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On November 15, the SEC released its 2018 Annual Report to Congress on its Whistleblower Program, as required under § 924(d) of the Dodd-Frank Act and § 21(F)(g)(5) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The Report, which covers October 1, 2017 through September 30, 2018, indicates that the SEC received 202 FCPA-related whistleblower tips during the reporting year. Those 202 FCPA tips account for only 3.82% of the tips received in that period. While the overall number of whistleblower tips has steadily risen over the past 4 years, the number of FCPA tips has remained fairly steady. In 2015, there were 186 (4.74% of the tips received); in 2016 there were 238 (5.64% of the tips received); and in 2017 there were 210 (4.68% of the tips received). This relative consistency contrasts with the number of offering fraud tips, which jumped from 758 in 2017 to 1,054 in 2018.
In addition to providing statistics and background on the whistleblower program, the Report discusses rule amendments proposed earlier this year. In particular, the Report reviews proposed amendments to SEC Rule 21F-2 (Whistleblower Status and Retaliation Protection) that are intended to bring the rules in line with the Digital Realty Trust v. Somers decision. The proposed amendments would include instituting a uniform definition of whistleblower that requires the individual to have submitted the information “in writing” to the SEC.
On November 14, 2018, a three judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments in Sanford Wadler v. Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc., et al. Bio-Rad, a life science research and diagnostics company, is hoping to overturn a February 2017 jury verdict ordering the company to pay its former General Counsel and Secretary, Sanford Wadler, $11 million in punitive and compensatory damages. Wadler’s complaint alleged that the company had fired him for being an FCPA whistleblower. 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, allegations that did not result in additional penalties against Bio-Rad.
Bio-Rad appealed the Wadler award on the grounds that the jury was erroneously instructed that the SEC’s rules or regulations forbid bribery of a foreign official; that the company’s alleged FCPA violations were the result of Wadler’s lack of due diligence; that the trial court wrongly excluded certain impeachment testimony and evidence related to the timing of Wadler’s pursuit and hiring of a whistleblower attorney; and that Wadler did not qualify as a “whistleblower” under Dodd-Frank in light of his reporting only internally and not to the SEC (pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers, No. 10-1276, 583 U.S. ___ (2018)). During the argument, one member of the circuit panel reportedly expressed doubt concerning Bio-Rad’s jury instruction argument, and another told counsel for Bio-Rad, “I don’t see how this can be reversed on the theory you’re offering.”
On November 2, a New York-based financial institution disclosed in its Form 10-Q filing that it had received subpoenas and requests for documents and information from multiple government agencies as part of investigations relating to matters involving 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). The filing acknowledged the indictments and guilty plea of Tim Leissner, a former participating managing director of the financial institution, and Ng Chong Hwa (also known as Roger Ng), a former managing director, which indicated that Leissner and Ng “knowingly and willfully circumvented” the financial institution’s internal accounting controls. The filing further stated that the financial institution is cooperating with the DOJ and other investigations relating to 1MDB.
According to the U.K Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the former CEO and CFO of Afren, Plc., an oil and gas exploration and production company, were sentenced in the UK on October 29 for their parts in a kickback scheme in Nigeria. The former CEO was sentenced to up to six years in prison, and the CFO to up to five years. The executives, Osman Shahenshah and Shahid Ullah, were found to have recommended that Afren enter a $300 million deal with an oil field partner in Nigeria without telling the company’s Board that they would personally receive 15% of the deal’s value from the partner. They then laundered more than $45 million, using some of the proceeds to buy luxury Caribbean real estate. The SFO thanked the U.S. DOJ for its assistance with the investigation.
The DOJ unsealed two indictments and a guilty plea related to the sprawling 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fraud on November 1 in the Eastern District of New York. Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho (also known as Jho Low) and former banker Ng Chong Hwa (also known as Roger Ng) were charged with conspiring to launder billions of dollars embezzled from 1MDB, Malaysia’s investment development fund, and conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. Ng was also charged with conspiring to violate the FCPA by circumventing the internal accounting controls of a U.S. financial institution, which underwrote $6 billion in bonds issued by 1MDB. Ng was a managing director at the bank. Tim Leissner, another former banker at the same financial institution, pleaded guilty to the same charges. Leissner has been ordered to forfeit $43.7 million.
Low, Ng, Leissner, and others allegedly conspired to bribe Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials to obtain business for the financial institution, including the 1MDB bond deals. They also allegedly conspired to launder the proceeds through purchasing luxury New York real estate, artwork, and financing major Hollywood films, such as The Wolf of Wall Street.
For prior coverage of the 1MDB scheme, please see here.
On October 30, 2018, a Texas businessman, Ivan Alexis Guedez, who was a former procurement officer for PDVSA, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder the bribe payments he and his co-conspirators at PDVSA received for directing PDVSA business to a Miami-based supplier. The scheme involved false invoices, false e-mail addresses, and shell companies with a Swiss bank account.
