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  • Brazilian airline agrees to $41 million FCPA settlement

    Financial Crimes

    On September 15, a São Paulo-based domestic airline agreed to pay over $41 million to resolve parallel civil and criminal investigations by the SEC and DOJ. The investigations related to a bribery scheme executed by the airline to secure favorable payroll tax and fuel tax treatment through two pieces of new legislation. At the time of the conduct, the airline was the largest air transportation and travel services group in Brazil and its shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The favorable tax treatment provided the airline, along with all other Brazilian airlines, reduced taxes and expenses.

    According to the SEC and DOJ, a member of the airline’s Board of Directors (the “Director”) orchestrated the scheme, meeting and communicating with Brazilian officials and politicians and their close associates on numerous occasions. At one point, the Director communicated with a close associate of a Brazilian official who, “in turn, discussed the bribe schemes . . . with the Brazilian Official . . . via an ephemeral messaging application that uses end-to-end encrypted and content-expiring messages.” The servers of this messaging application were exclusively located in the United States (one the jurisdictional hooks relied on by the government).

    The Director ultimately authorized and directed the bribe payments from the airline to officials, and payments were made both directly from the airline and from companies controlled by the Director to various companies controlled by Brazilian officials or their close associates. Some of the intermediary companies receiving the corrupt payments were based in the U.S. and some of the payments were transmitted through a U.S. correspondent bank. The payments made directly by the airline were authorized from the Director’s own “Cost Center,” which had been created under the airline’s legal department and over which the Director had full discretion with no clearly defined controls or limits. The payments were inaccurately recorded in the airline’s books and records as payments to various third-party vendors for services that were never actually rendered. The airline did not have an effective review process of the documentation submitted before or after the disbursement of funds to monitor whether the invoices were authentic or whether the payments were for bona fide expenditures.

    As a result of this conduct, the SEC and DOJ determined that the airline violated the anti-bribery provisions, the books and records provisions, and the internal controls provisions of the FCPA.

    To resolve the civil charges, the airline agreed to a cease-and-desist order, disgorgement and pre-judgment interest totaling $70 million, although all but $24.5 million was waived based upon the airline’s present financial condition.

    To resolve the criminal charges, the airline entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). The original criminal penalty was calculated to be $87 million but was reduced to $17 million in light of the airline’s financial condition. In calculating the penalty, the DOJ acknowledged full credit for the airline’s cooperation, despite the fact that the airline did not self-report the violations. The DOJ also considered the airline’s remedial measures, which included terminating the Director at issue and relationships with all third-party vendors involved in the underlying misconduct, and a complete overhaul of its compliance program. However, the DPA did not require the appointment of a corporate compliance monitor.

    The DOJ and SEC each agreed to offset $1.7 million in penalties the airline is expected to pay to resolve the parallel Brazilian proceedings against their respective resolutions.

    Financial Crimes FCPA SEC DOJ Enforcement Of Interest to Non-US Persons Brazil Bribery

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  • Brazilian airline agrees to $41 million FCPA settlement

    Financial Crimes

    On September 15, a São Paulo-based domestic airline agreed to pay over $41 million to resolve parallel civil and criminal investigations by the SEC and DOJ. The investigations related to a bribery scheme executed by the airline to secure favorable payroll tax and fuel tax treatment through two pieces of new legislation. At the time of the conduct, the airline was the largest air transportation and travel services group in Brazil and its shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The favorable tax treatment provided the airline, along with all other Brazilian airlines, reduced taxes and expenses.

    According to the SEC and DOJ, a member of the airline’s Board of Directors (the “Director”) orchestrated the scheme, meeting and communicating with Brazilian officials and politicians and their close associates on numerous occasions. At one point, the Director communicated with a close associate of a Brazilian official who, “in turn, discussed the bribe schemes . . . with the Brazilian Official . . . via an ephemeral messaging application that uses end-to-end encrypted and content-expiring messages.” The servers of this messaging application were exclusively located in the United States (one the jurisdictional hooks relied on by the government).

