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Following a $55 million civil and criminal FCPA settlement by Bio-Rad, a life science research and diagnostics company, in November 2014, the company’s former General Counsel and Secretary, Sanford Wadler, filed a civil complaint against Bio-Rad and executive officers and board members alleging that he was fired for blowing the whistle on FCPA issues. In February 2017 a jury awarded Wadler a total of $11 million in punitive and compensatory damages (including double back-pay under Dodd-Frank).
Bio-Rad recently appealed that verdict to the Ninth Circuit on the grounds that the trial court should have directed the verdict in favor of Bio-Rad because, it argues, the alleged FCPA violations were the result of Wadler’s lack of due diligence, because Wadler did not first consult the company’s compliance officers and FCPA lawyers before reporting, and because his allegations were discredited by trial witnesses. Bio-Rad also claims that the trial court wrongly excluded certain impeachment testimony, and that Wadley did not qualify as a “whistleblower” under Dodd-Frank in light of his internal reporting.
On February 6, 2017, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded the former general counsel of Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. $10.9 million in a landmark FCPA whistleblower-retaliation case brought under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), the Dodd-Frank Act, and California state law. After three hours of deliberation, the jury found that Sanford Wadler, Bio-Rad’s general counsel of nearly 25 years, was fired for reporting suspected FCPA violations to Bio-Rad’s audit committee in February 2013, a protected activity under SOX’s anti-retaliation provisions. Although Wadler did not report his concerns to the SEC, the court held in 2015 that internal whistleblowing under SOX was also protected by the Dodd-Frank Act’s anti-retaliation provisions, opening the door to Dodd-Frank’s double back-pay remedy. Bio-Rad’s last-minute motion to block purported attorney-client privileged information from trial –“virtually all of the evidence and testimony Plaintiff might rely upon to prove his case” – was denied by the court in December 2016.
The jury ultimately awarded Wadler $2.96 million in back-pay – to be doubled under Dodd-Frank – plus $5 million in punitive damages. 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.
On November 3, Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc. agreed to pay a total of $55 million to settle DOJ and SEC allegations that the company violated the FCPA in Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam. According the SEC's cease-and-desist order, subsidiaries of the bio-medical instrument manufacturer paid $7.5 million in bribes in Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam from 2005 to 2010 in order to win business in violation of Section 30A of the FCPA, which resulted in $35 million in improper profits for the company. Some of the payments were disguised as commissions to foreign agents, in situations where the "agents had no employees and no capacity to perform the purported services for Bio-Rad." The company also allegedly had an "atmosphere of secrecy." Bio-Rad self-disclosed the violations to the government in 2010. As part of the resolution, the company reached a Non-Prosecution Agreement with the DOJ regarding activities in Russia and agreed to a $14.35 million criminal penalty related to books and records and internal controls violations. The resolution with the SEC involved the payment of $40.7 million in disgorgement and pre-judgment interest regarding anti-bribery, books and records, and internal controls violations related to Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Of note, and continuing the trend of cross-border cooperation, the SEC in its press release disclosed that numerous international entities had assisted its investigation, including the "Bank of Lithuania, Financial and Capital Market Commission of Latvia, and British Virgin Islands Financial Services Commission." Underscoring the issue, following public disclosure of Bio-Rad's settlement with the SEC regarding alleged payments in Vietnam, news reports indicate that Vietnam's Ministry of Health has ordered a review of hospital purchases from Bio-Rad, and asked for information and assistance from US authorities.
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