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On October 14, the DOJ announced it had entered into a plea agreement with a Brazil-based investment company that owns companies primarily involved in the meat and agricultural business, in which the company agreed to pay a criminal penalty of over $256 million related to violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions. According to the DOJ, between 2005 and 2017, to execute the bribery scheme in Brazil, the company “conspired with others to violate the FCPA by paying bribes to Brazilian government officials in order to ensure that Brazilian state-owned and state-controlled banks would enter into debt and equity financing transactions with [the company and company]-owned entities, as well as to obtain approval for a merger from a Brazilian state-owned and state-controlled pension fund.” Specifically, between 2005 and 2014, the company paid or promised more than $148 million in bribes to high-level Brazilian government officials, in exchange for receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in financing from a Brazilian state-owned and state-controlled bank. In another instance, the company paid more than $4.6 million in bribes to a high-ranking executive of a Brazilian state-controlled pension fund in exchange for the fund’s approval of a significant merger that benefited the company. The company also paid approximately $25 million in bribes to a high-level Brazilian government official in order to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars of financing from a different Brazilian state-owned and state-controlled bank. Company executives also “used New York-based bank accounts to facilitate the bribery scheme and to make corrupt payments, purchased and transferred a Manhattan apartment as a bribe, and met in the United States to discuss and further aspects of the illegal scheme.”
The announcement noted that the company did not voluntarily disclose the violations but still received partial credit and a 10 percent reduction off the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines fine range for its remediation and cooperation with the DOJ’s investigation. Under the terms of the plea agreement, the company will pay the U.S. approximately $128.2 million of the $256 million criminal penalty. The remaining portion will be offset by $128.2 million in penalties the company will pay pursuant to a resolution with the Brazilian authorities. The company also agreed to continue to cooperate with the DOJ in any ongoing or future criminal investigations, and will enhance its compliance program, and report on the implementation of its enhanced compliance program for a three-year period.
The SEC simultaneously announced a resolution in a related matter with the company, along with a majority-owned subsidiary and two Brazilian nationals who own the company and the subsidiary. According to the SEC, the Brazilian nationals engaged in a bribery scheme to facilitate the subsidiary’s acquisition of a U.S. food corporation. The SEC charged the two companies and individuals with violations of the books and records and internal accounting provisions of the FCPA. Under the terms of the cease and desist order, the subsidiary must pay approximately $27 million in disgorgement and the two Brazilian nationals are required to each pay civil penalties of $550,000. All parties also agreed to self-report on the status of certain remedial measures for a three-year period.
On September 22, the DOJ announced that a Florida-based asphalt company pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA, agreeing to pay a $16.6 million criminal fine to resolve the charges. According to the information filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the company and its affiliates bribed foreign officials in Brazil, Venezuela, and Ecuador with millions of dollars in order to “obtain contracts to purchase or sell asphalt to the countries’ state-owned and state-controlled oil companies, in violation of the FCPA.” Between 2010 and 2015, to execute the bribery scheme in Brazil, the company entered into fake consulting agreements with intermediaries and sent international wires from company bank accounts to offshore bank accounts controlled by the bribe intermediaries. The intermediaries would then pay bribes to Brazilian government officials on the company’s behalf. In Venezuela, between 2012 and 2018, the company used similar fake consulting agreements to bribe Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) officials and used code names to hide the names of PDVSA officials in emails and texts. Lastly, in 2014, the company again used similar sham consulting arrangements to bribe Ecuador’s state-owned oil company to secure a contract to supply asphalt.
The announcement notes that the DOJ recently unsealed charges and guilty pleas of five individuals involved in the bribery scheme, including a company senior executive, a company trader, two bribe intermediaries, and a former PDVSA official. Additionally, the announcement states that a different company trader pleaded guilty in 2017 for his role in the scheme and a pending criminal complaint against a former PDVSA official was also recently unsealed in federal court.
On August 28, the DOJ and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced (see here and here) they had entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with a multinational nutrition company headquartered in Los Angeles, in which the company agreed to pay a criminal fine of over $55.7 million related to violations of the FCPA’s books and records provisions. According to the DOJ, the company “knowingly and willfully conspired with others in a scheme to falsify its books and records and provide corrupt payments and benefits to Chinese government officials.” Between 2007 and 2016, the company’s books showed that its Chinese subsidiary reimbursed its employees “more than $25 million for entertaining and giving gifts to Chinese government officials and Chinese media personnel. . ., some of which was used for improper purposes,” which the DOJ said was part of a scheme to obtain, retain, and increase business in China and remove negative media reports about the subsidiary. The payments were used to obtain and retain “certain direct selling licenses for its wholly-owned subsidiaries in China” and to “improperly influenc[e] certain Chinese governmental investigations into [the subsidiary’s] compliance with Chinese laws,” as well as to influence state-owned or controlled media.
