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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.
SFO declines to prosecute individuals in Rolls-Royce and GSK corruption investigations
The U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced on February 22 that it was ending two long-running corruption-related investigations – one of aviation company Rolls-Royce and the other of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline – without bringing charges against any individuals.
In 2017, Rolls-Royce paid $650 million to settle an SFO investigation into a government kickbacks scheme. In connection with the resolution of the SFO’s charges, Rolls-Royce admitted to bribing government officials in Russia, India, China, Nigeria, and elsewhere in exchange for contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Rolls-Royce also paid $170 million to resolve related charges brought by the DOJ, with the DOJ later charging five individuals for their alleged participation in the bribery scheme.
Although the SFO announced in 2014 that GlaxoSmithKline was under investigation, the SFO never disclosed the subject matter of that investigation. In its only announcements about the case, the SFO has noted simply that the investigation concerned the company’s “commercial practices.” In 2012, GlaxoSmithKline had paid $3 billion in the U.S. to settle charges brought by U.S. prosecutors concerning alleged off-label marketing, and in 2014 was convicted in China of bribing doctors and hospitals to improve sales, but it remains unknown whether the SFO’s investigation related to one of these known issues or something different.
The SFO Director explained in a public statement that the decision to decline prosecution of any individuals in connection with these investigations was because “there is either insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction, or it is not in the public interest to bring a prosecution in these cases.”
UK court convicts former Alstom executive
On December 19, a UK Court found former Alstom Power Ltd. Global Sales Director Nicholas Reynolds guilty of conspiracy to corrupt in connection with his role in bribing Lithuanian officials to win lucrative power station contracts for the French power and transportation company. Mr. Reynolds will be sentenced on December 21.
The conviction follows the guilty pleas of Alstom and two other individuals in the UK in connection with the company’s Lithuanian bribery scheme. According to the SFO, Alstom companies paid Lithuanian politicians more than €5 million (~$6.3 million in today’s USD) in bribes to secure the contracts, valued at €240 million (~$304 million in today’s USD). The SFO also has charged Alstom and former Alstom executives for alleged corruption spanning Hungary, India, Poland, and Tunisia.
In late 2014, Alstom and various subsidiaries agreed to pay a then-record $772 million fine in connection with FCPA violations spanning numerous countries. For prior FCPA Scorecard coverage of Alstom, please see here.
Financial advisor pleads guilty to money laundering in PetroEcuador case
On September 11, a Miami-based financial advisor pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with his role in making corrupt payments to officials of Ecuador’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Empresa Pública de Hidrocarburos del Ecuador (PetroEcuador). He is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 14 in the Southern District of Florida.
Larrea is the fourth individual, including two former officials of PetroEcuador, to plead guilty in this case, which concerns efforts by an oil services contractor to make payments to PetroEcuador officials in an effort to retain existing contracts and win new business with PetroEcuador. Frank Roberto Chatburn Ripalda (Chatburn), who was charged in the same indictment as Larrea, has pleaded not guilty and is currently set to go to trial on October 15. Unlike Larrea, Chatburn’s charges include one count of conspiring to violate the FCPA and one count of violating the FCPA.
Colombia’s former anti-corruption chief pleads guilty to money laundering conspiracy related to foreign bribes
On August 14, the DOJ announced that Colombia’s former National Director of Anti-Corruption, Luis Gustavo Moreno Rivera, pleaded guilty to “participat[ing] in a conspiracy to launder money with the intent to promote foreign bribery.” A Colombian attorney, Leonardo Luis Pinilla Gomez, also pleaded guilty to the conspiracy. According to the press release, the two men admitted that they “attempted to entice a bribe” from a Colombian politician who was facing a corruption investigation by Moreno’s office by promising to provide statements made by cooperating witnesses in exchange for $34,500. Working undercover for the DEA, the politician paid the two men a $10,000 deposit of the bribe money during a June 2017 meeting in Miami. At that meeting, the two men were also recorded promising to obstruct the investigation in exchange for an additional $132,000 bribe. Cash from the deposit was found on Moreno when he boarded his flight back to Colombia. The two men were arrested in Colombia and extradited to the U.S. in May 2018. Sentencing is scheduled for November 19, 2018.
DOJ supervisor over fraud section addresses Global Forum on Anti-Corruption Compliance
On July 25, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Matthew Miner, who oversees the Fraud Section as well as other parts of the Criminal Division, spoke at ACI’s 9th Global Forum on Anti-Corruption Compliance in High Risk Markets. His speech focused on the DOJ’s efforts to combat global corruption, with a focus on merger and acquisition activity. Miner emphasized, among other things, the efforts the Department was taking to reduce global corruption, highlighting in particular the DOJ’s permanent enshrinement of the FCPA self-disclosure program. He pointed to a recent success of that program, the DOJ’s declination of prosecution against a commercial data company for hiring-related misconduct by its recently acquired China subsidiaries, previously discussed here. Miner also discussed the Department recent “anti-piling on policy,” under which it gives credit for penalties paid to other enforcement authorities for the same misconduct. As an example of this policy, he noted how the Department credited 50% of the fine a French multinational banking and financial services company paid to French authorities for FCPA-related misconduct in a recent enforcement action.
