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On March 29, DOJ publicly released a non-prosecution agreement it had entered into in late February with a Germany-based provider of medical equipment and services in which the company agreed to pay over $230 million to settle claims that it violated the anti-bribery, books and records, and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA. The alleged misconduct, which included various schemes to pay bribes to public and/or government officials in exchange for business opportunities, occurred over the course of at least a decade and spanned 17 or more countries in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. On the same day, the company also entered into an administrative order with the SEC. The SEC stated that the company had failed to timely address “numerous red flags of corruption in its operations” that were known to the company as far back as the early 2000s, and that it “failed to properly assess and manage its worldwide risks, and devoted insufficient resources to compliance.”
While the company received credit for making a voluntary disclosure to DOJ in April 2012 and for remedial measures undertaken since that time, DOJ stated that the company failed to timely respond to certain of its requests and, at times, provided incomplete responses to those requests. Accordingly, the company did not receive full credit for cooperation and did not qualify for a declination under the FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy. In its non-prosecution agreement, among other things, the company agreed to: (i) the appointment of an independent compliance monitor for a two-year term, followed by one year of self-reporting, (ii) continuation of its efforts to cooperate with the DOJ’s investigation, and (iii) disgorgement of approximately $147 million to the SEC and payment of approximately $85 million in fines to the U.S. Treasury. The fine amount was calculated with a 40% discount off of the bottom of the United States Sentencing Guidelines fine range based on $141 million in profits from the alleged misconduct.
Notably, the alleged misconduct involved no U.S.-based conduct, individuals, subsidiaries, or third parties. Instead, the individuals alleged to have engaged in misconduct apparently used internet-based email accounts hosted by service providers in the U.S. (and therefore utilized means and instrumentalities of U.S. interstate commerce), and the company’s American Depository Shares trade on the NYSE so the company files periodic reports with the SEC.
On March 27, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $1,869,144 settlement with a U.S. tool manufacturer and its China-based subsidiary for 23 alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR). The settlement resolves potential civil liability for the company’s alleged transactions, valued at over $3.2 million, involving the subsidiary’s exporting and attempts to export 23 shipments of power tools and spare parts “with knowledge that such goods were intended specifically for supply, transshipment, or reexportation, directly or indirectly, to Iran.” Because the ITSR generally prohibit non-U.S. subsidiaries of U.S. persons from knowingly engaging in transactions with Iran, this settlement illustrates the importance of implementing OFAC compliance measures at such subsidiaries.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors and characterized the alleged violations as “an egregious case.” While the company voluntarily self-disclosed the alleged violations on behalf of its subsidiary, OFAC stated, among other things, that the company allegedly failed to implement procedures to monitor and audit the subsidiary’s compliance with applicable sanctions policies post-acquisition. Moreover, OFAC claimed that the subsidiary’s senior management continued to export goods to Iran, despite executing written agreements stating they would not engage in such conduct and attending compliance training sessions.
OFAC also considered numerous mitigating factors, including that (i) neither the company nor the subsidiary have received a penalty or finding of a violation in the five years prior to the transactions at issue; (ii) the company immediately implemented “substantive remedial efforts,” including halting all of the subsidiary’s exports and hiring an independent investigator; and (iii) the company cooperated with OFAC’s investigation. OFAC noted that the company has committed to taking corrective actions to minimize the risk of recurring conduct.
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According to the DOJ, on March 25 a Hong Kong executive was sentenced in the SDNY to a 36-month prison sentence. He headed up a private Chinese energy company and was sentenced “for his role in a multi-year, multimillion-dollar scheme to bribe top officials of Chad and Uganda in exchange for business advantages.”
He was convicted of money laundering, violating the FCPA, and conspiracy after a week-long trial in December 2018. The DOJ alleged that starting in the fall of 2014, he used his US-based NGO to cover up a scheme in which he offered $2 million in cash to the President of Chad concealed in gift boxes, in exchange for the company receiving oil rights from the government; the President rejected the bribe. In Uganda, the DOJ alleged that he gave $1,000,000 in cash payments to the Foreign Minister of Uganda and the President of Uganda.