    The Director ultimately authorized and directed the bribe payments from the airline to officials, and payments were made both directly from the airline and from companies controlled by the Director to various companies controlled by Brazilian officials or their close associates. Some of the intermediary companies receiving the corrupt payments were based in the U.S. and some of the payments were transmitted through a U.S. correspondent bank. The payments made directly by the airline were authorized from the Director’s own “Cost Center,” which had been created under the airline’s legal department and over which the Director had full discretion with no clearly defined controls or limits. The payments were inaccurately recorded in the airline’s books and records as payments to various third-party vendors for services that were never actually rendered. The airline did not have an effective review process of the documentation submitted before or after the disbursement of funds to monitor whether the invoices were authentic or whether the payments were for bona fide expenditures.

    As a result of this conduct, the SEC and DOJ determined that the airline violated the anti-bribery provisions, the books and records provisions, and the internal controls provisions of the FCPA.

    To resolve the civil charges, the airline agreed to a cease-and-desist order, disgorgement and pre-judgment interest totaling $70 million, although all but $24.5 million was waived based upon the airline’s present financial condition.

    To resolve the criminal charges, the airline entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). The original criminal penalty was calculated to be $87 million but was reduced to $17 million in light of the airline’s financial condition. In calculating the penalty, the DOJ acknowledged full credit for the airline’s cooperation, despite the fact that the airline did not self-report the violations. The DOJ also considered the airline’s remedial measures, which included terminating the Director at issue and relationships with all third-party vendors involved in the underlying misconduct, and a complete overhaul of its compliance program. However, the DPA did not require the appointment of a corporate compliance monitor.

    The DOJ and SEC each agreed to offset $1.7 million in penalties the airline is expected to pay to resolve the parallel Brazilian proceedings against their respective resolutions.

    Financial Crimes FCPA SEC DOJ Enforcement Of Interest to Non-US Persons Brazil Bribery

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  • 2nd Circuit affirms acquittal of former transportation and energy industry executive

    Financial Crimes

    On August 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision to partially acquit a former executive of a French multinational transportation and energy company after a federal jury found him guilty of seven counts related to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and four counts of money laundering. The former executive, a British national, was employed by the company’s U.K. subsidiary and involved in a bribery scheme to secure public contracts in Indonesia for the company’s U.S. subsidiary. The 2nd Circuit agreed that the government failed to prove that the former executive was covered by the FCPA as an agent of a domestic concern, but left the money laundering convictions intact.

    In 2019, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut found the defendant guilty of one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA, six counts of substantive FCPA violations, and four counts of money laundering, for his involvement in a scheme to bribe Indonesian officials in exchange for granting his company’s U.S. subsidiary, a power generation equipment manufacturer, a power plant construction contract. After the guilty verdict, he filed a Rule 29(a) motion for a judgment of acquittal, arguing as to the FCPA counts that the government “failed to prove that he was an agent of [the subsidiary], the relevant domestic concern.” The 2nd Circuit had previously held that accomplice and co-conspirator liability was not available in the case, leaving agency liability. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2020, the district court agreed that the evidence at trial did not establish that the subsidiary exercised “control over [the former executive’s] actions sufficient to demonstrate agency” and acquitted him of the FCPA-related counts after determining that the government failed to prove at trial that the defendant was an “agent” of a domestic concern.

    On appeal, a divided three-judge panel affirmed the lower court’s decision, concluding that “[t]here was no explicit or implied agency or employee relationship between [the defendant and the company’s U.S. subsidiary] such that the elements of an agency relationship were proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” The majority held that lack of control held by the subsidiary over the defendant was fundamental in determining whether he was acting as an agent of the subsidiary. A principal’s accountability for the actions of an agent depends on its ability to select and control the agent and terminate the agency relationship, as well as an agent’s agreement to act on the principal’s behalf, the majority wrote. “[T]he fact that [the defendant] collaborated with and supported [the subsidiary and a co-defendant] does not mean he was under their control within the meaning of the FCPA,” the majority explained.

    Financial Crimes Of Interest to Non-US Persons FCPA Appellate Second Circuit Bribery

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  • SEC enters $78 million FCPA settlement with steel pipe manufacturer

    Securities

    On June 6, the SEC announced that a Luxembourg-based manufacturer and supplier of steel pipe products agreed to pay over $78 million to settle the SEC’s claims that it violated the anti-bribery, books and records, and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA and the Exchange Act. The settlement is the latest in the long-running investigation regarding Brazilian state-owned and controlled energy company Petrobras, and resolves allegations that agents and employees of the company’s Brazilian subsidiary paid approximately $10.4 million in bribes between 2008 and 2013 to obtain over $1 billion in new contracts and to retain existing business from Petrobras. The bribes were allegedly funded on behalf of the company through entities associated with its controlling shareholder and paid to Brazilian government officials in exchange for using their influence to persuade Petrobras to forego an international tender process. The DOJ closed its parallel investigation without charges.

