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FCPA Blog Daily News

Entries in Alcoa (57)

Friday
Dec172010

The Alba Files

Alcoa and Sojitz are on our watch list for 2011. Here's why.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jun012010

Feds Seek Sojitz Stay

The Justice Department has intervened for the second time in civil suits brought by Aluminium Bahrain BSC -- known as Alba -- against its raw material suppliers and brokers. Last week, the DOJ asked for a stay in Alba's suit against Japanese trading company Sojitz Corp. and its U.S. subsidiary. More than two years ago, the Justice Department obtained a stay in Alba's civil suit against Alcoa, Inc. The DOJ said discovery in the cases could interfere with the government's own investigation into potential criminal wrongdoing by Alcoa, Sojitz and other parties, including possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Alba sued Sojitz in December 2009, filing a $31 million claim in federal court in Houston. The suit alleged that from 1993 to 2006, Sojitz paid $14.8 million in bribes to two of Alba's employees in exchange for access to metals at below-market prices. Alba is majority-owned by the government of Bahrain.

In March 2008, Alba sued Alcoa Inc., its long-time raw materials supplier, for corruption and fraud. The suit in federal court in Pittsburg alleged that Alba paid $2 billion in overcharges during a 15-year period. The money, according to the suit, first went to overseas accounts controlled by Alcoa's agent, London-based Victor Dahdaleh, and some was then used to bribe Alba's executives in return for supply contracts.

Just weeks after Alba sued Alcoa, the Justice Department intervened in the case. It asked the court for a stay while the government investigates possible criminal violations of the FCPA and other laws by Alcoa and its executives and agent. The DOJ said the stay was needed to protect potential witnesses against civil discovery. The court granted the stay, which is still in effect. The DOJ hasn't commented on the status of its criminal investigation. Alcoa denied wrongdoing and said it is cooperating. Sources with knowledge of the government's investigation have reported to the FCPA Blog that the Justice Department had questions about Alcoa's initial explanations, which may have delayed potential settlement talks.

Alba did not oppose the DOJ's requests for stays in the Alcoa and Sojitz cases.

There's no private right of action under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. So Alba's claims against Alcoa and Sojitz were based on other federal laws, including RICO (18 U.S.C. § 1962(c)), conspiracy to violate RICO (18 U.S.C. § 1962(d)), fraud, and civil conspiracy to defraud. The complaint against Sojitz alleged the Japanese company used bribes to buy underpriced product and then "resold the aluminum it bought from Alba at below-market rates to U.S. companies including Enron Corp." Alcoa's conspiracy, Alba said in the civil complaint, "succeeded in exacting hundreds of millions of dollars in over payments, which continue to accumulate to this day. Among other things, Plaintiff seeks damages in excess of $1 billion, including punitive damages, for this massive, outrageous fraud."

Sojitz Corp. consists of 522 companies including 147 subsidiaries and affiliates in Japan and 375 overseas. Together they have 17,331 employees. The parent company's ADRs trade in the over-the-counter pink sheets under the symbol SZHFF.PK.

Download a copy of the government's May 27, 2010 memorandum in support of a stay in Aluminium Bahrain B.S.C v. Sojitz Corporation and Sojitz Corporation of America here.

Download a copy of the December 18, 2009 federal civil complaint in Aluminium Bahrain B.S.C v. Sojitz Corporation and Sojitz Corporation of America here.

Thursday
May202010

Feds Call Time Out

There hasn't been a new FCPA enforcement action from the DOJ since Daimler's on April 1 and only Dimon's from the SEC. That's strange. The first three months of this year were the busiest in FCPA history. But since then, hardly a peep.

With around 150 cases pending and pressure building to resolve long-standing actions involving Panalpina, Technip, ENI, ABB, Alcatel-Lucent, Pride International, Inc., Alcoa, the medical device makers, and pharmas, you have to ask: Where are the enforcement actions for April and May?

In a typical year, we'd expect a couple of actions a month; this year, we'd expect more. So what's happening?

