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Entries in Mexico (177)

Friday
Dec112009

SEC Charges Ex-Pride VP

The Securities and Exchange Commission accused Bobby Benton, a former vice president of offshore drill rig operator Pride International, of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He allegedly bribed Mexican officials in 2004 and altered the company's accounts to hide the payments. The SEC's December 10 civil complaint (below) was filed in federal court in Houston.

The SEC accused Benton of authorizing a third party to pay off Mexican customs officials and concealing bribes to Mexican and Venezuelan officials between 2003 and 2005. Benton allegedly deleted references in the audits to about $384,000 in payments made by “the manager of the Venezuelan branch of a French subsidiary of Pride” to third-party companies. The SEC said the alleged bribes went to a Venezuelan state-owned oil company official to extend three drilling contracts.

Pride disclosed in SEC filings including its latest quarterly report (here) an internal investigation into the company's Latin America operations that began in February 2006. It said possible FCPA violations were found, including payments of less than $1 million to government officials in Venezuela and Mexico. 

Benton is accused of authorizing a $10,000 bribe in 2004 to ensure a Mexican customs official would overlook deficiencies in a Pride supply boat. He's also accused of redacting references to another $15,000 bribe paid by an agent of Pride's Mexican subsidiary to keep a Mexican customs official from delaying a drilling rig for customs violations, according to the complaint.

The SEC is seeking a civil penalty and disgorgement from Benton, as well as an injunction against future violations.

Pride's internal investigation also found evidence of illegal payments of less than $2.5 million from 2001 through 2006 directly or indirectly to government officials in Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Brazil, India, Nigeria, Libya, Angola and the Republic of the Congo. The payments related to clearing rigs and equipment through customs, resolving customs disputes, immigration, tax, licensing and merchant marine issues. 

The company self-disclosed the results of its investigation. It said it is in talks with the DOJ and SEC "regarding a potential negotiated resolution of these matters, which could be settled during 2009 and which . . . could involve a significant payment by us." It said a settlement is likely to "include both criminal and civil sanctions." The DOJ hasn't yet announced any enforcement actions involving Benton or the company.

View the Securities and Exchange Commission's December 14, 2009 Litigation Release No. 21335 in SEC v. Bobby Benton here.

Download the civil complaint in SEC v. Bobby Benton, Civil Action No. 4:09-CV-03963 (S.D. Texas, December 11, 2009) here.

Monday
Nov232009

Ex-ABB Manager Arrested, Mexican Agent Pleads Guilty

The Justice Department announced on Monday (November 23) the arrest of the former general manager of a Sugar Land, Texas-based ABB subsidiary for his alleged role in a conspiracy to bribe Mexican government officials. The bribes were allegedly intended to secure contracts with the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), a Mexican state-owned utility company. The DOJ also said a Mexican citizen who acted as a middleman pleaded guilty in the case and is cooperating in the investigation.

The DOJ charged John Joseph O'Shea, 57, of Pleasanton, California, in an 18-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Houston on November 16. He was charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (18 U.S.C. § 371), 12 counts of violating the FCPA (15 U.S.C. § 78dd-2 et seq), four counts of international money laundering (18 U.S.C. § 1956), and one count of falsifying records in a federal investigation (18 U.S.C. § 1519).

Although not named in the DOJ release or charging documents, ABB has confirmed that O'Shea was its employee. Fortune carried this statement from the company: "The individual is a former employee of an ABB unit in Texas. He was terminated in the fall of 2004. ABB continues to cooperate with U.S. authorities."

O'Shea hired Fernando Maya Basurto, 47, of Mexico City, to act as the Texas unit's sales agent in Mexico. Under his contract, Basurto received a percentage of sales as his commission. In December 1997, CFE awarded the Texas business unit a contract, known as the SITRACEN contract, to upgrade the backbone of Mexico's electrical network system. The SITRACEN contract generated more than $44 million dollars in revenue for ABB's Texas business unit. In October 2003, CFE also awarded it a multi-year contract for maintenance and upgrades of the SITRACEN contract that generated more than $37 million in revenue.