Miner asserted that the Department would like to do a better job providing guidance to companies facing FCPA risk through mergers and acquisitions, particularly when such activity is in high-risk industries and markets. He quoted from the DOJ’s 2012 Resource Guide, noting that in an acquisition, “a successor company’s voluntary disclosure, appropriate due diligence, and implementation of an effective compliance program may also decrease the likelihood of an enforcement action regarding an acquired company’s post-acquisition conduct when pre-acquisition due diligence is not possible.” Addressing pre-acquisition diligence, Miner stated that when an acquiring company encounters corruption issues during the diligence process, it should come to the Department for guidance through its FCPA Opinion Procedures before moving forward. Miner stated that not enough companies are taking advantage of this “tremendous resource.”
Miner commented overall that with these policies and procedures, the Department hopes “to incentivize companies to invest in effective compliance programs and robust control systems to prevent misconduct and, in the event of a detected violation, to take full advantage of [the DOJ’s] enforcement approach.”
FCPA class action against Embraer dismissed
A class action against Embraer, the Brazilian aerospace firm, was recently dismissed by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman. The class action, which was brought in federal district court in New York, alleged that Embraer had failed to adequately disclose the scope and possible financial impact of ongoing corruption investigations by the DOJ and SEC, harming the company’s investors.
In granting Embraer’s motion to dismiss, Judge Berman held that the company’s disclosures were sufficient as a matter of law, and that requiring disclosures advocated by the putative class plaintiffs would effectively require reporting companies to acknowledge guilt for conduct that was still being investigated and had not yet been charged.
The underlying bribery alleged in the complaint (and being investigated by regulators) involves Embraer’s October 2016 admissions that from 2007 to 2011, company executives made payments to government officials in several countries, including the Dominican Republic, Saudi Arabia, Mozambique, and India, totaling $11.5 million. Embraer received government contracts resulting in profits over $83 million in exchange.
This decision is a clear win for publicly traded companies currently under investigation for corruption-related conduct. Had the case proceeded, companies may have faced difficult choices between making more detailed disclosures to investors regarding the potential merits of ongoing investigations and protecting themselves against incriminatory public statements about these same matters.
Kinross Gold Corporation settles SEC FCPA charge
The SEC fined Kinross Gold Corporation $950,000 for its failure to implement and maintain adequate accounting controls at two subsidiaries in Ghana and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. Kinross neither admitted nor denied the allegations. According to the SEC, Kinross acquired the subsidiaries in 2010 understanding that they lacked anti-corruption compliance programs. After three years of internal audits raising red flags, Kinross did implement adequate controls, however it did not maintain them. The SEC found that Kinross then awarded a contract to a sub-standard company preferred by Mauritanian officials, despite Kinross’s internal bidding and tendering procedures. Kinross also failed to conduct required due diligence when it awarded a politically connected consultant a contract to facilitate government contracts.
UK Serious Fraud Office recovers bribe from diplomat from Chad
In what the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is calling a first, a £4.4 million recovery from a corruption case will be returned overseas. The SFO prevailed in a trial before the UK High Court and recovered the money from Chadian diplomats, including the wife of the former Deputy Chief of the Chadian Embassy to the United States who was received the money in the form of discounted shares of Canadian oil company Griffiths Energy International, Inc. Griffiths also paid “consultancy fees” to diplomats through a front company called “Chad Oil” set up five days before the agreements with the diplomats. In exchange for the payments, Griffiths received exclusive development rights in Chad.
The case has continued for some time—Griffiths paid a C$10 million criminal fine in Canada in 2013. After Griffiths was taken over by a UK corporation, the U.S. DOJ filed an In Rem. complaint and later requested SFO assistance.
This recovery will be “transferred to the Department for International Development who will identify key projects to invest in that will benefit the poorest in Chad.”
SFO confirms opening of criminal investigation into aerospace and defense group
On January 18, the Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) confirmed the opening of an investigation of Chemring Group PLC (“Chemring”) and its subsidiary, Chemring Technology Solutions Limited (“CTSL”) into alleged bribery, corruption, and money laundering. Chemring, a UK-based company that designs and makes products in the aerospace and defense industries, stated that the investigation followed a voluntary report from CTSL relating to “two specific historic contracts.” According to Chemring, the first of these contracts was awarded before the company took over the business group being investigated, while the second contract occurred after the acquisition. Chemring stated that the company will fully cooperate with the SFO’s investigation and provide further updates.