As part of the deferred prosecution agreement, the company agreed to cooperate with the DOJ’s ongoing or future criminal investigations and to enhance its compliance program. The company received credit for cooperating with the investigation and taking remedial measures such as “terminating and disciplining individuals who orchestrated the misconduct, adopting heightened controls and anti-corruption protocols, and significantly increasing the resources devoted to compliance.”
The SEC simultaneously announced a resolution in which the company agreed to pay over $58.6 million in disgorgement and more than $8.6 million in prejudgment interest to settle allegations that the company violated the FCPA’s books and records and internal accounting controls provisions.
On August 14, the DOJ issued an FCPA Opinion Procedure Release concluding that a U.S. financial institution’s proposed payment to a foreign government-linked investment bank would not result in an enforcement action. This is the first FCPA advisory opinion issued since 2014. According to the opinion, a U.S.-based multinational financial institution (Requestor) asked the DOJ for guidance on whether its planned conduct would conform with the DOJ’s enforcement policy regarding the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions. The Requestor explained that it intended to pay a $237,500 fee to a foreign subsidiary of a foreign investment bank that was majority owned by a foreign government, as “compensation for services the [foreign subsidiary] provided during a two-year period in which Requestor sought to and ultimately did acquire a portfolio of assets” from a different foreign subsidiary of the same investment bank. The fee represented 0.5 percent of the face value of the assets, and was intended to compensate the foreign subsidiary for “certain enumerated analytical and advisory tasks it had performed on Requestor’s behalf.”
In response to the request, the DOJ stated that it did not presently intend to take any enforcement action if the fee payment was made, noting that there is “no information evincing a corrupt intent to offer, promise, or pay anything of value to a ‘foreign official.’” For the purposes of review, the DOJ assumed that the foreign subsidiary receiving payment is “an instrumentality of a foreign government” and its employees are considered “foreign officials” as defined by the FCPA. With those assumptions, the DOJ concluded that the facts “do not reflect a corrupt intent to influence a foreign official,” because (i) the payment would be to an office, not an individual; (ii) there was no indication the payment would be diverted to an individual and there were no representations of “corrupt offers, promises, or payments of anything of value”; and (iii) the fee was commercially reasonable in response to “specific, legitimate services.”
On August 6, the SEC announced that a South Carolina-based consumer loan company agreed to pay over $21.7 million to settle the SEC’s claims that the company violated the books and records and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA through its Mexican loan operations. According to the SEC, the company’s former Mexican subsidiary paid more than $4 million in bribes, “directly or through intermediaries, to Mexican government officials and union officials, from at least December 2010 through June 2017 to obtain and retain business” related to the offering of small loans to state and federal government employees. The SEC alleged that in order to “retain the ability to make loans to government employees under all of the contracts” and to ensure loan repayments were made in a timely manner, the former subsidiary paid bribes in several ways, including (i) cash payments; (ii) making deposits into bank accounts linked to government officials and union officials or those of their relatives and friends; and (iii) hiring third-party intermediaries to assist in securing business and making bribe payments, including large bags of cash, to officials.
These bribes, the SEC alleged, were then inaccurately recorded in the company’s books and records as “legitimate ‘commission’ expenses.” The SEC also found that the company and its former subsidiary lacked “internal accounting controls sufficient to detect or prevent such payments,” and that as a result of the subsidiary’s failure to implement a sufficient accounts payable system, managers pre-signed blank checks, which made “it impossible to enforce authorization limits in place over payments.” The SEC further alleged that while the former subsidiary sent spreadsheets to the parent company each month detailing the payments, the company did not require invoices or back-up support to account for the expenses and failed to identify the high risk of bribery and corruption in Mexico. Additionally, the SEC noted that despite incorporating an FCPA policy into the company’s corporate compliance manual in 2013, there was no effective formal monitoring or internal controls to ensure the former subsidiary complied with the policy. The company also allegedly lacked personnel oversight in Mexico, and “the tone at the top” from company management “did not support robust internal audit and compliance functions,” leading to several material weaknesses.
In entering into 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 $2 million civil money penalty and approximately $19.7 million in disgorgement and pre-judgment interest.
