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FCPA Blog Daily News

Entries in China (788)

Wednesday
Oct312007

Faro Discloses Expected FCPA Resolution

Faro Technologies, Inc.'s third quarter disclosure describes a not-yet-effective deferred or non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In March 2006, Florida-based Faro -- which designs, develops, and markets software and portable, computerized measurement devices -- self-disclosed to prosecutors potential violations in China of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. On October 30, 2007, it said it expects to pay $2.65 million in estimated fines and penalties to resolve the case. It also said this:

"FCPA Update

"The Company anticipates that resolution of the FCPA matter will not result in formal criminal charges being filed against it by the DOJ. The Company expects, in addition to monetary sanctions, the final resolution of the FCPA matter with the SEC and the DOJ will include continuing obligations with the SEC and the DOJ with respect to monitoring, compliance with the FCPA and other laws, full cooperation with the government, and the adoption of a compliance code containing specific provisions intended to prevent violations of the FCPA.

"The Company expects that its monitoring obligations will continue for a period of two years starting with the final resolution of the FCPA matter with the SEC and the DOJ. The Company preliminarily estimates that the costs associated with the monitoring obligations to be in the range of $1 million to $2 million. However, because the scope of the monitoring obligation has not yet been determined and the outside monitoring firm has not yet been selected, the actual costs incurred may vary from the Company's preliminary estimate. The Company intends to provide updates with respect to the monitoring costs when additional information is available to the Company."

Faro Technologies, Inc. trades on NASDAQ under the symbol FARO.

View Faro's October 30, 2007 Press Release Here.

Tuesday
Oct162007

Red Tape Round-Up

With the 17th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in full swing in Beijing, we thought it would be a good time to see what leaders there are doing about corruption. Here's some of what we found.

Red tape is out. The CCP says that since 2002, 68 national government departments have rescinded or amended 1,806 of their 3,605 administrative approval items for new businesses. We're not always sure about China's statistics, but these sound positive. At the provincial level, too, times are changing. The Party says local governments have canceled more than half their regulations. It cites the Zhejiang government, which "slashed the number of required approvals for new businesses from 3,251 to 630 in five years, and Chongqing, which canceled 312 items last year alone."

One reformer from the Party said cleaning up the country's over-regulated administrative approval system -- making it simpler and more transparent for new businesses to get up and running -- is essential to cutting corruption. He cited the example of "a city government in Henan Province that established a 'steamed bread office,' which required the registration of every person in the city who wanted to make and sell steamed bread." He also reported the story of "a south China farmer who took two years to acquire the 270 official seals needed to establish a poultry farm, by which time he found the business was no longer viable."

Notwithstanding the steamed bread office in Henan Province, the World Bank says China is making steady progress. It reduced the time to register a new business from 48 days in 2005 to 35 days in 2006. And new online customs procedures reduced the time to import and export by two days.

That's good news, because red tape and corruption are always best friends. And China -- though trying to help its citizens and foreign investors -- still has a long way to go in both departments. For now, FCPA compliance there remains difficult, and the red tape means compliance red flags are always in sight.

View the "News of the Communist Party of China" Here.

View a Summary of the World Bank's Doing Business Report 2007 Here.

Thursday
Oct112007

Termites In China

The happy people in the photo are Ma Wen (right), head of China's new National Bureau of Corruption Prevention, and her deputy, Qu Wanxiang. The occasion is the official unveiling of the anti-corruption bureau in Beijing on September 13, 2007.

But according to an October 11, 2007 story by Terry Atlas in U.S. News and World Report here, China's top corruption-busters have very little to smile about. The story, citing a report by Minxin Pei, a China expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, describes China's bribery problem as "termites chewing into the foundation of China's growth" and "one of the most serious threats to the nation's future economic and political stability." The story says the direct costs of China's corruption are as much as $86 billion a year. "It contributes to social unrest — sparking thousands of protests a year — and contributes to environmental and health problems. "

Though full of smiles, the pictured Ms. Ma and Mr. Qu could probably use some additional staff. The story says that in China "the odds of a corrupt official going to jail are less than 3 percent, making corruption a high-return, low-risk activity."