    This is the second time the Luxembourg-based company has resolved FCPA charges with U.S. authorities, following 2011 resolutions with both the DOJ and SEC related to a state-owned entity in Uzbekistan. The company had been the first ever to enter into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the SEC.

    The current resolution involves a $25 million monetary penalty, as well as $42.8 million in disgorgement and over $10 million in prejudgment interest. The company neither admitted nor denied the allegations.

    Securities Financial Crimes SEC Enforcement FCPA Securities Exchange Act Bribery Of Interest to Non-US Persons Petrobras

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  • International medical waste provider agrees to $84 million FCPA settlement

    Financial Crimes

    On April 20, the DOJ entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with an Illinois-based international medical waste management company, in which the company agreed to pay a fine of approximately $52.5 million related to a conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provision and books and records provisions. Together with a related resolution with the SEC, and with various foreign authorities, the total resolution will reach over $84 million.

    According to the DOJ, between 2011 and 2016, the company participated in a scheme to bribe officials at government agencies and instrumentalities in Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina to obtain and retain business and to secure improper advantages in connection with providing waste management services. An executive at the company’s Latin America division directed employees in the company’s offices in Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina to pay bribes, typically in cash, that were calculated as a percentage of the underlying contract payments owed to the company from government customers.

    As part of the DPA, the company agreed to cooperate with the DOJ’s ongoing or future investigations, to improve its compliance program, and to retain an independent compliance monitor for two years, followed by self-reporting for the remainder of the term.

    The DOJ noted that in addition to cooperation and remediation the resolution reflects a number of factors including, the company’s (i) “failure to voluntarily and timely disclose the conduct that triggered the investigation”; and (ii) “the nature, seriousness, and pervasiveness of the offense.”

    The SEC simultaneously announced a resolution of a related matter, in which the company consented to a cease-and-desist order finding violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery, books and records, and internal accounting controls provisions.  According to the SEC, the scheme also included sham third-party vendors who used false invoices to conceal cash payments to government clients. In addition, the company failed to have sufficient internal accounting controls in place to prevent or detect the misconduct and failed to implement its FCPA policies or procedures prior to 2016. Under the terms of the order, the company agreed to pay $28.2 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest, of which up to $4.2 million will be offset by disgorgement paid to foreign authorities.

    Financial Crimes SEC DOJ FCPA Bribery Enforcement Of Interest to Non-US Persons Brazil Argentina Mexico

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  • SEC announces $6.3 million FCPA settlement with largest South Korean telecommunications company

    Financial Crimes

    On February 17, the SEC announced that South Korea’s largest telecommunications company agreed to pay $6.3 million to settle the SEC’s claims that the company violated the books and records and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA. According to the SEC, the company “lacked sufficient internal accounting controls over expenses, including executive bonuses and purchases of gift cards, which enabled managers and executives to generate slush funds.” This allegedly allowed company employees to provide improper benefits and payments to government officials in Korea and Vietnam and to seek business from government customers.

    With respect to the company’s conduct in Korea, the SEC alleged that from “at least 2009 through 2017, high-level [company executives] maintained slush funds, comprised of both off-the-books accounts and physical stashes of cash, in order to provide items of value to government officials, among others.” These slush funds were then allegedly used for gifts and entertainment, as well as illegal political contributions to Korean government officials who had the ability to influence company business. The SEC also stated that between 2015 and 2016, the company allegedly made more than $1.6 million in payments to three organizations at the request of high-level government officials. All these payments were recorded as either charitable donations or sponsorships, and the company took no measures to determine whether the payments were legitimate donations, the SEC said.

    Concerning the company’s conduct in Vietnam, the SEC alleged that between 2014 and 2018, company employees “internally discussed providing money to third parties connected to government officials in Vietnam in order to obtain contracts for two projects.” The company allegedly arranged with a construction company to pay roughly $95,000 to a high-level official in 2014 in order to obtain a contract, and then later allegedly falsely booked a $200,000 payment to the construction company as “[s]upport/consulting for performance of the business (completed).” During this time, the SEC claimed the company “lacked sufficient internal accounting controls regarding third parties and no relevant compliance policies regarding due diligence,” and allegedly “took no meaningful steps in response to allegations of improper payments in connection with the contracts.”