On March 26, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against “25 individuals and entities, including a network of Iran, UAE, and Turkey-based front companies,” for allegedly transferring “over a billion dollars and euros” in funds to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL). Among other things, the designated individuals and entities also procured vehicles worth millions of dollars for MODAFL, which was also sanctioned, along with Iran’s IRGC-controlled bank and currency exchange arm, for allegedly providing assistance and banking services to the IRGC-Qods Force. According to OFAC, the sanctions were issued pursuant to Executive Order 13224, which “provides a means by which to disrupt the financial support network for terrorists and terrorist organizations.” As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the identified individuals and entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from entering into transactions with them. In addition, OFAC noted that persons who engage in transactions with the designated individuals and entities may be exposed to sanctions themselves or subject to enforcement action. Moreover, OFAC warned foreign financial institutions that, unless an exemption applies, they may be subject to U.S. sanctions if they knowingly facilitate significant transactions for any of the designed individuals or entities.
Visit here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Iran.
On March 22, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against Venezuela’s state-owned national development bank and four subsidiaries located in Venezuela, Uruguay, and Bolivia for allegedly providing financial support to former President Maduro. According to Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, “[r]egime insiders have transformed [the bank] and its subsidiaries into vehicles to move funds abroad in an attempt to prop up Maduro.” As a result, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned entities (or of any entities owned 50 percent or more by the bank) that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. U.S. persons are also generally prohibited from entering into transactions with them.
OFAC concurrently issued five new General Licenses (GL) (see GL 4A, 15, 16, 17, 18), which, among other things, authorize certain transactions involving the sanctioned banks for certain entities, including those necessary to wind down operations or existing contracts. OFAC also published two FAQs to provide additional guidance on the GLs and sanctions.
Furthermore, OFAC also referred financial institutions to Financial Crimes Enforcement Network advisories FIN-2017-A006 and FIN-2017-A003 for further information concerning the efforts of Venezuelan government agencies and individuals to use the U.S. financial system and real estate market to launder corrupt proceeds.
Visit here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Venezuela.
On March 22, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13382 against 14 individuals and 17 entities allegedly connected to Iran's Organization of Defense Innovation and Research (SPND), including “three key SPND front and cover companies, and four of their senior officials.” The State Department previously sanctioned SPND in 2014 for “engaging in or attempting to engage in activities that have materially contributed to, or posed a risk of materially contributing to, the proliferation of [weapons of mass destruction] or their means of delivery.” As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the identified individuals and entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from entering into transactions with them. In addition, OFAC noted that persons who engage in transactions with the designated individuals and entities may be exposed to sanctions themselves or subject to enforcement action. Moreover, OFAC warned foreign financial institutions that, unless an exemption applies, they may be subject to U.S. sanctions if they knowingly facilitate significant transactions for any of the designed individuals or entities.
Visit here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Iran.
On March 19, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against Venezuela’s state-owned metals mining company and the company’s president. According to OFAC, the designations target the “illicit gold operations that have continued to prop up the illegitimate regime of former President Nicolas Maduro.” As a result, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned entity and individual, and of any entities owned 50 percent or more by them, which are subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. U.S. persons are also generally prohibited from entering into transactions with them. OFAC’s announcement referred to Financial Crimes Enforcement Network advisories FIN-2017-A006 and FIN-2017-A003 for further information concerning the efforts of Venezuelan government agencies and individuals to use the U.S. financial system and real estate market to launder corrupt proceeds.
Visit here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Venezuela.
On February 26, 2019, the Ninth Circuit issued a long-awaited opinion in a case involving a life sciences manufacturing company and its former General Counsel. The 23-page opinion, slated for publication, takes a mixed view of the trial outcome, vacating in part, affirming in part, and remanding for the district court to determine whether to hold a new trial.
Two years ago, following a $55 million civil and criminal FCPA settlement by the company, a jury awarded Wadler (the company’s former General Counsel) $11 million in punitive and compensatory damages, including double back-pay under Dodd-Frank, in his whistleblower retaliation case against his former employer. The company appealed to the Ninth Circuit, arguing that the district court erroneously instructed the jury that SEC rules or regulations prohibit bribery of a foreign official; that the company’s alleged FCPA violations resulted from Wadler’s own failure to conduct due diligence as the company’s General Counsel; that the district court should have allowed certain impeachment testimony and evidence related to Wadler’s pursuit and hiring of a whistleblower attorney; and that Wadler was not a “whistleblower” under Dodd-Frank because he only reported internally and did not report out to the SEC. The Court heard arguments on November 14, 2018.