Everything may be relative, but FCPA enforcement isn't supposed to be. There are no breaks because one host county has more bribery than another. In a place like China, that means stepped up FCPA compliance is the only option.

View the Carnegie Report Here.

Wednesday
Oct102007

Greetings, Comrade

A friend of The FCPA Blog who bunked in Singapore awhile and has since returned to Washington, D.C. asks: In a communist country, is everyone a government official?

The question is important because the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prohibits corrupt payments to "foreign officials" for the purpose of obtaining or retaining work or gaining any unfair advantage. If, as our questioner suspects, everyone in a communist country is a foreign official, then compliance risks multiply. In China, for example, there will be 1.3 billion chances to violate the FCPA every day.

Duly frightened, we believe the prudent approach in a communist state or any country where the government dominates the economy is to consider everyone a foreign official, until proven otherwise. There are no cases or FCPA Opinion Procedure Releases we know of that answer the question definitively. But foreign officials for the FCPA include officers, employees or representatives of any government, at any level. They also include officials of foreign political parties.

In the communist states we're familiar with, especially the really Big One, most people work for government-owned or controlled enterprises -- hospitals, shipyards, oil companies, airlines, banks, insurance companies, media firms, sports teams, real estate developers, investment funds, the 2008 Olympics Committee, you name it. Even when ultimate ownership is obscure, which can be the case with listed companies, control may still rest with the government or its alter ego, the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP appoints only its own members to be directors of state-owned enterprises. And any CCP member important enough to nab a directorship at a state-owned enterprise or international joint venture probably holds some kind of party title and should therefore be deemed an "official of a foreign political party" for the FCPA.

Some practitioners are also guided by local laws. Using again the example of China, the legal definition of a "public official" in a number of statutes and regulations is broad and apparently covers all Chinese Communist Party members. The U.S. Department of Justice has said in another context that it is not bound by local statutory definitions or legal opinions. But for this question, the DOJ is unlikely to interpret "public officials" much different than the host country does. Mark Mendelsohn, the Deputy Chief of the DOJ's Criminal Division, Fraud Section (the group that prosecutes FCPA cases), noted in 2006 that many companies now assume that everyone in China is a government official, because "Chinese regulators are involved in any business enterprise." He warned against an FCPA defense based on claims that "you thought you were paying a kickback to a private individual." (SEC Today, Volume 2006-57, Friday, March 24, 2006).

Anyone overcome by a desire to inspect this post's annotations -- now safely stored in a nearby cardboard box -- should contact us Here.

Monday
Oct012007

York International Pays $22 Million To Resolve Global Corruption Case

Internal Investigation into Oil-For-Food Abuses Uncovered Widespread Bribery

York International Corporation has reached a settlement with U.S. prosecutors of numerous violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act -- relating to bribes paid under the United Nations oil-for-food program and kickbacks for other government contract work in Bahrain, Egypt, India, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and China. York -- a subsidiary of Johnson Controls, Inc. since 2005 -- provides heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration products and services worldwide.

Under York's three-year deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, it will pay a $10 million criminal penalty, cooperate with the DOJ’s related investigations and appoint an independent compliance monitor. York also consented to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s filing of a complaint for FCPA violations and agreed to disgorge about $10 million and pay $2 million in civil penalties.

From 2001 through 2006, York paid over $7.5 million in bribes through subsidiaries and agents to obtain work on commercial and government projects throughout the world. York referred to the payments internally as "consultancy payments" but no bona fide services were involved. It made 854 improper consultancy payments on more than 770 contracts -- 302 projects involved government end-users, such as government-owned companies, public hospitals, or schools.

The payments violated the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA, and York failed to devise and maintain an effective system of internal controls to prevent or detect the bribes. It also failed to accurately record in its books and records the kickbacks to Iraq, bribes in the UAE, and the bogus consultancy payments made in various countries. York consented to the entry of a final judgment with the SEC permanently enjoining it from future violations of Sections 30A, 13(b)(2)(A), and 13(b)(2)(B) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The DOJ’s three-count criminal Information charged York with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to falsify books and records in violation of 15 U.S.C. §§ 78m(b)(2)(A), 78m(b)(5) and 78ff(a).

