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Multinational Oil Services Company Resolves FCPA, Sanctions, And Export Control Matter
On November 26, the DOJ announced that Weatherford International—a multinational oil services company—and certain of its subsidiaries agreed to pay approximately $250 million in fines and penalties to resolve FCPA, sanctions, and export control violations. The DOJ alleged in a criminal information that the company knowingly failed to establish an effective system of internal accounting controls designed to detect and prevent corruption, including FCPA violations. The alleged compliance failures allowed employees of certain of the company’s subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East to engage in prohibited conduct over the course of many years, including both bribery of foreign officials and fraudulent misuse of the United Nations’ Oil for Food Program. The company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, pursuant to which it must pay an approximately $87 million penalty, retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for at least 18 months, and continue to implement an enhanced FCPA compliance program and internal controls. The subsidiaries pleaded guilty to related specific acts of corruption, including those alleged in a separate criminal information. The DOJ alleged, among other things, that employees of certain subsidiaries engaged in at least three schemes to pay bribes to foreign officials in exchange for government contracts. In addition the parent company agreed to pay over $65 million and submit to compliance and monitoring requirements to resolve parallel SEC civil allegations that the company violated the anti-bribery, books and records, and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA.
Separately, the parent company entered into an agreement with the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ, as well as an agreement with the Department of Commerce, to resolve alleged sanctions and export controls violations. Collectively, those agreements require the company to, among other things, pay $100 million in penalties and fines—inclusive of a $91 million settlement with OFAC—and undergo external audits of its efforts to comply with the relevant U.S. sanctions law for calendar years 2012, 2013, and 2014. Those payments resolve allegations, described in part in another DOJ criminal information, that the company and certain subsidiaries exported or re-exported oil and gas drilling equipment to, and conducted business operations in, sanctioned countries—including Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria—without the required U.S. Government authorization.
Deputy AG Outlines Financial Crimes Enforcement Approach, Compliance Expectations
On November 18, at an American Bar Association/American Bankers Association conference on the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (BSA/AML), Deputy Attorney General (Deputy AG) James Cole challenged financial institutions’ compliance efforts and outlined the DOJ’s financial crimes enforcement approach. Noting that compliance within financial institutions is of particular concern to the DOJ, based in part on recent cases of “serious criminal conduct by bank employees,” the nation’s second highest ranking law enforcement official detailed DOJ’s approach to investigating and deciding in what manner to pursue potential violations. The Deputy AG included among his examples of serious misconduct recent BSA/AML, RMBS, mortgage False Claims Act, and LIBOR cases. He explained that the DOJ is particularly concerned about incentives that encourage excessive risk taking, and stated that “too many bank employees and supervisors value coming as close to the line as possible, or even crossing the line, as being ‘competitive’ or ‘aggressive.’”
Deputy AG Cole stated that the DOJ’s decisions about bringing criminal prosecutions are informed by the Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations, which include, among other factors: (i) the nature and seriousness of the offense; (ii) the pervasiveness of the wrongdoing within the corporation, including the complicity of corporate management; (iii) the corporation’s history of similar misconduct, including prior criminal, civil, and regulatory actions against it; and (iv) the adequacy of a corporation’s pre-existing compliance program. He added that the DOJ “look[s] hard at the messages that bank management and supervisors are actually giving to employees in the context of their day-to-day work.” Specifically, the DOJ (i) reviews chats, emails, and recorded phone calls; (ii) talks to witnesses to assess management’s compliance message; and (iii) examines the “incentives that banks provide their employees to either cross the line, or to exhibit compliant behavior.”
The Deputy AG stressed that “[i]f a financial institution wants to encourage compliance – if its values are not skewed towards making money at all costs – then that message must be conveyed to employees in a meaningful and effective way if they’d like [the] Department to view it as credible.” He echoed past calls by federal authorities for institutions to create “cultures of compliance” that include “real, effective, and proactive” compliance programs. Any institution that fails to do so, he cautioned, could be subject to prosecution.
Check Cashing Company, Executives Plead Guilty To AML Charges
On November 5, the DOJ announced that a New York check cashing company and its owner pleaded guilty to violating the Bank Secrecy Act in connection with more than $19 million in check-cashing transactions by willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program. The plea agreement requires the company to forfeit over $3 million and the owner to pay nearly $1 million in restitution for related tax violations; neither party has yet been sentenced. The DOJ alleges that over a two-year period the company cashed checks written on accounts of shell corporations. The shell corporations and the corresponding bank accounts on which the checks were written were established in the names of foreign nationals, many of whom were no longer in the United States. The check cashing company and its owner allegedly failed to obtain any identification documents or information from the individuals presenting the checks, filed false currency transaction reports (CTRs) that stated the checks were cashed by the foreign nationals who set up the shell corporations, and in certain CTRs, failed to indicate the full amount of cash provided to the individuals. Related charges remain pending against additional defendants. These cases are being prosecuted by, among others, the DOJ’s Money Laundering and Bank Integrity Unit, which investigates and prosecutes complex, multi-district and international criminal cases involving financial institutions and individuals who violate the money laundering statutes, the Bank Secrecy Act and other related statutes.