Section 806 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, codified as 18 U.S.C. § 1514A, protects whistleblowers from retaliation under certain circumstances, including reporting violations of “any rule or regulation of the Securities and Exchange Commission.” The company alleged, and the Ninth Circuit agreed, that the district court’s jury instructions incorrectly stated that Section 806 encompasses reports of FCPA violations. The Court ruled that “statutory provisions of the FCPA, including the three books-and-records provisions and anti-bribery provision . . . are not ‘rules or regulations of the SEC’ under SOX § 806.” However, the Court found that with the right instructions, a jury could have still ruled in Wadler’s favor. Accordingly, the Court vacated the Section 806 verdict and remanded to the district court for consideration of a new trial. On the other hand, the Court held that the same jury instruction error was harmless for the purposes of Wadler’s California public policy claim, so the Court upheld that verdict and its associated damages. The Court also rejected the company’s claims of evidentiary error. Finally, the Court ruled that under another case involving a real estate investment company and its former executive, Dodd-Frank does not apply to people who only report misconduct internally, and vacated the Dodd-Frank claim. As for damages, the Ninth Circuit affirmed Wadler’s compensatory and punitive damages award but vacated the double back-pay associated with the Dodd-Frank claim.
This decision is likely the first circuit court opinion to cite the case in an FCPA case for its holding that individuals who only report violations internally do not hold “whistleblower” status under Dodd-Frank.
In March 2019, the DOJ amended its FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy, including to clarify the agency’s position on the use of ephemeral messaging apps by companies seeking full cooperation credit under the policy. Ephemeral messaging apps such as Signal, WhatsApp, and Telegram, now common in many workplaces, allow users to send messages that may not be preserved and retrievable later in the same way as e-mails. To the DOJ, the impermanence of ephemeral messaging makes uncovering details about past events more difficult. Prior to the amendments, the DOJ’s initial Corporate Enforcement Policy had indicated that full cooperation credit would not be available to companies which allowed employees to use “software that generates but does not appropriately retain business records or communications.”
The updated policy softens this position and specifically addresses ephemeral messaging platforms. Companies using the platforms may now be eligible for full cooperation credit, provided that they “implement appropriate guidance and controls on the use of personal communications and ephemeral messaging platforms that undermine the company’s ability to appropriately retain business records or communications or otherwise comply with the company’s document retention policies or legal obligations.” While the amendment may allow companies to take advantage of the beneficial aspects of ephemeral messaging, it also begs new questions as to what constitutes “appropriate” guidance and controls.
The March 2019 amendments also provide additional clarification on de-confliction; add a new comment explaining how the DOJ will implement a presumption of a declination in cases where a company involved in a merger or acquisition “uncovers misconduct through thorough and timely due diligence . . . and voluntarily self-discloses,” with the potential for a declination for the acquiring company even where there are aggravating circumstances regarding the acquired company; and enlarge the voluntary self-disclosure of individuals category to include information not just about “all individuals involved in the violation,” but “all individuals substantially involved in or responsible for the violation.”
In his March 8, remarks to the American Bar Association’s National Institute on White Collar Crime, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski referenced the updates and emphasized the importance of reviewing the 12 previous case declinations made under the policy as supplemental guidance in understanding the policy.
On March 15, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced its decision to sanction six Russian individuals and eight entities, pursuant to Executive Order 13661, for “playing a role in Russia’s unjustified attacks on Ukrainian naval vessels in the Kerch Strait, the purported annexation of Crimea, and backing of illegitimate separatist government elections in eastern Ukraine.” The action complements sanctions imposed the same day by the European Union and Canada as part of a coordinated effort “to counter Russia’s continued destabilizing behavior and malign activities.” As a result, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned individuals and entities, as well as any entities owned 50 percent or more by them, are blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from entering into transactions with them.
Visit here for continuing InfoBytes cover of actions related to Russia and Ukraine.
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