York self-reported the violations and worked with the DOJ and the SEC to investigate the illegal conduct. The criminal Information also mentions "Employee A" and “Employee B,” citizens of the United Kingdom and Syria respectively, who were involved in the bribery, as well as "Company X," a consulting company based in Jordan that acted as a sales agent for York in the Middle East. They have not yet been charged with FCPA violations.

Among the details mentioned by prosecutors, York’s Danish subsidiary, which sells refrigeration equipment to ship builders and ship yards owned by the Chinese government, made illegal payments from 2004 through 2006 to agents and to Chinese officials connected with the shipyards. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars for nebulous and undocumented services” were processed through York’s Danish subsidiary, which also provided Chinese ship yard employees with lap top computers and other electronics.

York's parent company, Johnson Controls, Inc. (NYSE: JCI) will not be prosecuted on the facts admitted by York.

View the DOJ’s October 1, 2007 News Release Here.

View the October 1, 2007 Deferred Prosecution Agreement and Criminal Information Here.

View the SEC’s Litigation Release No. 20319 / October 1, 2007 Here.

View the SEC’s Complaint Here.

Monday
Sep242007

Paradigm's Pre-IPO Due Diligence Reveals FCPA Violations

Paradigm B.V., a Houston-based oil and gas services provider, entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve payments that violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Paradigm made prohibited payments to foreign officials in China, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Mexico and Nigeria. It will "pay a $1 million penalty, implement rigorous internal controls, retain outside compliance counsel, and cooperate fully with the Department of Justice," according to the DOJ's September 24, 2007 announcement.

Paradigm's parent company, Paradigm Ltd., which is controlled by private equity fund Fox Paine, discovered the corrupt payments during due diligence for its planned NASDAQ IPO and self-disclosed them to prosecutors. The conduct at issue did not involve current senior management, according to the company. The DOJ said, “Paradigm’s actions in this matter, including voluntary disclosure and remedial efforts, are consistent with our view of responsible corporate conduct when FCPA violations are uncovered. Accordingly, the Department has resolved this case to permit the company to move forward on sound footing, governed by ethical business practices.”

The corrupt payments involved $22,250 deposited into the Latvian bank account of a British West Indies company recommended as a consultant by an official of KazMunaiGas, Kazakhstan’s national oil company, to secure a tender for geological software. The DOJ said Paradigm performed no due diligence, did not enter into any written agreement and apparently received no services.

In China, Paradigm used an agent to make commission payments to representatives of a subsidiary of the China National Offshore Oil Company in connection with the sale of software to the CNOOC subsidiary. Paradigm also directly retained and paid employees of Chinese national oil companies or state-owned entities as "internal consultants" to evaluate Paradigm’s software and to influence their employers’ procurement divisions to purchase Paradigm’s products. Employees of CNOOC and other state-owned enterprises in China are "foreign officials" for purposes of the FCPA.

Paradigm said it also made corrupt payments in Mexico, Indonesia and Nigeria. In Nigeria, it used intermediaries to pay between $100,000 and $200,000 to politicians to obtain a contract to perform services and processing work for a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. In Mexico, it hired the brother of a Pemex decision maker, and paid for the decision-maker's $12,000 trip to Napa Valley, California and $10,000 to entertain him. In Indonesia, its agent paid employees of Pertamina through a New York bank account.

In a sign that the DOJ is encouraging more voluntary disclosure and self-directed remedial action -- which means implementing an "effective compliance program" -- Paradigm's non-prosecution agreement expires after just 18 months instead of the usual three-year period, and requires appointment of outside compliance counsel instead of an independent monitor. In addition to Paradigm's self disclosure and remedial actions, another major influence on the DOJ's handling of the case must have been the fact that the company's current senior management was not involved in the unlawful conduct.

View the Department of Justice's News Release Here.

View Paradigm's Non-Prosecution Agreement Here.

Sunday
Sep162007

Schnitzer’s Victory

The case was full of bad facts. For nearly ten years until late 2004, some $1.8 million in bribes went to foreign officials and private parties in South Korea and China. Officers and employees of Schnitzer Steel Industries Inc. and its Korean subsidiary, SSI International Far East Ltd., approved the bribes, then used elaborate means to fund and conceal them.