According to the indictment, O'Shea and Basurto agreed to pay 10 percent of the revenues from the SITRACEN contract to officials at CFE. And for the Evergreen contract, O'Shea authorized more than $900,000 in bribes to CFE officials. He also took a kickback of 1 percent. The indictment alleges that O'Shea, Basurto and others covered up the bribery after ABB fired O'Shea. They fabricated documents that "purported to be evidence of a legitimate business relationship between the Texas business unit and the Mexican companies that provided the false invoices." The indictment described emails between Basurto and O'Shea in which they discussed creating fake correspondence and a phony contract.

ABB discovered the alleged bribery and fraud during an internal investigation. It self-disclosed the payments and related activities to the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission and helped with their investigations.

Basurto was first arrested in Dallas in April on a criminal complaint charging him with conspiracy to structure transactions and structuring transactions to evade currency reporting requirements. He was later indicted on the same charges on June 10, 2009. As part of his plea deal, the DOJ filed a superseding criminal information charging him with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA, to launder money, and to falsify records. The information said jurisdiction over Basurto was based on his being "an agent of a domestic concern, as that term is defined in the FCPA, 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-2(h)(1)."

He pleaded guilty on November 16 in Houston. He faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice his gain or the victim's loss caused by his crimes. The Justice Department hasn't announced his sentencing date.

Basurto's indictment gave details of the bribes. It said, for example:

Basurto would maintain control over all of these funds [from the Texas business unit] and would, at CFE Official C's instruction, wire funds from these accounts to a Merrill Lynch brokerage account. CFE Official C would then cause some of these funds to be further transferred to the son-in-law of CFE Official N and to the brother of CFE Official C. Basurto would follow additional instructions from CFE Official C concerning the "Good Guys" funds, including giving CFE Official C approximately $20,000 in cash.

For O'Shea, the conspiracy and falsification of records counts each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of the greater of $250,000 or twice the value gained or lost. Each of the 12 substantive FCPA counts carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of the greater of $100,000 or twice the value gained or lost. The four international money laundering counts each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of the greater of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction. The indictment also gives notice of criminal forfeiture.

 The DOJ said German authorities assisted in the investigation. Payments allegely were made to the CFE officials through German banks and accounts there.

In July 2004, ABB and two subsidiaries disgorged $5.9 million and paid a $10.5 million penalty for FCPA violations involving Nigeria, Angola and Kazakhstan. In a 2007 earnings release, ABB said it disclosed to the DOJ and SEC "suspect payments made by employees of company subsidiaries in Asia, South America and Europe, in particular Italy. These suspect payments were discovered as a result of ABB's internal audit and compliance program." See our post here.

As the DOJ says, an indictment is merely an accusation, and O’Shea is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

View the DOJ's November 23, 2009 release here.

Download the November 16, 2009 criminal indictment in US v. John Joseph O'Shea here.

Download the November 16, 2009 superseding criminal information in US v. Fernando Maya Basurto here.

Download Basurto's plea agreement with the Justice Department here.

Monday
Sep282009

Supply-Side Corruption

The 2008 Bribe Payers Index (BPI) from Transparency International attempts to measure how much corruption the major economies export to other countries. TI hired Gallup International to survey 2,742 executives from 26 countries (at least 100 interviews per country) between 5 August and 29 October 2008. The executives came from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Ghana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Senegal, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Interviewees were given a list of 22 countries. They were asked to score each country on a 5-point scale (from 1=never, to 5=almost always) by answering the question: “How often do firms headquartered in (country name) engage in bribery in [your home] country?” The 22 "exporting"countries selected for evaluation represented 54 percent of the world's total trade and foreign direct investment flows in 2006.

What's measured is the perception of companies headquartered in the "exporting" countries to pay bribes when doing business abroad. Companies from Belgium and Canada came out on top as the cleanest; those from China and Russia were last.

Here's the complete 2008 BPI ranking:

1 Belgium
1 Canada
3 Netherlands
3 Switzerland
5 Germany
5 United Kingdom
5 Japan
8 Australia
9 France
9 Singapore
9 United States
12 Spain
13 Hong Kong
14 South Africa
14 South Korea
14 Taiwan
17 Italy
17 Brazil
19 India
20 Mexico
21 China
22 Russia
The survey also evaluated 19 business segments to determine which were most likely to use illegal payments to influence government decisions. Worst ranked were public works contracts and construction, real estate and property development, oil and gas, heavy manufacturing, and mining. The cleanest were information technology, fisheries, and banking and finance.

