Building services company ABM Industries Incorporated said it has spent '$3.3 million of legal fees and other costs associated with an internal investigation into a foreign entity previously affiliated with a joint venture.'
Entries in Foreign Companies (31)
Thanks to the DOJ's hyper-enforcement since 2007, the FCPA is on its way to becoming one of the most famous laws in the world.
Foreign corporate prosecutions can involve headline-grabbing multimillion dollar fines, international corporate scandals, and even diplomatic intrigue. Over the past two decades, federal prosecutors have focused their attention on international antitrust cartels, bribery of foreign governments, ocean dumping, and other crimes that involve corporate conduct abroad.
Last year, according to the Deal Journal, about 40 Chinese companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges. If recent history is a guide, lots of them will end up in trouble with shareholders and U.S. regulators.
With the DOJ’s brief in the Lindsey Manufacturing case as a guide, defining who is or is not a foreign official in the eyes of the DOJ just became clearer.
The SFO have said unequivocally that they intend to use the long arm jurisdiction under the Bribery Act.
It's not hard to find reasons why the DOJ and SEC would rather prosecute corporations instead of individuals.
Here are a few:
Corporations can't defend themselves. They're strictly liable under respondeat superior for crimes committed by employees in the scope of their jobs. That's why no company has fought against FCPA charges in court for more than two decades. Individuals, on the hand, can and do fight in court and sometimes win. Recent examples of tough trials with mixed results include Frederick Bourke and William Jefferson.
Corporations cooperate. No all companies self-disclose their FCPA offenses, but most do. They hire outsiders to conduct in-depth internal investigations and hand the results over to the government. That makes life easier for prosecutors and in theory benefits the company. Individuals can also plead guilty, of course, and many do. But they usually first try to defend themselves, which increases the government's burden.
Corporations can't run or hide. Domestic companies are all registered in their home states and can be brought to court there. Foreign corporations that are issuers under the FCPA have also submitted to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. But individuals of any nationality can run. If they make it to another country, they have to be extradited back to the U.S. to face trial, a complicated process that can take years and may not be successful. Some examples include Viktor Kozeny and Jeffrey Tesler.
Corporate cases make headlines. For years, journalists have known that FCPA cases don't generate much buzz with the general public, and cases involving individuals hardly make a ripple (the Bourke and Jefferson cases were exceptions because of the defendants' fame). But giant penalties assessed against well-known global corporations are widely reported. Recent examples are Siemens, KBR, Daimler, and BAE. If the DOJ and SEC want to spread the word about the FCPA, chasing big companies is a good way to do it.
Corporate prosecutions are cost effective. They don't require long and expensive trials, so there's less drain on agency resources. And the payday for the U.S. government can be a quarter or even a half billion dollars per case, swamping the top fines for individuals.
How do any of the above influence prosecutorial decisions, if at all? The DOJ and SEC would say they don't. In other posts, we'll look at the recent enforcement track record, and we'll try to see things from the perspective of the prosecutors.
Something big, very big, is happening in FCPA enforcement. The top ten FCPA settlements of all time involve penalties of $2.8 billion. The top six happened in just the past 20 months and account for 95% of that, or $2.67 billion.
So far this summer, Snamprogetti / ENI of Italy and Technip of France each paid more than a third of a billion dollars to resolve FCPA offenses. Just three years ago, the biggest settlement on record was Baker Hughes' $44.1 million payment, and that amount electrified the FCPA world. Who could have guessed that only a few years later, settlements that size would hardly get a glance, and payouts eight times bigger would become the norm.
As we ride this hockey stick toward heaven, we need to ask some questions. Like, are mega-settlements good for compliance or do they simply put a price tag on non-compliance? What about shareholders? They're innocent of the corruption but ultimately pay the tab. Why do five of the top six settlements involve non-U.S. corporations? Do giant penalties punish wrongdoers or shield top executives from criminal prosecution? And do they distort enforcement decisions in ways we don't yet understand?
Those are some of the questions. Ruminations to follow.
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.