    Without admitting or denying wrongdoing, the company consented to a cease and desist order, and agreed to pay approximately $3.5 million in civil penalties and $2.8 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest. The company and 14 executives were indicted by South Korean authorities in November 2021 for criminal violations related to political contributions.

    Financial Crimes Of Interest to Non-US Persons SEC FCPA Enforcement South Korea Vietnam

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  • Biden outlines anti-corruption strategy

    Federal Issues

    On December 6, the Biden administration released the United States Strategy on Countering Corruption (Strategy) in response to President Biden’s June Memorandum on Establishing the Fight Against Corruption as a Core United States National Security Interest, which designated the “fight against corruption” as a top priority in preserving national security in the United States. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) According to a fact sheet issued the same day, the comprehensive Strategy is intended to “improve the U.S. Government’s ability to prevent corruption, more effectively combat illicit finance, better hold corrupt actors accountable, and strengthen the capacity of activists, investigative journalists, and others on the front lines of exposing corrupt acts.” To achieve this, the Strategy presents a “whole-of-government approach to elevating the fight against corruption,” including by taking expanded steps to reduce corrupt actors from accessing the U.S. and international financial system to hide assets and lauder proceeds derived from corrupt acts. The Strategy, which discusses enforcement and rulemaking under the FCPA, Bank Secrecy Act, and Corporate Transparency Act, among other statutes, is divided into the following five pillars:

    • “Modernizing, coordinating, and resourcing U.S. Government efforts to fight corruption,” including “prioritizing intelligence collection and analysis on corrupt actors and their networks.”
    • “Curbing illicit finance” by, among other things, “[i]ssuing beneficial ownership transparency regulations” to identify bad actors and reveal when ill-gotten cash or criminal proceeds is hidden in real estate transactions, as well as cooperating with other counties to strengthen anti-money laundering regimes to increase transparency in the international financial system.
    • “Holding corrupt actors accountable” by engaging with partner countries to detect and disrupt foreign bribery, developing “a kleptocracy asset recovery rewards program that will enhance the U.S. Government’s ability to identify and recover stolen assets linked to foreign government corruption that are held at U.S. financial institutions,” and working with the private sector to “encourage[e] the adoption and enforcement of anti-corruption compliance programs by U.S. and international companies.”
    • “Preserving and strengthening the multilateral anti-corruption architecture,” including working to implement robust transparency and anti-corruption measures with the G7 and G20 and “target[ing] corruption in finance, acquisition, and human resource functions.”
    • “Improving diplomatic engagement and leveraging foreign assistance resources to achieve anti-corruption policy goals” by, among other things, safeguarding government assistance funds from corrupt actors, “[e]xpanding anti-corruption focused U.S. assistance, and monitoring the efficacy of this assistance,” allowing for flexibility within “anti-corruption initiatives and broader assistance efforts to respond to unexpected situations worldwide,” and improving support for independent audit and oversight institutions.

    The Strategy will require federal departments and agencies to submit annual reports to President Biden on progress made to achieve its objectives.

    Federal Issues Biden Financial Crimes Corruption Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Of Interest to Non-US Persons Anti-Money Laundering Beneficial Ownership Bribery FCPA Bank Secrecy Act Corporate Transparency Act

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  • European banks resolve Mozambican bond offerings matter

    Financial Crimes

    On October 19, multiple agencies—the DOJ, SEC and UK’s FCA—announced a coordinated resolution with a European bank related to debt offerings for entities in Mozambique. (See here and here.) In total, fines to U.S. and U.K. authorities reached almost $475 million, and the institution also agreed to forgive $200 million of the debt.