Among other things, the survey raises questions about the lack of enforcement parity among the major economies. The BRIC countries plus Mexico sit at the bottom of the survey -- their companies are perceived as most likely to use bribery abroad to win work. Yet those countries don't prosecute overseas graft. For American companies, that's bad news. The growing economic power of India and China especially will make the level playing field more elusive than ever.
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Thursday
Feb262009

Pride's Disclosure Tells The Story

We admire Pride International, Inc.'s approach to its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act disclosures. The company talks about the serious problems it had for years with sensitive payments, and how it's been dealing with them. The countries involved included Venezuela and Mexico, India and Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Nigeria, Libya, Angola and the Republic of the Congo, among others. Bribes apparently were paid directly or by intermediaries to clear rigs and equipment through customs, and to help solve problems with immigration, tax, and licensing authorities. Some of the payments in question involved global logistics firm Panalpina and other third parties.

Sadly, people near the top of the company probably knew what was going on. The ex-chief operating officer resigned his position in mid-2006 but has stayed as an employee during the FCPA investigation. If the audit committee or the board of directors think there's "cause" under his employment agreement to terminate his services, he could lose retirement benefits and maybe a lot more. Other senior people have already been fired or placed on administrative leave, and some resigned because of the FCPA investigation. The company says it has "taken and will continue to take disciplinary actions where appropriate and various other corrective action to reinforce our commitment to conducting our business ethically and legally and to instill in our employees our expectation that they uphold the highest levels of honesty, integrity, ethical standards and compliance with the law."

Who is Pride? It's a can-do Houston-based drilling contractor for the oil and gas industry. It has over 7,000 employees working around the world. "We have positioned our fleet," its website says, "in some of the world's largest and most active exploration and production areas, with a market presence in West Africa (Angola), Latin America (Brazil), the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean and Middle East. Today, we operate a total of 45 rigs."

As we did a year ago here, we're reprinting below Pride International's FCPA disclosure from its annual report (Form 10-K), this one for the period ending December 31, 2008. Pride filed it with the Securities and Exchange Commission this week. It's a long read (for a blog post, anyway). But it's filled with details and admissions not usually found in similar disclosures. We think it also gives fair warning to shareholders and other stakeholders that an eventual resolution with the Justice Department and SEC could be expensive and disruptive.

Pride International, Inc. trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol PDE.

Download Pride's February 25, 2009 Form 10K (annual report) here.
___________

During the course of an internal audit and investigation relating to certain of our Latin American operations, our management and internal audit department received allegations of improper payments to foreign government officials. In February 2006, the Audit Committee of our Board of Directors assumed direct responsibility over the investigation and retained independent outside counsel to investigate the allegations, as well as corresponding accounting entries and internal control issues, and to advise the Audit Committee.

The investigation, which is continuing, has found evidence suggesting that payments, which may violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, were made to government officials in Venezuela and Mexico aggregating less than $1 million. The evidence to date regarding these payments suggests that payments were made beginning in early 2003 through 2005 (a) to vendors with the intent that they would be transferred to government officials for the purpose of extending drilling contracts for two jackup rigs and one semisubmersible rig operating offshore Venezuela; and (b) to one or more government officials, or to vendors with the intent that they would be transferred to government officials, for the purpose of collecting payment for work completed in connection with offshore drilling contracts in Venezuela. In addition, the evidence suggests that other payments were made beginning in 2002 through early 2006 (a) to one or more government officials in Mexico in connection with the clearing of a jackup rig and equipment through customs, the movement of personnel through immigration or the acceptance of a jackup rig under a drilling contract; and (b) with respect to the potentially improper entertainment of government officials in Mexico.

The Audit Committee, through independent outside counsel, has undertaken a review of our compliance with the FCPA in certain of our other international operations. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice has asked us to provide information with respect to (a) our relationships with a freight and customs agent and (b) our importation of rigs into Nigeria. The Audit Committee is reviewing the issues raised by the request, and we are cooperating with the DOJ in connection with its request.

This review has found evidence suggesting that during the period from 2001 through 2006 payments were made directly or indirectly to government officials in Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Nigeria, Libya, Angola, and the Republic of the Congo in connection with clearing rigs or equipment through customs or resolving outstanding issues with customs, immigration, tax, licensing or merchant marine authorities in those countries. In addition, this review has found evidence suggesting that in 2003 payments were made to one or more third parties with the intent that they would be transferred to a government official in India for the purpose of resolving a customs dispute related to the importation of one of our jackup rigs. The evidence suggests that the aggregate amount of payments referred to in this paragraph is less than $2.5 million. We are also reviewing certain agent payments related to Malaysia.