We liked it. All 1,162 words. Magyar Telekom's SEC disclosure last week about its internal investigation into fraudulent contracting practices could have been short and bland and very ordinary. A typical corporate blank wall. Instead it was abundant in length and detail -- one of the most rewarding public disclosures about an internal investigation we've ever read. It appeared in the company's SEC Form 6-K, Report of Foreign Private Issuer, filed December 3, 2009 here. (Another disclosure we admired earlier this year came from Pride International Inc.; it contained 1,168 words.)
What did we learn about Hungary's Magyar? Among other things that:
- Between 2000 and 2006, a small group of unnamed former senior executives from headquarters and a Macedonian affiliate spent €24 million through over twenty consultancy, lobbying, and other contracts that were probably phony.
- The contracts were used to create a pool of unaccounted cash.
- The purpose of the contracts and slush fund was to "obtain specific regulatory and other benefits from the government of Macedonia."
- The scheme worked. Magyar "generally received the benefits sought and then made expenditures under one or more of the suspect contracts."
- The lawyers hired by Magyar's audit committee, White and Case, couldn't track down who got the illicit cash. “[T]he Investigation did not uncover evidence showing receipt of payments by any Macedonian government officials or political party officials.”
- So the company can't say whether it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act's antibribery provisions. But it did commit accounting offenses. "These contracts were not appropriately recorded in the books and records of the Company and its relevant subsidiaries. . . . the Company has already reclassified . . . the accounting treatment relating to certain of these contracts to more accurately account for these expenditures."
So that's the news. But why, we wondered, did Magyar put an extra thousand words into its disclosure? Why didn't it stick to the usual script -- "An internal investigation has concluded that improper payments may have been made to influence the award of certain contracts. Remedial action has been taken. Discussions with authorities in the U.S. and other countries are ongoing." Why War and Peace when it could have gotten away with a Hallmark greeting card?
Here are five reasons that come to mind:
The internal report is good news. There's been a dark cloud over Magyar since it discovered the corruption during its 2005 audit and launched the investigation in 2006. But the disclosure brings sunny skies. Why not make the most of it? It cleared everyone now there and pinned the blame on people who are already gone. "Nothing in the Final Report implicates any current senior executive or Board member of the Company in connection with any wrongdoing."
Magyar's management team is young. Executive chairman and CEO Christopher Mattheisen is 47; CFO Thilo Kusch is 43; and COO Róbert Pataki is 37. They've got a lot of open road and ambitious regional plans ahead of them. The detailed disclosure should help them put Magyar's past practices in the rearview mirror.
The CEO is American. His Forbes Profile says Mattheisen "studied economics and finance at Indiana University of Bloomington and at Columbia University. He first came to Hungary in 1990 to start a strategic planning and business consulting company." Expat American CEOs are all "domestic concerns" and are usually savvy about the FCPA and its risks. The mega disclosure may reflect Mattheisen's heightened sensitivity.
Magyar has a couple of important shareholders. German giant Deutsche Telekom owns 59.52% of the company and the public owns most of the rest. No doubt DT wanted a quick and clean end to Magyar's corruption mess, to avoid the risk of association with another German giant, Siemens. Its corruption made global headlines for most of 2007 and 2008. Then there's the Hungarian government. It still owns a golden share in Magyar (the company was formed from the privatized state phone system). With its EU integration in full swing, Hungary's leaders wouldn't want a lingering corruption scandal either.
Bang for the buck. The internal investigation was expensive -- $28 million last year alone. The detailed disclosure helps management justify the price tag.
* * *
What's next for Magyar? It said the U.S. Justice Department and SEC are still investigating the company, along with Macedonia's Inerior Ministry. The company said it can't "predict what the final outcome of those investigations may be or the impact, if any, they may have on [its] financial statements or results of operations." More ominously for the unnamed former senior executives, Magyar said the Hungarian National Bureau of Investigation has started "a criminal investigation into alleged misappropriation of funds . . ."
Back in the U.S., the DOJ and SEC should be happy with the way management has handled the investigation, disclosure, and remedial steps. The approach has been aggressive -- maybe a bit too aggressive. The company said it faces a new problem -- "the possible misuse of personal data of employees" duirng the internal investigation. Hungary's authorities are looking into it.
Magyar Telekom Plc's American Depositary Shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol MTA.