Here are a few guesses:

  • Changing horses. Mark Mendelsohn, head of the DOJ's FCPA unit, left government service in mid-April. His departure would be a natural time for those still there or newly arrived to take inventory -- to use the white board to plot their present location and itinerary for the coming year.
  • Resources are stretched. With all the pending prosecutions, including the 22-defendant shot-show case, the DOJ's FCPA group has to be stretched. Maybe they're taking a couple of months to catch their breath, bring in reinforcements, and lift their eyes above the trenches to make sure they aren't about to make any big mistakes.
  • A new strategy. Could the DOJ be assessing its overall enforcement approach? Looking, perhaps, at how decisions are made to prosecute corporations (which are defenseless because of respondeat superior)? Or whether financial penalties that punish innocent stakeholders make sense? Or if enforcement should zero in on individuals, or find new ways to spotlight foreign officials who demand bribes . . . ?

There's precedent for the current FCPA moratorium. In February and March 2008, the DOJ also came to a dead stop. The reason was never announced but it could have been the controversy over the unregulated appointment of compliance monitors. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft's $52 million gig with Zimmer in a domestic kickback case threw Washington into a spin. The storm blew over and the DOJ was back in the FCPA business after about two months.

Friday
Mar052010

To Readers, Leaders, and Hosts

Georgetown Law: Eric E. Hotung International Law BuildingThanks to those who helped with our post Where The Money Is. One reader mentioned two more pending investigations likely to result in big-money enforcement actions: Panalpina and Alcoa. Panalpina's compliance problems have been in the news for nearly three years, and Alcoa's for two. Settlements soon? Could be.

*     *     *

We also want to thank the folks at the Georgetown Journal of International Law for the invitation to their 2010 Symposium: Combating Global Corruption. It's happening March 22nd from 8am to 5pm at the Hart Auditorium at Georgetown Law (600 New Jersey Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001). Admission is free. Panel topics include Origins of International Anticorruption: Policy Formation, Enforcement by U.S. Government Agencies, Quasi-Enforcement Agencies and Alternative Enforcement Channels, and East Asia: A Case Study. Mike Koehler (the FCPA Professor) and Elizabeth Spahn are among the panelists. Download the brochure here.

*     *     *

And finally, we're grateful to our hosts this week who arranged the visit to the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico, Virginia (here). There wasn't much discussion inside; it's hard to talk with that lump in your throat. The museum is unforgettable and the sacrifice it represents is beyond description.

Sunday
Dec202009

Bribery Allegations Against Sojitz

Aluminium Bahrain BSC -- known as Alba -- has filed a $31 million civil suit in federal court in Houston against Japanese trading company Sojitz Corp. and its U.S. subsidiary, Sojitz Corporation of America. The suit alleges that from 1993 to 2006, Sojitz paid $14.8 million in bribes to two of Alba's employees in exchange for access to metals at below-market prices. Alba is majority-owned by the government of Bahrain.

There's no private right of action under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. So Alba's claims against Sojitz are based on RICO (18 U.S.C. § 1962(c)), conspiracy to violate RICO (18 U.S.C. § 1962(d)), fraud, and civil conspiracy to defraud. The complaint alleges that Sojitz used bribes to buy underpriced product and then "resold the aluminum it bought from Alba at below-market rates to U.S. companies including Enron Corp."

In September, the Wall Street Journal reported the U.S. Justice Department's investigation into "payments that Bahraini prosecutors allege were made by units of Japanese commodities-trading giant Sojitz Group to employees of an aluminum producer in Bahrain." The DOJ has never commented on the story. See our post here.

This is the second civil action Alba has filed in U.S. courts with allegations about potential FCPA violations. In March 2008, Alba sued Alcoa Inc., its long-time raw materials supplier, for corruption and fraud. The suit in federal court in Pittsburg alleged that Alba paid $2 billion in overcharges during a 15-year period. The money, according to the suit, first went to overseas accounts controlled by Alcoa's agent and some was then used to bribe Alba's executives in return for supply contracts.

Just weeks after Alba sued Alcoa, the Justice Department intervened in the case. It asked the court for a stay while the government investigates possible criminal violations of the FCPA and other laws by Alcoa and its executives and agent. The DOJ said the stay was needed to protect potential witnesses against civil discovery. The stay the court granted is still in effect. The DOJ hasn't commented on the status of its criminal investigation. Alcoa denied wrongdoing and said it is cooperating. See our post here.

