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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.
On September 12, the SEC announced that United Technologies Corporation (UTC) agreed to pay $13.9 million to settle FCPA charges related to payments made through a subsidiary in connection with the sales of elevator and airline equipment in Azerbaijan and China. According the SEC’s Order, from 2012 through 2014, the Connecticut-based company, through its wholly owned subsidiary Otis Elevator Company, made illicit payments to Azerbaijani officials to facilitate the sales of elevator equipment.
The Order also included other conduct that both the DOJ and SEC have focused on in recent years, including the use of agents and gifts and entertainment. For example, the Order detailed conduct by UTC and a joint venture partner from 2009 to 2013 in which an agent in China received improper commissions totaling $55 million in connection with the company’s attempt to win airline business in China. The Order also found that the company, from 2009 through 2015, improperly “provided trips and gifts to various foreign officials in China, Kuwait, South Korea, Pakistan, Thailand, and Indonesia” in order to obtain business. UTC consented to the SEC’s order without admitting or denying the findings that it violated the anti-bribery, books and records, and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA.
On September 13, the DOJ announced two additional guilty pleas in its wide-ranging foreign bribery investigation into payments to officials of Venezuela’s state-owned energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA). Juan Carlos Castillo Rincon (Castillo), a former manager of a Texas-based logistics and freight forwarding company, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA in connection with corruptly securing contracts, contract extensions, and favorable contract terms from PDVSA. Castillo pleaded guilty in the Southern District of Texas, as did Jose Orlando Camacho (Camacho), the PDVSA official who accepted the bribes, and whose guilty plea was also unsealed. As now revealed, in July 2017, Camacho pleaded guilty under seal to conspiracy to commit money laundering. Both Camacho and Castillo are scheduled to be sentenced in February 2019. Prior Scorecard coverage of the PDVSA matter can be viewed here.
With these guilty pleas, DOJ has now brought charges against 18 individuals as part of its investigation into bribery at PDVSA. Fourteen individuals have pleaded guilty. Due to the limits inherent in the FCPA, the DOJ’s charges against the corrupt foreign officials such as Camacho (i.e., PDVSA employees) have been based on money laundering and not FCPA (see Prior FCPA Scorecard Coverage here and here) whereas the charges against the U.S.-based individuals who made and/or directed the corrupt payments generally have included FCPA violations (see Prior FCPA Scorecard Coverage here).
Real estate broker and nephew of former UN Secretary-General sentenced for trying to bribe a foreign official
On September 6, U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos of the Southern District of New York reportedly sentenced real estate broker Joo Hyuan Bahn, also known as Dennis Bahn, to six months in prison for trying to pay $2.5 million in bribes to a Qatari official in connection with a sale of a high rise building complex in Vietnam. The New York Times reported that Judge Ramos stated that he believed Bahn deserved a lenient sentence. Law360 reported that Judge Ramos cited, among other factors, the consequences of a longer sentence on Bahn’s immigration status. The sentence was ultimately far below what the government had requested.
As FCPA Scorecard previously reported, Bahn pleaded guilty in January 2018 to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one count of violating the FCPA. Mr. Bahn is the nephew of former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Additionally, on September 6, the SEC announced that Bahn had agreed to pay $225,000 in disgorgement to settle civil FCPA violations arising from his conduct. The SEC’s order concluded that Bahn violated the anti-bribery and books and records provisions of the FCPA.
See previous FCPA Scorecard coverage here.
ING settles corrupt practices case in the Netherlands for approximately $900 million and receives SEC declination
On September 4, the Netherlands-based financial services company ING Groep, N.V. announced in its Form 6-K filing that it had agreed to pay a penalty of $782 million and disgorgement of $115 million to resolve corruption charges by the Dutch Public Prosecution Service (“DPPS”). The DPPS charges related to ING’s prevention of money laundering, client on-boarding, and corrupt practices. ING acknowledged its “serious shortcomings in the execution of customer due diligence policies to prevent financial economic crime” and “regrets that these shortcomings enabled customers to misuse accounts.”
