the DOJ considers to be best practices for compliance programs, as well as to mitigate against criminal penalties resulting from potential wrongdoing.
The Guidance builds upon a prior version released in February 2017 and does not indicate any major policy changes. Instead, this update provides further explanation of the factors DOJ uses to evaluate companies’ compliance programs and contextualize those factors within the enforcement framework of the Justice Manual and Sentencing Guidelines.
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Click here to read the full special alert.
If you have questions about the DOJ’s new guidance or other related issues, please visit our White Collar practice page or contact a Buckley attorney with whom you have worked in the past.
On April 3, the DOJ announced that a Micronesian government official, Master Halbert, pleaded guilty in the District of Hawaii to a money laundering conspiracy “involving bribes made to corruptly secure engineering and project management contracts from the government of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), in violation of the” FCPA. Halbert was arrested in February after Frank James Lyon, a Hawaiian executive, pleaded guilty to a related FCPA conspiracy charge the prior month (see previous FCPA Scorecard coverage here).
According to the DOJ, “Halbert was a government official in the FSM Department of Transportation, Communications and Infrastructure who administered FSM’s aviation programs, including the management of its airports.” Halbert admitted that, between 2006 and 2016, Lyon’s engineering and consulting company “paid bribes to FSM officials, including Halbert, to obtain and retain contracts with the FSM government valued at nearly $8 million.” Halbert’s sentencing is scheduled for July 29.
According to the DOJ, on March 25 a Hong Kong executive, Chi Ping Patrick Ho, was sentenced in the SDNY to a 36-month prison sentence. Ho headed up CEFC China Energy Company Limited and was sentenced “for his role in a multi-year, multimillion-dollar scheme to bribe top officials of Chad and Uganda in exchange for business advantages.”
Ho was convicted of money laundering, violating the FCPA, and conspiracy after a week-long trial in December 2018. The DOJ alleged that starting in the fall of 2014, Ho used his US-based NGO to cover up a scheme in which Ho offered $2 million in cash to Idriss Déby, the President of Chad, concealed in gift boxes, in exchange for CEFC receiving oil rights from the government; the President rejected the bribe. In Uganda, the DOJ alleged that Ho gave $1,000,000 in cash payments to Sam Kutsea, the Foreign Minister of Uganda, and Yoweri Museveni, the President of Uganda.
On March 6, the CFTC issued an enforcement advisory announcing that it would add violations of the Commodity Exchange Act involving foreign corrupt practices to its cooperation and self-reporting program. The CFTC will recommend no civil monetary penalty where companies and individuals which are not registered (or required to be registered) with the CFTC timely and voluntarily disclose such violations. Full cooperation and appropriate remediation would also be required. In announcing the enforcement advisory, the CFTC’s Director of Enforcement stated at the ABA’s National Institute on White Collar Crime that the change “reflects the enhanced cooperation between the CFTC and our law enforcement partners like the Department of Justice.” He also stated that the agency currently has open investigations into various foreign corrupt practices that violate the Commodity Exchange Act, including bribes that “secure business in connection with regulated activities,” manipulation of benchmarks, “prices that are the product of corruption [being] falsely reported to benchmarks,” and corrupt practices altering the commodity markets.
In an indictment unsealed on February 26, the DOJ charged a former sales representative and the president of a U.S.-based company with conspiracy to commit bribery, wire fraud, and money laundering, and substantive wire fraud, for their alleged roles in “a scheme to corruptly secure business advantages, including contracts and payment on past due invoices, from Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA).” The indictment alleges that from approximately 2009 to 2013, the sales representative, Rafael Enrique Pinto Franceschi, and the president of the company, Franz Herman Muller Huber, conspired to bribe three PDVSA officials in exchange for providing advantages to the unnamed company, including through the creation of fictitious invoices from Panamanian shell companies.
According to the indictment, in exchange for the bribes the PDVSA officials allegedly assisted the company in obtaining additional PDVSA contracts, inside information, and payment on past due invoices. The defendants are also alleged to have received kickbacks in connection with the scheme. In total, Pinto is alleged to have received over $985,000 and Muller over $258,000 in kickback payments. Two of the three officials that the defendants are accused of bribing have pleaded guilty in connection with the case and are pending sentencing.
Micronesian official charged with money laundering conspiracy after guilty plea to bribery by Hawaiian executive
On February 11, the Department of Justice (DOJ) unsealed conspiracy to commit money laundering charges against a Micronesian government official alleged to have taken bribes to secure engineering and project management contracts from the government of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The charges follow the recent guilty plea by Frank James Lyon, a Hawaiian executive, to a charge of conspiracy to bribe the Micronesian official in violation of the FCPA.
According to the DOJ, Master Halbert was a government official in the FSM Department of Transportation, Communications and Infrastructure who administered FSM’s aviation programs. Between 2006 and 2016, Lyon’s Hawaii-based engineering and consulting company allegedly paid around $440,000 in bribes in the form of cash, vehicles, and entertainment to FSM officials, including Halbert, to obtain and retain contracts with the FSM government valued at nearly $8 million. The complaint unsealed on Monday contains specific examples of requests by Halbert to Lyon for cash gifts and a 2014 Chevy Silverado. According to Lyon’s guilty plea, he fulfilled Halbert’s requests and sent wire transfers and the automobile internationally for Halbert’s personal use.
On January 28, DOJ announced charges against the former chief executive and a former senior vice president of a Barbados-based insurance company, Insurance Corporation of Barbados Limited (ICBL). The indictment alleges that the ICBL executives, Ingrid Innes and Alex Tasker, participated in a scheme to launder approximately $36,000 in bribes to the then-Minister of Industry of Barbados in exchange for his assistance in securing government contracts for ICBL. According to the indictment, the bribes were laundered through a United States bank account in the name of a dental company located in New York. The former Minister of Industry, Donville Inniss, was arrested in August 2018 and the indictment against him referenced, but did not name, his alleged co-conspirators. The superseding indictment against the three co-defendants and another still unnamed former insurance executive was unsealed on January 18, 2019. Prior Scorecard coverage of the arrest and indictment of the former Minister of Industry can be found here.
ICBL voluntarily self-disclosed the case to DOJ and received a declination letter from DOJ for its cooperation pursuant to the FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy. The declination letter required ICBL to disgorge $93,940.19 in profits received through the conduct at issue. The declination was based, in part, on ICBL’s termination of all executives and employees involved in the alleged misconduct and in helping DOJ identify the culpable individuals. Prior Scorecard coverage of the declination letter can be found here.