Will the DOJ also intervene in Alba's suit against Sojitz? It needed the stay in the Alcoa case, it said, because:

The public is "an unnamed party in every lawsuit." United States v. Reaves, 636 F.Supp. 1575, 1578 (E.D. Ky. 1986) Here, the Complaint alleges that the defendants arranged for Alcoa, a public corporation, through its affiliates and agents, to make payments in violation of the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA, among other crimes. The proposed stay enables the government to investigate these charges without potential prejudice to its investigation resulting from civil discovery . . . This would thus enable the government to vindicate the paramount public interest in the enforcement of federal criminal laws and resolution of the federal criminal investigation, should the government's investigation reveal evidence that federal criminal laws were violated. . . .

Sojitz Corp.'s website says that as of September 2009, its business consists of 555 companies including 165 subsidiaries and affiliates in Japan and 390 overseas, with 17,147 employees. Sojitz's U.S. subsidiary is headquartered in New York. The parent company's ADRs trade in the over-the-counter pink sheets under the symbol SZHFF.PK.

Download a copy of the December 18, 2009 federal civil complaint in Aluminium Bahrain B.S.C v. Sojitz Corporation and Sojitz Corporation of America here

Wednesday
Sep092009

Another Alba-Related Investigation

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday (here) that the Justice Department is "investigating payments that Bahraini prosecutors allege were made by units of Japanese commodities-trading giant Sojitz Group to employees of an aluminum producer in Bahrain." The story says $8.7 million in alleged bribes to employees at Aluminum Bahrain BSC, or Alba, were paid into secret accounts they controlled in Liechtenstein banks. Some of the payments reportedly passed through U.S. banks.

Sojitz acts as a broker for Alba's products, including aluminum billet and alloys. It allegedly enjoyed lower prices in exchange for the payments. The DOJ investigation of Sojitz, which does some business in the U.S., is reportedly based on information provided by Bahraini authorities. The Journal said they "have shared their findings with U.S. Justice Department prosecutors, according to people briefed on the investigation." The payments were allegedly made by units of Nissho Iwai, which merged with Nichimen in 2004 to form Sojitz.

In March 2008, Alba -- majority owned by the government of Bahrain -- sued Alcoa Inc., its long-time raw materials supplier, for corruption and fraud. The federal court suit in Pittsburg alleged that Alba paid $2 billion in overcharges during a 15-year period. The money, according to the suit, first went to overseas accounts controlled by Alcoa's agent and some was then used to bribe Alba's executives in return for more supply contracts. The Justice Department quickly intervened in the case, asking the court for a stay while the government investigates possible criminal violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other laws by Alcoa and its executives and agent. Alcoa has denied any wrongdoing and said it is cooperating with the DOJ.

The Wall Street Journal said Bahrain filed a money-laundering indictment against two former Alba employees accused of taking kickbacks from Sojitz.

The Justice Department hasn't commented on the Alcoa investigation or the Wall Street Journal's story naming Sojitz.

Read prior posts about Alba and Alcoa here.
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Monday
Apr132009

Around The Horn

He wasn't kidding. Last week's record-setting indictment under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of six individuals from one company highlights the Justice Department's strategy to target people, not just companies. In September last year, Mark Mendelsohn -- the DOJ official responsible for FCPA criminal prosecutions -- told an audience: The number of individual prosecutions has risen – and that’s not an accident. That is quite intentional on the part of the Department. It is our view that to have a credible deterrent effect, people have to go to jail. People have to be prosecuted where appropriate. This is a federal crime. This is not fun and games. See our post here.

* * *
Victims Rights? Congress didn't want prosecutors deciding American foreign policy through FCPA enforcement actions, so bribe-taking foreign officials aren't targeted. Taking that a step further, the names of bribe-takers don't even appear in FCPA complaints. That censorship may make foreign-policy sense, but it's got people in Nigeria upset and frustrated. They want to hear from the Justice Department which of their officials took any of the $182 million in bribes that KBR admitted paying, and where the money is now. Reports are here and here.

* * *
Ask him. Prosecutors think Jeffrey Tesler knows who got KBR's bribe money. They allege he's the middleman who was spreading it around. Tesler, 60, a London lawyer, was indicted in February for violating the FCPA. He now faces up to 55 years in prison. British police arrested him in March at the request of U.S. authorities. Last week, Tesler appeared at his first extradition hearing. The London Magistrates' Court released him on bail and continued the proceedings. Here's a press report.