    In a related action, a London-based subsidiary of a Russian bank (bank) separately agreed to pay over $6 million to settle SEC charges related to its role in a second 2016 bond offering. According to the SEC’s order, the second offering as structured by the bank and reespondent permitted investors “to exchange their loan participation notes (LPNs) for a direct sovereign bond issued by the Republic of Mozambique” in an earlier bond offering. However, the SEC alleged that the offering materials distributed and marketed by the respondent and bank “failed to disclose the full nature of Mozambique’s indebtedness and, relatedly, its risk of default on the notes.” Furthermore, the SEC alleged that proceeds from the financing from the respondent and bank were supposed to be used exclusively for maritime projects, but in reality, without the bank’s knowledge, only a portion of the loan proceeds was applied towards maritime projects while the rest was diverted to pay kickbacks and make improper payments to Mozambican government officials. Mozambique later defaulted on the financings after the full extent of “secret” debt was revealed.

    Financial Crimes Securities DOJ SEC Of Interest to Non-US Persons Bond Fraud FCPA UK Enforcement

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  • FTC resurrects authority to penalize for-profit education institutions

    Federal Issues

    On October 6, the FTC unanimously resurrected the Penalty Offense Authority under Section 5 of the FTC Act to deter for-profit higher education institutions from engaging in certain unlawful practices. The Commission sent notices to 70 of the nation’s largest for-profit institutions to inform them that the FTC is “cracking down on any false promises they make about their graduates’ job and earnings prospects and other outcomes and will hit violators with significant financial penalties.” The notice outlines several practices previously found to be unfair or deceptive that could lead to civil penalties of up to $43,792 per violation and puts institutions on alert that they could incur significant sanctions should they engage in certain unlawful practices. Commissioner Rohit Chopra, who was recently confirmed as Director of the CFPB, issued a statement commending the initiative, noting that “[u]nder the FTC’s Penalty Offense Authority, the Commission and the Attorney General can seek substantial civil penalties against companies that engage in practices where they had knowledge that the practices were previously determined by a prior Commission order to be illegal.” This is a particularly important tool, Chopra stressed, given the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC, which unanimously held that Section 13(b) of the FTC Act “does not authorize the Commission to seek, or a court to award, equitable monetary relief such as restitution or disgorgement” (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Federal Issues FTC FCPA Enforcement FTC Act For-Profit College Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Penalty Offense Authority

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  • SEC enters $19 million FCPA settlement with advertising company

    Financial Crimes

    On September 24, the SEC announced that a London-based advertising company agreed to pay over $19 million to settle the SEC’s claims that the company violated the anti-bribery, books and records, and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA and the Exchange Act. According to the SEC, the company “through intermediaries, paid as much as a million dollars in bribes to Indian officials to obtain and retain government business, resulting in over $5 million in net profit from 2015 – 2017.” In addition, the company allegedly benefited from other illicit schemes at its subsidiaries such as: (i) “a subsidiary in China making unjustified payments to a vendor in connection with a Chinese tax audit, resulting in significant tax savings to [the company’s subsidiary]”; (ii) “a subsidiary in Brazil making improper payments to purported vendors in connection with government contracts in 2016-2018”; and (iii) “in 2013, a Peruvian subsidiary funneling funds through other [of the company’s] entities to disguise the source of funding for a political campaign in Peru.” The SEC further alleged that the company “failed to devise and maintain a sufficient system of internal accounting controls necessary to detect and prevent the bribe payments at this Indian subsidiary or properly account for the true nature of payments and income at all four subsidiaries.”

    The SEC alleged that the company had knowledge of significant red flags connected to the China subsidiary and its CEO through an internal audit in 2017, which found that the China subsidiary was employing tax avoidance schemes and other significant violations of the company’s internal accounting controls. Then in 2018, a China subsidiary employee informed a regional location officer and the company’s regional tax director in China that the China subsidiary was in the midst of a tax audit and its management may face criminal charges for its tax avoidance schemes. The SEC also alleged that despite a policy that prohibited its companies from paying third parties to assist in obtaining or retaining government contracts without the company’s approval, the “Brazil Subsidiary made improper payments to vendors in connection with securing government contracts at [Brazilian CEO’s] direction.” In respect to the Peruvian subsidy, the SEC alleged that the company “was unjustly enriched by $291,935 as a result of Peru Subsidiary acting as a conduit for a bribery scheme.”

    In entering the administrative order, the SEC considered the company’s cooperation and remedial efforts. Without admitting or denying wrongdoing, the company consented to a cease and desist order, and agreed to pay a $8 million civil money penalty and approximately $11.2 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest.

    Financial Crimes Securities SEC FCPA Bribery Of Interest to Non-US Persons China

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