Subscribe to our FinCrimes Update for news about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and related prosecutions and enforcement actions.
On September 29, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed a putative securities class action lawsuit against Avon Products Inc. (“Avon”) and two senior executives in which shareholders had accused the cosmetics company and its senior management of issuing materially false and misleading statements concerning Avon’s compliance with the FCPA in China. The class action had been pending since mid-2011. The dismissal was without prejudice.
Following a June 2008 internal investigation, Avon disclosed that it was conducting an internal investigation focused on compliance issues related to the FCPA in connection with the company’s conduct in China and other countries. The plaintiffs alleged that this misconduct, detailed in press reports suggesting bribery of Chinese officials, ultimately affected the company’s share price. Company shareholders filed a putative class action in July 2011 under Sections 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, 25 U.S.C. §§ 78j(b) and 78t(a). The plaintiffs alleged that Avon made more than 60 materially false and misleading statements, including statements regarding the company’s ethics code and corporate responsibility reports which prohibited the offering or payment of bribes to foreign government officials. Plaintiffs claimed those statements were misleading because at the time, senior management was aware of “material weaknesses in Avon’s system of internal controls” and those failings were not disclosed to investors. The court ruled that general statements proclaiming compliance with ethical and legal standards are not material and actionable because “[a] reasonable investor would not rely on the statements…as a guarantee that Avon would, in fact, maintain a heightened standard of legal and ethical compliance.” Plaintiffs also alleged that several statements concerning Avon’s business success in China and other developing markets was misleading because the statements did not attribute Avon’s success to the bribery of foreign officials or disclose the attendant risks and potential liabilities when such information would become public. The court rejected those allegations for failure to plead the heightened scienter required under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, 15 U.S.C. § 78u-4(b).
Avon had previously settled with the DOJ and SEC in May 2014 regarding investigations into the same allegations of bribery. That settlement, for alleged violations of the books and records and internal control provisions of the FCPA, totaled $135 million and included a 3-year deferred prosecution agreement and Avon’s retaining of a compliance monitor for 18 months.
On February 8, 2013, a federal judge denied the motion to dismiss of several Magyar Telekom executives facing civil FCPA allegations, holding that the SEC had adequately alleged personal jurisdiction because the defendants' alleged conduct was “designed to violate” U.S. securities laws and thus was “directed toward the United States.” On February 22, the Defendants filed a motion to certify the order for interlocutory appeal to the Second Circuit, which was denied on procedural grounds without prejudice to re-file.
On November 14, 2012, the US DOJ and SEC released A Resource Guide to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, almost a year to the day that Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer announced that the SEC and DOJ would prepare an FCPA Guidance document (click here and here for previous BuckleySandler posts on this issue). Overall, the FCPA Guide is a helpful compilation of previously-issued guidance and litigation positions set forth by the DOJ and SEC, and a useful starting point for constructing, testing or revising an FCPA compliance program.
As the books closed on FCPA enforcement for 2011, one final enforcement action came through the door: On December 29th, Magyar Telekom Plc. and Deutsche Telecom AG resolved an FCPA enforcement matter for a combined monetary sanction exceeding $95 million. The settlement offers important compliance benchmarks and should provide a useful starting point for anti-corruption counsel planning a risk assessment and/or compliance testing for 2012.
The Deutsche Telecom and Magyar Telekom Action
The two companies resolved the FCPA enforcement matter, which had been disclosed in 2009, in an arrangement involving an Information and a Deferred Prosecution Agreement filed against Magyar Telekom, a Non-Prosecution Agreement for Deutsche Telekom, and an SEC Complaint against both Deutsche Telecom and Magyar Telekom. The conduct in question involved payments through third parties to officials Macedonia and Montenegro.
At the same time the settled action was filed, the SEC charged three former Magyar Telekom executives with violations of the FCPA. None of the individuals is a US citizen. According to the Complaint, the basis for jurisdiction over these individuals rests on their prior status as officers, directors, employees or agents of Magyar Telekom, which was at the time an “issuer” with American Depository Receipts listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and the allegation that email messages in furtherance of the bribe scheme “were sent from locations outside the United States, but were routed through and/or stored on network servers located within the United States.”
Compliance Lessons: Anti-Corruption Program Elements Clearly Set Forth
The Magyar Telekom Deferred Prosecution Agreement contains a section articulating the minimum elements of a Corporate Compliance Program, a common feature of Deferred Prosecution Agreements. These elements describe the company’s compliance obligations in detail and are tailored to corruption-specific risks.
For compliance counsel, the elements described in the Corporate Compliance Program section (transcribed here in table/checklist format) may provide a very helpful tool for planning a program review. Counsel looking for a source to determine whether the elements of a company’s compliance program are up-to-date with the DOJ’s latest settlement can use the linked list as a starting point for a review, which can then be tailored to the specifics of geographical, business model and other risk factors.
- The SEC charged Diageo PLC, one of the worlds largest producers of premium alcoholic beverages, with widespread FCPA violations for more than six years of actions in India, Thailand, and South Korea.