* * *
An open and shut case. Aluminum Bahrain's federal civil suit in Pittsburgh against Alcoa alleging behavior that would violate the FCPA appears in the docket as "Closed." But not really. The court's order from March 2008 says, "To allow the Government to fully conduct an investigation without the interference and distraction of ongoing civil litigation, it is ordered that this case is administratively closed, to be reopened at the close of the Government's investigation." We talked about the Justice Department's intervention in the case here.

* * *
Where's Clayton? Regarding our post yesterday about Frederic Bourke (here), a reader asked, What's happened to Clayton Lewis? He worked for Omega Advisors Inc. It invested and lost more than $100 million with Viktor Kozeny in the failed Azeri privatization program. The government said Lewis knew about the bribery scheme allegedly involving Kozeny and Bourke but went ahead with Omega's investment anyway. In 2004, Lewis pleaded guilty to onspiring to violate the FCPA. Where's he now? Still waiting to be sentenced. Almost everything in his court record is sealed. But a June 2008 letter from the DOJ said Lewis is a cooperating witness and shouldn't be sentenced until he's testified for the government at Bourke's trial. A copy of the letter can be downloaded here.

* * *
Ashes to ashes? It's off our topic, but creepy. Two Los Angeles-area women allegedly cheated life insurance companies out of at least $750,000 by staging funerals for fictitious people. Last Wednesday, FBI agents arrested Faye Shilling, 60, and Jean Crump, 67, on federal fraud charges. According to the indictment, Shilling, a phlebotomist (a medical technician who collects blood), and Crump, an employee at a now-defunct Long Beach mortuary, cashed in life insurance policies for non-existent people they claimed had died. They allegedly obtained bogus death certificates, purchased burial plots and staged phony funerals to lend credibility to the scheme. When staging the funerals, the women allegedly "filled caskets with various materials" to make it appear they contained actual corpses. The DOJ's release is here.

* * *
Real magic. What is it about Augusta that makes it so special? And this year was the final appearance of three-time champ Gary Player, 73. He showed up 52 times! Our favorite golf story: Gary Player was still on the practice tee, long after sunset, hitting balls. Buckets of them. Someone watching said, "I'd give anything to play golf like that man." Player looked up and said, "Would you really?" And he held out his hands to show the onlooker two bloody, torn-up palms.

* * *
A community effort. Our thanks again to everyone who contributes time and resources to the FCPA Blog. We're thinking of our readers who send suggestions, tips, clips and encouragement. And those who order Bribery Abroad -- sometimes by the dozen. And our wonderful sponsors who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us every day.
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Monday
Mar232009

Unfinished Business

We don't know how many of the 50 or so disclosed and pending Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations will be resolved this year. But here are some we're watching:

Alcoa. In February 2008, government-owned Aluminum Bahrain BSC (Alba) accused its long-time U.S. supplier of overcharging for raw materials during a 15-year period, and using some of the money to bribe Alba's executives for more contracts. Alcoa's conspiracy, Alba said in a federal civil complaint filed in Pittsburgh, "succeeded in exacting hundreds of millions of dollars in over payments, which continue to accumulate to this day. Among other things, Plaintiff seeks damages in excess of $1 billion, including punitive damages, for this massive, outrageous fraud."

The Justice Department quickly intervened, asking the court to stay all discovery. It said the facts of Alba's allegations, if true, might violate the FCPA and mail and wire fraud statutes. Therefore, the DOJ said, it wanted to conduct a criminal investigation into Alcoa and its executives. That investigation is pending and the civil suit is still on hold.

Aon. The giant Chicago-based insurance broker disclosed in November 2007 an internal investigation into possible violations of the FCPA and non-U.S. anti-corruption laws. It said it had self-reported the investigation to the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and others, and that it had already agreed with U.S. prosecutors to toll any applicable statute of limitations. Meanwhile, in January this year, the U.K.'s Financial Services Authority (FSA) fined Aon's U.K. subsidiary £5.25 million for failing to recognize and control the risks of overseas payments being used as bribes. The fine was the largest the FSA had ever levied for financial crimes.