On July 3, the DOJ and SEC released an update to its longstanding joint FCPA guidance, A Resource Guide to the US. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Second Edition (the Guide), which was first released in 2012. The newest edition has been updated to reflect recent case law, insights into DOJ and SEC enforcement policies and practices, and examples of enforcement actions. While many aspects of the Guide remain the same, revisions were made to include new case law addressing the definition of a “foreign official” under the FCPA, as well as the FCPA’s jurisdictional reach and the foreign written laws affirmative defense. The agencies also incorporated their more recent policy statements designed to encourage cooperation and voluntary disclosures.
Recent case law is also discussed in the updated Guide, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision in United States v. Hoskins (covered by InfoBytes here and here), which rejected the government’s argument for a broad interpretation of personal jurisdiction in FCPA cases and held that a non-resident foreign national lacking sufficient ties to a U.S. entity cannot be charged with conspiracy to violate the FCPA or with aiding and abetting an FCPA violation. Addressed as well are the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Kokesh v. SEC and Liu v. SEC (covered by InfoBytes here and here) regarding the SEC’s forfeiture and disgorgement authority, and the statute of limitations.
On July 2, a Boston-based global pharmaceutical company agreed to pay over $21 million to settle claims by the SEC that the company violated the books and records and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA. According to the SEC, Turkish and Russian subsidiaries of the pharmaceutical company made payments to foreign government officials in those countries to obtain various types of favorable treatment for the pharmaceutical company’s primary drug, including prescription approvals. Specifically, the SEC alleged that from 2010 to 2015, the Turkish subsidiary made payments to a consultant who passed a portion of the funds on to government officials; the Turkish subsidiary also allegedly made payments to “improperly influence” health care providers (HCPs) to make decisions in favor of the pharmaceutical company. Additionally, the SEC claimed that from 2011 to 2015, Russian government health officials received improper payments from the Russian subsidiary in order to influence regional healthcare budget allocations for the primary drug and to increase the number of approved prescriptions. The SEC asserted that the two subsidiaries maintained false books and records of these improper payments, which the pharmaceutical company’s internal accounting controls failed to detect or prevent. As a result, according to the SEC, due to the pharmaceutical company’s lack of an effective anti-corruption compliance program and inadequate internal accounting controls, it was “unjustly enriched by over $14 million.” The SEC also claimed that two additional subsidiaries in Brazil and Colombia failed to maintain accurate books and records regarding third-party payments.
In entering into the administrative order, the SEC considered the pharmaceutical company’s cooperation and remedial efforts, including efforts to (i) strengthen and expand its global compliance organization; (ii) enhance third-party payment related policies and procedures; (iii) revamp engagement and oversight of HCPs; (iv) improve internal audit functions; (iv) conduct “proactive compliance market reviews”; and (v) improve employee anti-corruption training.
Without admitting or denying wrongdoing, the pharmaceutical company consented to a cease and desist order, and agreed to pay a $3.5 million civil money penalty and approximately $17.9 million in disgorgement and pre-judgment interest.
Global pharmaceutical company’s current and former subsidiaries settle alleged FCPA violations with DOJ
On June 25, the DOJ announced it had entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with a subsidiary of a Switzerland-based global pharmaceutical company to pay $225 million in criminal penalties related to alleged violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery and books and records provisions. The DOJ also entered into a separate deferred prosecution agreement with a former subsidiary of the pharmaceutical company (current subsidiary of a multinational eye care company) for approximately $8.9 million in criminal penalties related to alleged violations of the FCPA’s books and records provisions.
According to the DOJ, between 2012 and 2015, the current pharmaceutical subsidiary violated the FCPA by engaging in a scheme to bribe employees of state-owned and state-controlled hospitals and clinics in Greece to increase the sales of its products. Moreover, between 2009 and 2010, the pharmaceutical subsidiary made improper payments, in connection with an epidemiological study, to providers in order to increase sales of certain prescription drugs. The DOJ alleged that the pharmaceutical subsidiary “knowingly and willfully conspired with others to cause [the pharmaceutical parent company] to mischaracterize and falsely record improper payments…in [the parent company]’s books, records, and accounts.” Under the terms of the agreement with the pharmaceutical subsidiary, the subsidiary agreed to cooperate with ongoing investigations, and both the subsidiary and its parent agreed to enhance their compliance programs and report to the DOJ on those improvements.
In the DPA with the former eye care subsidiary, the DOJ alleged that between 2011 and 2014, while still a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical parent company, the former subsidiary “knowingly and willfully conspired with others to cause [the pharmaceutical parent company] to maintain false books, records and accounts, as a result of a scheme to bribe employees of state-owned and state-controlled hospitals and clinics in Vietnam.” The agreement notes that the former eye care subsidiary and its current parent company have since implemented and will continue to implement enhanced FCPA compliance controls and will report to the government on the implementation.