Cash, gift certificates, a Cartier watch, pens, perfume, entertainment, a golf club membership, even a condo timeshare – all these changed hands. Off-the-books bank accounts in Korea held slush funds. The bribes were falsely accounted for as “refund to customer” or “rebate to customer,” or “quality claims,” “discounts,” “credits” or “freight savings.” They were disguised as “gratuities” or “congratulations money." Some bribes were even masked as “condolence money.” The corruption was so habitual that even after it was discovered and ordered stopped, an executive approved two more bribes.

There were still more bad facts. Schnitzer had no Foreign Corrupt Practices Act compliance program of any kind – no education for employees, no training, no due diligence, no audits. In ignorance of the FCPA, senior managers emailed each other about arranging “kickbacks” and protecting the crooked recipients from legal trouble in their home countries. Schnitzer, a public company and one of America's largest recyclers of scrap metal, lacked even the basic financial controls needed to prevent or detect secret bank accounts, corrupt payments and false accounting.

Did prosecutors, as expected, seek the corporate death penalty? Not at all. In the end, Schnitzer was never charged with a crime. Its subsidiary, SSI Korea, pleaded guilty in October 2006 to violating the FCPA's anti-bribery and books and records provisions, as well as conspiracy and wire fraud. It paid a $7.5 million criminal fine. Schnitzer itself, however, escaped with a $7.7 million civil penalty and a deferred prosecution agreement, whereby it promised to keep its nose clean and take remedial actions. Thereafter, Schnitzer survived and has since flourished in the robust global steel market.

What accounts for this surprising result? For a start, Schnitzer accepted all responsibility. On first learning about the corrupt payments, the board's audit committee commissioned an aggressive internal investigation. At each stage of the investigation, Schnitzer voluntarily disclosed what it was learning to the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Then, looking forward, Schnitzer set out to transform its culture. To make sure everyone inside the company and outside got the point, it replaced the chairman of the board, hired a new CEO, and brought in a fresh team of senior management.

The Department of Justice was satisfied, even impressed. “When companies voluntarily disclose FCPA violations and cooperate with Justice Department investigations, they will get a real, tangible benefit. In fact," the DOJ said, "Schnitzer Steel’s cooperation in this case was excellent and . . . the disposition announced today reflects that fact.”

The outcome was never inevitable. Like other companies facing a corruption scandal, Schnitzer had a crucial choice -- to retreat behind the corporate parapet and wait for prosecutors and public opinion to storm the gates, or to cooperate up to a point but try to keep defense options open, or to surrender peacefully, make a full confession, show a repentant spirit and seek forgiveness. By choosing the last option, the company was able to enjoy a quick rehabilitation and full restoration to corporate citizenship. Schnitzer's victory was no accident, but a product of its own decisions.

View the DOJ’s Press Release Here.

Tuesday
Aug072007

Fallout Continues From Schnitzer Steel Industries' FCPA Violations

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced in late June 2007 that it charged a former executive of Portland, Oregon-based Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc. with violating the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. Si Chan Wooh of Tacoma, Washington, the former Executive Vice President and head of a Schnitzer subsidiary, agreed to pay approximately $40,000 in disgorgement, interest and penalties.

The complaint alleged that from at least 1999 through 2004, Wooh paid over $200,000 in cash bribes and other gifts to managers of government-owned steel mills in China to induce them to purchase scrap metal from Schnitzer. Schnitzer realized over $6.2 million in profits from sales to customers procured through these illicit payments. During the same period, Wooh made or authorized similar payments totaling over $1.7 million to managers of privately owned steel mills in both China and South Korea.

Without admitting or denying the charges, Wooh agreed to disgorge $14,819.38 in bonuses plus prejudgment interest of $1,312.52, to pay a $25,000 civil penalty, and to an order enjoining him from violations of the FCPA in the future.

In October 2006, Schnitzer settled related charges by the Commission by paying $7.7 million in disgorgement. Schnitzer also paid $7.5 million in penalties to settle related criminal charges brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.

View the SEC's Press Release here.

View the SEC's Complaint here.

View the October 2006 Schnitzer Cease and Desist here.

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