Avon. It said in October 2008 that it had launched an internal investigation into possible FCPA violations in China. The global beauty-products retailer didn't release details. The investigation may be linked to the payment to regulators of improper promotional expenses. China imposed restrictions on direct selling in the late 1990s that forced Avon to market its products through shops and boutiques. Two years ago, the company convinced China's regulators to allow its traditional door-to-door sales model. Avon's FCPA disclosure referred to "certain travel, entertainment and other expenses."

BAE. The case is about alleged secret payments of £1 billion to the former Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin-Sultan. The payments were allegedly made when U.K.-based BAE was trying to sell jet fighters to the Saudi government. Britain's Serious Fraud Office opened, then closed, an examination into the allegations. But the DOJ is conducting its own investigation of possible violations of the FCPA and anti-money laundering laws. In May 2008, BAE's chief executive Mike Turner and director Nigel Rudd were detained at U.S. airports. Authorities apparently copied information from their laptop computers, cell phones, and papers before letting them leave.

The DOJ has also reportedly served subpoenas on other BAE employees in the U.S. And in November 2007, according to the U.K.'s Guardian, the DOJ obtained Swiss banking records and evidence from a U.K. businessman who was part of the deal. The paper reported that Peter Gardiner had boxes of invoices allegedly detailing payments made by BAE to members of the Saudi royal family. Gardiner was flown by FBI agents to Washington in August 2007 to give testimony there, the paper said.

BAE apparently stonewalled the U.S. investigation at first but has since begun cooperating.

Medical Device Makers. Their overseas sales practices probably came under scrutiny in early 2007. That's when Johnson & Johnson (which owns device-maker Depuy) said it voluntarily disclosed to the DOJ and SEC that "subsidiaries outside the United States are believed to have made improper payments in connection with the sale of medical devices in two small-market countries. " In September 2007, Depuy and four other device makers paid $310 million to settle charges they paid kickbacks to induce U.S. doctors to buy their products. Now the SEC and DOJ want to know whether the companies bribed overseas doctors employed by government-owned hospitals to use their products. Biomet Inc., Stryker Corp., Zimmer Holdings Inc., Smith & Nephew plc and Medtronic Inc. disclosed FCPA investigations during 2007 and Wright Medical reported a similar investigation in June 2008.

Panalpina. In February 2007, the Justice Department said in connection with the resolution of Vetco's FCPA case that bribes in Nigeria "were paid through a major international freight forwarding and customs clearance company to employees of the Nigerian Customs Service . . .” Since then about a dozen leading oil and gas-related companies received letters from the DOJ and SEC asking them to "detail their relationship with Panalpina . . ." Among those involved are Schlumberger, Shell, Tidewater, Nabors Industries, Transocean, GlobalSantaFe Corp., ENSCO, Cameron, Noble Corp., Pride International, Global Industries and Parker Drilling.

Swiss-based Panalpina said in its 2008 half-yearly report that it would divest its domestic operations in Nigeria to a local investment group and retain no ownership or operating interest. It completed the transaction in November. It also said it was cooperating with an investigation by the DOJ and SEC and that its U.S. subsidiary in Houston had been instructed to produce documents and other information about services to certain customers in Nigeria, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.

* * *
And a long-standing prosecution that isn't mentioned much these days but should be watched is US v. Giffen. It's in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Foley Square). American businessman James H. Giffen was arrested in New York in March 2003 for allegedly paying or offering $78 million in bribes to an advisor of Kazakhstan's president and its former oil and gas minister. He was charged with violating the FCPA, mail and wire fraud, false statements and money laundering.

When arrested, Giffen was carrying a Kazakhstan diplomatic passport. His lawyers have said he was acting in Kazakhstan with the full knowledge and approval of the U.S. government. Most of the court record is sealed, apparently because it contains classified documents. After nearly six years of little activity (raising speedy-trial issues, no doubt), there's more going on in the case now. A pre-trial conference was held this month and the next one is scheduled for June. Giffen is free on $10,000,000 bail.
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Sunday
Jan252009

The Unnamed Party

Last February, Aluminum Bahrain BSC, or Alba for short, made big headlines by filing an explosive federal lawsuit against Alcoa. Bahrain-owned Alba accused its long-time U.S. supplier of overcharging for raw materials during a 15-year period, and using some of the money to bribe Alba's executives for more contracts. "Defendants’ conspiracy," Alba said in a complaint filed in Pittsburgh, "succeeded in exacting hundreds of millions of dollars in over payments, which continue to accumulate to this day. Among other things, Plaintiff seeks damages in excess of $1 billion, including punitive damages, for this massive, outrageous fraud."

