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On April 2, the United States, along with the U.K., France, Germany, Russia, China, and the EU (the “P5+1”), agreed with Iran on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”). The JCPOA is a preliminary framework to reduce Iran’s nuclear program, and details key parameters to provide the foundation upon which a final JCPOA is intended to be agreed by June 30, 2015. The framework includes five key components: (i) Enrichment, (ii) Inspections and Transparency, (iii) Reactors and Reprocessing, (iv) Sanctions Relief, and (v) Phasing. In particular, the sanctions relief will not be immediate and, instead, linked to verifiable measures Iran takes with respect to its commitments under the JCPOA. In addition, sanctions relief is specific to a suspension of nuclear-related sanctions. Importantly, the structure of such sanctions will remain in place, allowing for a “snap-back” of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance. U.S. sanctions with respect to terrorism, human rights abuses and ballistic missiles will remain in place against Iran.
On December 15, the SEC settled charges against a global manufacturer for allegedly violating the FCPA by providing non-business payments and travel expenses to Chinese government officials with the expectation of obtaining business. The SEC investigation revealed that approximately $230,000 in improper payments were allegedly made out of the company’s China-based offices and were falsely recorded as business and marketing expenses in the company’s records. The SEC alleged that insufficient internal controls allowed for the payments to continue and that as a result the company profited $1.7 million in contracts with state-owned entities in China. The company self-reported its misconduct and provided “extensive cooperation” during the SEC’s investigation, and will pay $1,714,852 in disgorgement, $310,117 in prejudgment interest, and a $375,000 penalty.
On January 30, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied the SEC’s motion for an order authorizing alternative means of service for two Chinese nationals residing in the People’s Republic of China. SEC v. China Intelligent Lighting & Electronics, Inc., No. 13 CIV. 5079, 2014 WL 338817 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 30, 2014). The SEC moved for the order after it was unable to serve two individual defendants in a securities fraud case by means of the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extra-Judicial Documents in Civil and Commercial Matters. The court agreed that alternative service would be appropriate, but rejected the SEC’s proposed method of alternative service: publication in the International New York Times and via email. The court held that alternative service is acceptable if it (i) is not prohibited by international agreement, and (ii) if it comports with constitutional notions of due process. Although no international agreement would prevent the SEC’s proposed methods of service, the court held the SEC failed to demonstrate such service was “reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections.” The court held that the SEC failed to provide evidence that either method of service would actually reach the defendants—it did not provide any information about the distribution of the newspaper and failed to provide evidence the email addresses were accurate and in use by the defendants. The court denied the SEC’s motion without prejudice.
SEC Administrative Judge Censures Accounting Firms Over Failure To Produce Work For China-Based Companies
On January 22, an SEC administrative law judge (ALJ) prohibited the Chinese affiliates of four major accounting firms from practicing or appearing before the SEC for six months for allegedly failing to turn over certain documents sought by the SEC. BDO China Dahua CPA Co., Ltd., Initial Decision Release No. 553, File Nos. 3-14872, 3-15116 (Jan. 2014). The SEC brought the case in December 2012, alleging that the companies violated the Securities Exchange Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which requires foreign public accounting firms to provide the SEC upon request with audit work papers involving any company trading on U.S. markets, by refusing to produce audit work papers and other documents related to China-based companies under investigation by the SEC for potential accounting fraud against U.S. investors. The ALJ’s decision centered on Sarbanes-Oxley section 106(e), which provides that a "willful refusal to comply . . . with any request by the Commission . . . under this section, shall be deemed a violation of this Act." The ALJ rejected the firms’ interpretation of willful refusal to require evidence of bad faith or intent, and instead held that "willful refusal to comply" means choosing not to act in response to a request, without regard to good faith. The ALJ determined that each company received a constructive notice of a request pertaining to a client or former client, and willfully refused to comply. The ALJ added that the SEC was permitted to not allow alternate production of the requested materials, explaining that “[n]othing compels the [SEC] to use one avenue rather than another, and it should have discretion to seek documents in whatever fashion the law permits.”
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.
On March 26, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it had reached a settlement with a medical device company to resolve allegations that the company and its subsidiaries made improper payments in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). DOJ alleges that Biomet, its subsidiaries, employees, and agents made illegal payments to publicly-employed health care providers in Argentina, Brazil, and China in exchange for business with certain hospitals in those countries and then falsely recorded the payments on its books to conceal the true nature of the payments. The deferred prosecution agreement requires Biomet (i) to pay a $17.28 million criminal penalty, (ii) to implement a robust compliance program and internal controls, and (iii) to retain an outside compliance monitor for 18 months. Separately, Biomet agreed to disgorge $5.4 million of profits and interest to resolve parallel civil charges brought by the SEC.