DOJ, SEC Announce FCPA Actions Against U.S. ATM Maker
On October 22, the DOJ and the SEC announced parallel criminal and civil actions against a U.S. company for allegedly violating the FCPA by paying bribes and falsifying documents in connection with selling ATMs to bank customers in China, Indonesia, and Russia. The federal authorities allege that from 2005 to 2010 the company provided approximately $1.8 million of value to employees of its bank customers in China and Indonesia, including state-owned banks, in the form of payments, gifts, and non-business travel. The company allegedly attempted to disguise the benefits by routing the payments through third parties designated by the banks and by recording leisure trips for bank employees as “training” expenses. The government also alleges that from 2005 to 2009, the company entered into false contracts with a distributor in Russia for services that the distributor was not performing. Instead, the distributor allegedly used the approximately $1.2 million in payments to bribe employees of privately-owned Russian banks to secure ATM-related contracts for the company. The company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ, agreeing to pay a $25.2 million penalty, and it consented to a final judgment in the SEC action, pursuant to which it will disgorge approximately $22.97 million, inclusive of prejudgment interest. The company agreed to implement numerous specific changes to its internal controls and compliance systems and to retain a compliance monitor for at least 18 months. The government acknowledged the company’s voluntary disclosure, cooperation, and extensive internal investigation.
Former Maxwell Technologies Executive Indicted on FCPA Charges
On October 15, the DOJ filed an indictment against a Swiss national and former executive at Maxwell Technologies—a U.S.-based energy storage and power-delivery company—for alleged violations of the FCPA. The DOJ claims that over a more than six-year period the former executive engaged in a conspiracy to make and conceal payments to Chinese government officials in order to obtain and retain business, prestige, and increased compensation for his company. This individual action follows a 2011 action by the DOJ and the SEC against the company based on the same allegations and which the company agreed to resolve for $13.65 million.
President Obama Announces Nomination for DOJ Criminal Chief
On September 17, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Leslie R. Caldwell to serve as the DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division. Ms. Caldwell currently is a partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP where she co-chairs the firm’s corporate investigations and white collar practice group. Prior to entering private practice, Ms. Caldwell served as Director of the DOJ’s Enron Task Force from 2002 to 2004. Prior to that she served as Chief of the Criminal Division and Securities Fraud Section at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California and held several positions in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
Federal Government, Illinois AG Team Up to Bring First TARP Criminal Charges
On August 6, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the FDIC Office of Inspector General, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced criminal charges against former members of the board of directors and senior executives at a bank that received funds under the TARP program. The authorities allege that the former directors and officers concealed the bank’s financial condition from state regulators, while the board chairman allegedly solicited and demanded bribes in exchange for business loans and lines of credit. The authorities charge that over a six year period, the officers submitted numerous fraudulent reports to their Illinois regulator and used money from third parties to make payments on several bank loans that were pasts due. During this period, the bank applied for and obtained TARP funds that were used to further the officers’ criminal scheme.
FFETF Director Departs; Senate Confirms DOJ Civil Division Assistant Attorney General
On July 31, the DOJ announced the departure of Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) Executive Director Michael Bresnick, effective August 1, 2013. The DOJ describes the FFETF, which was created in 2009, as the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat financial fraud. Mr. Bresnick has led the FFETF since October 2011, and departed to join a private law practice. On the same day, the Senate voted to confirm Stuart Delery as Assistant Attorney General for DOJ’s Civil Division. Mr. Delery had been filling that position on an acting basis, prior to which time he held several other positions within the department. He joined the DOJ in January 2009 as Chief of Staff and Counselor to the Deputy Attorney General and later served as Associate Deputy Attorney General and Senior Counselor to the Attorney General.
New York Federal Court Holds Courts Possess Power to Accept or Reject DPA
On July 1, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York held that it has the power to accept or reject a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), and to retain supervisory power over the implementation of a DPA. U.S. v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A., No. 12-00763, 2013 WL 3306161 (E.D.N.Y. Jul, 1, 2013). In 2012, a major international bank holding company announced agreements with U.S. law enforcement authorities and federal bank regulators to end investigations into alleged inadequate compliance with anti-money laundering and sanctions laws by the holding company and its U.S. subsidiaries. As part of the resolution, the companies entered into a DPA, which the parties filed with the court and asked the court hold the case in abeyance to exclude part of the DPA from the federal Speedy Trial Act. In reviewing the request for abeyance, the court held that it has broader supervisory power to approve or reject the agreement in its entirety and that such power extends to implementation of the agreement. The court approved the DPA, but retained authority to monitor its execution and implementation. The court explained that “by placing a criminal matter on the docket of a federal court, the parties have subjected their DPA to the legitimate exercise of that court's authority.” Under its supervisory powers holding, which the court characterized as “novel,” the court could later move to modify the agreement. More broadly, the court’s assessment of its supervisory power potentially calls into question the certainty and finality of DPAs, which could impact the use of that prosecutorial tool.
Dealer Pleads Guilty to Criminal Violations of the SCRA
On June 27, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama announced that a used car dealer pleaded guilty to charges that he violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). United States v. Nuss, No. 13-102 (N.D. Ala. Plea entered Jun. 27, 2013). In March, a federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment charging the car dealer with failing to follow the SCRA when asked to do so by an Alabama National Guard member who had been called to active duty in Afghanistan. The guardsman allegedly had sent a letter from his deployed location, in which he asked that his interest rate be reduced to six percent as required by the SCRA. According to the indictment, the dealer refused to reduce the interest rate, and hired two individuals to repossess the guardsman’s vehicle without first obtaining a SCRA-required court order. Notably, the dealer entered his plea without a plea agreement with the government. He is scheduled for sentencing on September 12, 2013. The maximum penalty for each SCRA violation is one year in prison, and a $100,000 fine.