Commercial disputes between multinational companies and overseas, government-linked customers are arbitrated in private or settled behind closed doors -- they're rarely decided in open court. And while the public brawl was unusual, what happened next was stranger still.

The Justice Department intervened in the case, asking the court to stay all discovery. It said the facts of Alba's allegations, if true, might violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and mail and wire fraud statutes. Therefore, the DOJ said, it wanted to conduct a criminal investigation into Alcoa and its executives. But it couldn't do that if discovery in the civil suit was steaming ahead. Alcoa, meanwhile, denied all wrongdoing, and neither it nor Alba opposed the government's request. So for nearly a year now, the blockbuster lawsuit has been completely dormant.

Why did the government need to stop the discovery? Why couldn't the DOJ investigate Alba's allegations while the parties continued their battle in civil court? The Justice Department answered those questions in its memo arguing for the stay. The court, as we said, granted the government's request, and the stay remains in effect. Here's some of what the DOJ had to say about the handling of witnesses:

[W]itnesses identified through such civil discovery could be intimidated. See, e.g., Campbell, 307 F.2d at 487. This is of particular concern in FCPA investigations, in which witnesses often reside overseas, where legal protections for witnesses may not be readily available. Thus, commencement of full civil discovery in this case could substantively harm the interests of the United States in investigating and prosecuting the criminal case. De Vita v. Sills, 422 F.2d 1172, 1181 (3d Cir. 1970) (recognizing policy of "preventing defendants in criminal cases from using civil process to obtain information from the government's file which would in the criminal case be privileged.")

Compelling information from potential grand jury and trial witnesses by requiring them to sit for depositions, answer interrogatories or answer requests for admission in the civil action would impede the United States' ability to investigate these matters relating to Alcoa's alleged conduct. In an investigation such as this, numerous witnesses are interviewed whose statements would never be revealed to potential subjects and targets prior to indictment, but for the existence of the civil action. In sum, for all these reasons, the proposed stay is necessary to avoid prejudice to the government's criminal investigation and any potential prosecution.

The public is "an unnamed party in every lawsuit." United States v. Reaves, 636 F.Supp. 1575, 1578 (E.D. Ky. 1986) Here, the Complaint alleges that the defendants arranged for Alcoa, a public corporation, through its affiliates and agents, to make payments in violation of the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA, among other crimes. The proposed stay enables the government to investigate these charges without potential prejudice to its investigation resulting from civil discovery . . . This would thus enable the government to vindicate the paramount public interest in the enforcement of federal criminal laws and resolution of the federal criminal investigation, should the government's investigation reveal evidence that federal criminal laws were violated. Further, disposition of the criminal action could potentially result in more effective vindication of the public's interest than disposition through a private civil action, particularly given the importance of the government's FCPA enforcement program. . . . Under these circumstances, the public interest is best served by the proposed stay.

(Some footnotes omitted.)

No word yet from the government about the status of its almost year-old criminal investigation. Alba and Alcoa have also been quiet about the civil suit and whether they might settle their differences out of court.

Download Alba's complaint here.

Download the government's memo in support of the stay here.
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Thursday
Oct232008

Overseas Bribery Allegations Against Florida Pol

A federal lawsuit filed in Miami this week alleges that Republican fundraiser Harry Sargeant III and his company made illegal payments to Jordanian officials in exchange for an exclusive license to move military fuel through Jordan and into Iraq, according to NBC News. If the allegations are true, the payments may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Harry Sargeant is the Finance Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. He and his firm, Boca Raton-based International Oil Trading Company (IOTC), deny wrongdoing and say no bribes were paid. A spokesman for them said the allegations in the lawsuit are a "sour-grapes effort by a losing bidder, an attempt to shake down IOTC for a job well done," according to NBC News' Aram Roston.