On September 5, following the settlement with the DPPS, ING announced in a new Form 6-K filing that it received a formal notification from the SEC that it had concluded its own FCPA investigation and did not intend to recommend an enforcement action. ING first disclosed the SEC investigation in March 2017. The response from the SEC is consistent with the new policy against so-called piling on issued by DOJ in May 2018. The policy is intended to encourage coordination among enforcement authorities to avoid duplicative penalties. See previous FCPA Scorecard coverage here.
On September 4, the SEC announced that French pharmaceutical company Sanofi S.A. had agreed to pay $25.2 million to settle FCPA charges related to payments made by company employees to healthcare professionals in Kazakhstan and the Middle East. According to the SEC’s order, from 2011 to 2015, employees of Sanofi’s subsidiaries acted to provide things of value to foreign officials and healthcare professions “in order to improperly influence them and increase sales of Sanofi products.” Employees generated the funds for the illicit payments by submitting fake reimbursement claims for, among other things, travel and entertainment expenses, product samples, and clinical trial and consulting fees.
The SEC found that Sanofi violated the internal accounting controls and recordkeeping provisions of the FCPA. Sanofi agreed to pay a civil penalty of $5 million, $17.5 million in disgorgement, and $2.7 million in prejudgment interest, without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings.
According to the press release, the chief of the SEC’s FCPA Unit, Charles Cain, called out bribery in the pharmaceutical industry as a continued significant problem.
On August 16, the SEC announced that a global bank had settled two enforcement actions involving alleged violations of the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions. The FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions were not implicated in either action.
The first action alleged that three traders employed by a U.S. subsidiary of the bank had mismarked positions in certain proprietary accounts, causing $81 million in losses that were not reflected in the company’s books and records. Some of these losses were from allegedly “widespread unauthorized trading.” The second action alleged that the bank had “failed to devise and maintain adequate internal accounting controls,” causing $475 million in losses, when the company did not identify that a Mexican subsidiary had loaned nearly $3.3 billion to a counterparty on the basis of fraudulent documentation provided by the counterparty. Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, the bank “agreed to pay $10.5 million in penalties”: $5.75 million for the first action, and $4.75 million for the second.
UK SFO charges former Güralp Systems employees with bribery conspiracy as DOJ declines to prosecute the company for FCPA violations
On August 17, the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced that it was charging two former employees of Reading-based engineering company Güralp Systems Ltd. with “conspiracy to make corrupt payments.” The SFO alleged that the founder and former Managing Director of the company, Cansun Güralp and Andrew Bell, respectively, had “conspired to corruptly make payments to a public official and employee of the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources (KIGAM).” The conduct allegedly occurred over a period of 13 years, from April 2002 to September 2015.
A few days later, on August 20, the DOJ published a letter informing Güralp Systems that it was declining to prosecute the company for potential FCPA and money laundering violations related to payments it had made to Heon-Cheol Chi, a former director of KIGAM. In October 2017, Chi was sentenced to 14 months in federal prison on a U.S. money laundering charge related to the bribery scheme. The DOJ’s letter stated that it was declining to prosecute because, among other reasons, the company voluntarily disclosed the misconduct, provided cooperation that assisted with the prosecution of Chi, undertook “significant remedial efforts,” and “committed to accepting responsibility” for its conduct in the parallel SFO investigation.
On August 1, DOJ announced the arrest of Jose Manuel Gonzalez Testino, a dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizen, on foreign bribery charges for making and conspiring to make corrupt payments to an official of Venezuela’s state-owned energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA). Gonzalez was arrested at Miami International Airport on an arrest warrant based on a criminal complaint in the Southern District of Texas, which was unsealed on July 31. Gonzalez made an initial appearance before a magistrate judge in the Southern District of Florida.
According to the criminal complaint, 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, including: (1) directing PDVSA contracts to Gonzalez’s companies, (2) giving Gonzalez’s companies priority over other vendors to receive payments, and (3) awarding Gonzalez’s companies contracts in U.S. dollars rather than Venezuelan bolivars.
DOJ has announced charges against 17 individuals, including Gonzalez, as part of its investigation into bribery at PDVSA. 12 individuals have pleaded guilty.
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.”
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Section 1071: Small business data collection & fair lending” at the American Bar Association Consumer Financial Services Winter Meeting 2022
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