For prior coverage of PDVSA actions, please see here.
Swiss banker sentenced to 10 years related to PDVSA embezzlement and bribery scheme, and PDVSA official pleads guilty in same scheme
On October 29, Matthias Krull, a former banker at Julius Baer, was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison for his role in a scheme to launder funds embezzled from Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), the Venezuelan state-owned oil company. Krull had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering on August 22, 2018. Krull admitted to using his position at the bank to attract clients from Venezuela. He helped some of those clients launder proceeds from a PDVSA foreign-exchange embezzlement scheme using false-investment schemes and Miami real estate. The PDVSA money was originally obtained through bribery and fraud.
Two days later, on October 31, Abraham Edgardo Ortega, the former executive director of financial planning at Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, pleaded guilty to charges related to his role in the same scheme. Ortega admitted to accepting $5 million in bribes to give priority loan status to a French company and Russian bank. Ortega was paid with the proceeds of the same foreign-exchange embezzlement scheme. Ortega admitted that he ultimately received $12 million in bribes for his participation in the embezzlement scheme and laundered that money with a co-defendant through a false-investment scheme. Ortega is expected to be sentenced on January 9, 2019.
On October 30, the DOJ charged Roger Richard Bouncy, a dual U.S.-Haitian citizen, with conspiracy to violate the FCPA, commit money laundering, and violate the Travel Act, as well as substantive Travel Act violations. Bouncy is a licensed attorney and the CEO of Haiti Invest, LLC, a Haitian development and reconstruction company. The indictment is part of an ongoing case against retired U.S. Army Colonel, Joseph Baptiste, who was indicted in 2017 related to an alleged plan to solicit bribes from potential investors for infrastructure projects in Haiti. (For prior coverage of the charges against Baptiste, please see here.) According to the indictment, at a meeting in 2015, Bouncy and Baptiste met with undercover FBI agents posing as potential investors in the development project, and allegedly asked the agents to invest $84 million in the project. Baptiste told them that 5% of that total would be paid to Haitian officials to secure approval for the project. Baptiste allegedly planned to disguise the funds through a non-profit he controlled. The FBI then wired money to the non-profit.
On October 11, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski issued a memorandum to the DOJ’s Criminal Division that revises the framework for assessing when DOJ will require a corporate monitor as part of a resolution.
Under the revised framework, Criminal Division attorneys must now consider whether the company’s “remedial measures” or changes to “corporate culture” are enough to protect against future misconduct. For instance, “[w]here misconduct occurred under different corporate leadership” that has since left the company, a monitor may not be needed. Criminal Division attorneys must also consider not just the monetary costs to the company of imposing a corporate monitor, but also the burden to the company’s operations, and should impose a monitor only when a “clear benefit” would outweigh the costs and burdens.
As AAG Benczkowski remarked in a speech given the day after the memorandum was issued, the new corporate monitor policy is based on the “foundational principle” that “the imposition of a corporate monitor is never meant to be punitive,” and a corporate monitor ultimately “will not be necessary in many corporate criminal resolutions.”
The memorandum also refines the monitor selection process with the goal of, as AAG Benczkowski described in his speech, ensuring “that the process is fair,” that the “best candidate” is selected, and that “even the perception of any conflicts of interest” is avoided.
In late September, Meng Hongwei, the Chief of Interpol at the time and a former Vice Minister of China’s national police, reportedly went missing during a trip home to China. According to his wife, Meng’s last known communication was a text message to her containing a knife emoji and an instruction to “wait for my call.” According to reports, after Meng’s wife, French authorities, and Interpol issued public pleas, Chinese authorities disclosed this week that Meng has been detained pursuant to a government investigation into bribery and other allegations. Meng abruptly resigned his post at Interpol and has not been available for comment.
Meng’s detention is notable due to his international stature as Interpol chief, however, he is just the latest in a string of high-ranking Chinese officials to reportedly have been swept up in widespread graft investigations by the Governing Communist Party under President Xi Jingping. A release from the Ministry of Public Security reportedly claims that Meng’s arrest demonstrates that “there is no privilege and no exception before the law.” It goes on to state: “Anyone who violates the law must be severely punished. We must resolutely uphold the authority and dignity of the law, bearing in mind that the red line of the law cannot be overstepped. . . It is necessary to make the legal system a ‘high-voltage line’ of electricity.”
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "State regulatory and disclosures" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Legal Forum
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- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Flood NFIP in the age of extreme weather events" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
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- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Major state law developments" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Leveraging big data responsibly" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State examination/enforcement trends" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Benjamin K. Olson to discuss "LO compensation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- APPROVED Webcast: State and SAFE Act licensing requirements for banks
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- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Keep off the grass: Mitigating the risks of banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Douglas F. Gansler to discuss "Role of state AGs in consumer protection" at a George Mason University Law & Economics Center symposium