NBC News says the Miami lawsuit was filed by a competitor of IOTC, Supreme Fuels, based in Dubai. The central allegation is a "conspiracy since 2004 to bribe key Jordanian government officials to ensure that defendants would be the sole recipients of more than one billion dollars worth of U.S. government contracts for the supply of fuels to the U.S. military in Iraq."

The suit against Sargeant and his company reportedly asks for damages under the federal RICO statute -- the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Victims of overseas public corruption cannot bring private lawsuits under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Only the Justice Department and, for public companies and their personnel, the Securities and Exchange Commission, can prosecute FCPA offenses. IOTC is privately-held. (Earlier this year, unrelated private RICO suits alleging foreign bribery were brought against BP and Alcoa.)

Sargeant was the subject last week of a letter written by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca), the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The letter asked Defense Secretary Gates to investigate Sargeant and IOTC in connection with overcharges for fuel deliveries to the U.S. military in Iraq. Concerning IOTC's arrangements with Jordan, Rep. Waxman's letter said,

When the Defense Department awarded IOTC the June 2004 contract, IOTC was the highest bidder of six offers, with an initial bid over twice as high as the lowest offer. None of the five lower bidders were awarded the contract, however, because they were unable to obtain a "letter of authorization" to transport fuel from the Jordanian government. As a March 2004 "Preaward Survey" reported, IOTC's "major strength is the backing of the Royal Family." In effect, this backing gave IOTC a monopoly on the delivery of fuel through Jordan. Mr. Sargeant and IOTC appear to have taken full advantage of their ties to the Jordanian royal family. Under federal procurement law, it is illegal to award a contract to a company whose prices are not "fair and reasonable."
The 16-page letter also said,
The contract awarded to IOTC in June 2004 was rebid in March 2005 and December 2006. In neither instance was IOTC the low bidder, but the contracts were awarded to IOTC because it remained the only bidder with a letter of authorization from the Jordanian government. In April 2005, Mr. Sargeant advised a contracting official that the letter of authorization awarded to IOTC "is a sensitive issue in Jordan and they would prefer to keep it as low profile as possible."
NBC News says it received an email from a spokesman for Sargeant saying that only a legitimate fee was paid to the government of Jordan. "What Supreme [Fuels] calls a 'bribe' was a required fee for importing and transporting military fuel through Jordan," a spokesman for Sargeant and IOTC said. "The fee was paid to an official agency of the Jordanian state and thoroughly documented. This and any other related charge have been shared with the Department of Defense (and to Congress) as part of our transparent disclosure of any and all costs related to the fuel delivery process."

Payments to government agencies do not violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. But payments to government officials to obtain or retain business that are made directly, or indirectly through a government agency, can violate the FCPA.

As reported by the New York Times last week, Sargeant is listed on Senator McCain’s website as having raised $500,000 or more for his presidential campaign. The campaign had to return some of Sargeant's contributions because they were improperly "bundled"to avoid contribution limits. The donations in question were solicited by Sargeant's Jordanian business partner, Mustafa Abu Naba’a, and were all returned.

Another partner, Mohammad al-Saleh, a brother-in-law of Jordan's King Abdullah II, sued Sargeant in Florida state court last year. According to the New York Times, he alleged that he "obtained special governmental authorizations [for IOTC] to transport the fuel through Jordan and was then unlawfully forced out by Mr. Sargeant, who strongly disputed those allegations."

Rep. Waxman’s letter to Secretary Gates said Sargeant’s profit from the fuel delivery contracts may have been $70 million or more.

The New York Times pointed out that there is no evidence Senator McCain or anyone connected to his campaign tried to influence the granting of the contracts to IOTC.

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Sunday
Aug032008

He's Got The FCPA Blues

Reuters' Matt Daily said it best:

A year ago, Alcoa Inc brought Siemens Chief Executive Klaus Kleinfeld across the Atlantic to take the helm of the U.S. aluminum giant.

This week, his baggage arrived.

Daily's story is about Siemens' decision to sue 11 former executives, including ex-ceo Kleinfeld. The company wants damages because of alleged corrupt payments Siemens made around the world while the 11 were in charge.

Kleinfeld, 50, a native of Germany, became Alcoa's president and chief executive officer in May this year. He'd served as its president and chief operating officer since October 2007. Before joining Alcoa, he was president and chief executive officer of Siemens from January 2005 to June 2007.