The DOJ recognized that both subsidiaries engaged in remedial measures, including (i) terminating and disciplining individuals involved in the misconduct; (ii) adopting heightened controls and anti-corruption protocols; and (iii) increasing the resources devoted to compliance.
The SEC simultaneously announced a resolution with the pharmaceutical parent company to pay over $112 million in a related matter.
On March 26, the DOJ announced criminal charges against numerous current and former Venezuelan government officials, including “Former President” Nicolás Maduro Moros and two Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) leaders. The charges include allegedly engaging in drug trafficking, laundering drug proceeds using Florida real estate and luxury goods, corruption, and bribery. According to an unsealed four-count superseding indictment filed in the Southern District of New York, Maduro, along with five other high-ranking officials, participated in a “narco-terrorism conspiracy,” conspired to import large-scale cocaine shipments into the U.S., and used—or conspired to use—“machine guns and destructive devices” to further the narco-terrorism conspiracies. The charges also allege that Maduro and the officials negotiated and facilitated FARC-produced cocaine shipments, coordinated “foreign affairs with Honduras and other countries to facilitate large-scale drug trafficking,” and solicited assistance from FARC leadership with respect to militia training.
A separate indictment unsealed in the District of Columbia charges the current Venezuelan Minister of Defense with conspiracy to distribute cocaine on a U.S.-registered aircraft. That individual was previously sanctioned in 2018 by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
A criminal complaint was also filed in the Southern District of Florida charging the current Chief Justice of the Venezuelan Supreme Court with accepting “tens of millions of dollars and bribes to illegally fix dozens of civil and criminal cases,” including a case in which the defendant authorized the dismissal of charges brought against a Venezuelan who was “charged in a multibillion-dollar fraud scheme against the Venezuelan state-owned oil company.” According to the complaint, the defendant laundered the proceeds through U.S. bank accounts, and spent approximately $3 million in South Florida on a private aircraft and luxury goods.
Another unsealed indictment in the Southern District of New York charges three additional Venezuelans with evading OFAC sanctions by working “with U.S. persons and U.S.-based entities to provide private flight services for the benefit of Maduro’s 2018 presidential campaign.”
Additional separate indictments accuse various former Venezuelan officials of drug trafficking and military aircraft smuggling. In addition, several individuals were charged with FCPA violations, including: (i) two individuals for allegedly receiving bribes to award business to U.S.-based companies; and (ii) several individuals for allegedly participating in an international money laundering scheme and conspiring to solicit Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) vendors “for bribes and kickbacks in exchange for providing assistance to those vendors in connection with their PDVSA business.” According to the DOJ’s press release, the scheme involved “bribes paid by the owners of U.S.-based companies to Venezuelan government officials to corruptly secure energy contracts and payment priority on outstanding invoices.”
On February 28, an Ohio-based pharmaceutical company agreed to pay over $8.8 million to settle SEC claims that the company violated the books and records and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA. According to the SEC, the pharmaceutical company’s former Chinese subsidiary maintained and operated marketing accounts for a European dermocosmetic company, and was the exclusive product distributor for the company in China. The SEC alleged that the dermocosmetic company directed the day-to-day activities of former subsidiary employees who “used the marketing account funds to promote the dermocosmetic company's products” and “directed payments to government-employed healthcare professionals and to employees of state-owned retail companies who had influence over purchasing decisions.” The pharmaceutical company also allegedly received a percentage of profits from sales derived from the improper payments through a profit-sharing agreement.
While the pharmaceutical company “determined that other marketing accounts should be terminated because of their significant FCPA-related compliance risks,” the SEC alleged that the pharmaceutical company “inaccurately assessed the risks of the arrangements with the dermocosmetic company as minimal” and failed to apply its full internal accounting controls to these accounts. The SEC alleged that as a result, the former subsidiary routinely authorized and made payments from the marketing accounts without being able “to provide reasonable assurance that the transactions were executed in accordance with management’s general or specific authorization, and failed accurately to record on its books and records payments made from the accounts.”
In entering into the administrative order, the SEC considered the pharmaceutical company’s self-disclosure, cooperation, and remedial efforts. Without admitting or denying wrongdoing, the pharmaceutical company consented to a cease and desist order, and agreed to pay a $2.5 million civil money penalty and approximately $6.3 million in disgorgement and pre-judgment interest.
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