To recap: In early October 2007, Siemens settled global corruption charges with Munich prosecutors. The German industrial and engineering giant paid a fine of €201 million and at the time admitted to questionable payments around the globe of approximately €420 million. But the settlement didn't resolve the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigation by U.S. authorities, and Siemens later disclosed that its internal review identified questionable payments of up to €1.3 billion. The company also faces possible charges of public corruption in Italy, China, Hungary, Indonesia and Norway. Last week Siemens' former telecoms sales manager, Reinhard Siekaczek, was fined $170,000 by a German court and hit with a two-year suspended prison sentence for his part in the corruption.

When Siemens finally reaches a deal with U.S. prosecutors, it is likely to pay the highest penalties ever for FCPA offenses. The current record of $44.1 million is held by Baker Hughes.

Alcoa, coincidentally, has Foreign Corrupt Practices Act concerns of its own. In February this year, it was sued by Aluminum Bahrain BSC ("Alba") for corruption and fraud in a Pittsburgh federal court. Alba -- majority owned by the government of Bahrain -- alleged that it paid $2 billion in overcharges under supply contracts over a 15-year period. Alba says the money went to overseas accounts controlled by Alcoa's agent, and some was then used to bribe Alba's executives in return for more supply contracts. Among the Bahraini officials alleged to be involved is Alba's former chairman, who also served as the country's powerful minister of petroleum.

The U.S. government appeared in the same federal court in Pittsburgh three weeks later. It asked the court to stay Alba's civil suit pending a criminal investigation into whether Alcoa and its executives and agents violated the FCPA and mail and wire fraud statutes. Alcoa said it's innocent and will cooperate with the feds.

The Reuters story says Alcoa reviewed investigations commissioned by Siemens and found that Kleinfeld "had handled the matter well. . . . German prosecutors have denied reports they planned to question Kleinfeld on the bribery scandal, but the issue puts a cloud over him as [Alcoa] navigates the global metals and mining market that is a swirl with mergers and acquisitions."

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Thursday
Jul242008

Readers' Choice

Based on total page views, here are the top five posts from the FCPA Blog so far in 2008:

1. Feeling the Heat Overseas, June 9, 2008

Foreign companies can't be blamed for wondering if they're being singled out under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The names in the FCPA-related headlines alone are enough to cause high anxiety. ABB, Siemens, BAE, DaimlerChrysler, AstraZeneca and many more. But are U.S. prosecutors really focusing too much attention on U.K., European and other foreign companies instead of American firms? Probably not, at least according to the numbers. Here's the situation. . . .
2. Why We Keep Plugging, July 17, 2008
It's a familiar and unwelcome moment. Those on the other side of the table spot the FCPA compliance language for the first time:

The joint venture and all its personnel shall comply in all respects with the requirements of the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Faces darken. The mood in the room goes sour. . . .

3. Grynberg v. BP et al, April 15, 2008
Last week we reported here about the civil suit filed in the U.S. District Court in D.C. by Colorado-based oilman Jack Grynberg, 76, against BP, Statoil and British Gas, along with some of their current or former top executives. The core allegation is that the defendants, without Grynberg's knowledge and using some of his money, bribed officials in Kazakhstan in order to win oil rights for joint ventures in which Grynberg had an interest. . . .
4. The FCPA Is No Private Matter, March 3, 2008
Last week we heard that Alba -- not the movie star Jessica but the smelter Aluminum Bahrain BSC -- had sued Alcoa for bribing Bahraini officials in exchange for supply contracts. The allegations sounded exactly like an offense under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Alba's federal lawsuit, however, is based not on the FCPA but on common law fraud and RICO -- the Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act found at 18 U.S.C. §§1961-68. So what happened to the FCPA? . . .
5. Scandal Hits The Compliance Monitors, January 19, 2008
. . . No matter how you spin it -- and Messrs. Christie and Ashcroft have been doing plenty of that -- the appointments have the appearance of impropriety. Peel away the PR and the best you can say is that there was some obvious cronyism going on. The worst you can say is that the DOJ created a scheme by which U.S. Attorneys can extract millions of dollars from wrongdoers and funnel the money to former bosses, friends and political allies. We don't buy the sinister version for a second, but lots of people will take it as gospel. . . .
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