The investigation of the matters described in the prior paragraph and the Audit Committee’s compliance review are ongoing. Accordingly, there can be no assurances that evidence of additional potential FCPA violations may not be uncovered in those or other countries.

Our management and the Audit Committee of our Board of Directors believe it likely that then members of our senior operations management either were aware, or should have been aware, that improper payments to foreign government officials were made or proposed to be made. Our former Chief Operating Officer resigned as Chief Operating Officer effective on May 31, 2006 and has elected to retire from the company, although he will remain an employee, but not an officer, during the pendency of the investigation to assist us with the investigation and to be available for consultation and to answer questions relating to our business. His retirement benefits will be subject to the determination by our Audit Committee or our Board of Directors that it does not have cause (as defined in his retirement agreement with us) to terminate his employment. Other personnel, including officers, have been terminated or placed on administrative leave or have resigned in connection with the investigation. We have taken and will continue to take disciplinary actions where appropriate and various other corrective action to reinforce our commitment to conducting our business ethically and legally and to instill in our employees our expectation that they uphold the highest levels of honesty, integrity, ethical standards and compliance with the law.

We voluntarily disclosed information relating to the initial allegations and other information found in the investigation and compliance review to the DOJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission and are cooperating with these authorities as the investigation and compliance reviews continue and as they review the matter. If violations of the FCPA occurred, we could be subject to fines, civil and criminal penalties, equitable remedies, including profit disgorgement, and injunctive relief. Civil penalties under the antibribery provisions of the FCPA could range up to $10,000 per violation, with a criminal fine up to the greater of $2 million per violation or twice the gross pecuniary gain to us or twice the gross pecuniary loss to others, if larger. Civil penalties under the accounting provisions of the FCPA can range up to $500,000 and a company that knowingly commits a violation can be fined up to $25 million. In addition, both the SEC and the DOJ could assert that conduct extending over a period of time may constitute multiple violations for purposes of assessing the penalty amounts. Often, dispositions for these types of matters result in modifications to business practices and compliance programs and possibly a monitor being appointed to review future business and practices with the goal of ensuring compliance with the FCPA.

We could also face fines, sanctions and other penalties from authorities in the relevant foreign jurisdictions, including prohibition of our participating in or curtailment of business operations in those jurisdictions and the seizure of rigs or other assets. Our customers in those jurisdictions could seek to impose penalties or take other actions adverse to our interests. We could also face other third-party claims by directors, officers, employees, affiliates, advisors, attorneys, agents, stockholders, debt holders, or other interest holders or constituents of our company. In addition, disclosure of the subject matter of the investigation could adversely affect our reputation and our ability to obtain new business or retain existing business from our current clients and potential clients, to attract and retain employees and to access the capital markets. No amounts have been accrued related to any potential fines, sanctions, claims or other penalties, which could be material individually or in the aggregate.

We cannot currently predict what, if any, actions may be taken by the DOJ, the SEC, any other applicable government or other authorities or our customers or other third parties or the effect the actions may have on our results of operations, financial condition or cash flows, on our consolidated financial statements or on our business in the countries at issue and other jurisdictions.
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Thursday
Dec252008

Help Wanted For Siemens Report

One of ProPublica's outstanding investigative reporters, T. Christian Miller, wrote the story below (which ProPublica co-published with MSN Money). We reprint it under ProPublica's generous license ("You can republish our articles for free, if you credit us, link to us, and don't edit our material or sell it separately.")

If you have trouble accessing the DOJ and SEC charging documents linked in the story (we did), you can also find them at the bottom of our earlier post here.

_________

Help Us Name Names in Siemens Corruption Scandal

by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica - December 22, 2008 1:05 pm EST

Get ready for the Siemens World Corruption Tour, 2001-2008. Siemens pleaded guilty last week to corruption across the globe, receiving a record-setting fine -- $1.6 billion (which sounds like a lot, but really, it's just 0.3 percent of their revenue during those years.)

In announcing the fine, the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission released formal complaints detailing how Siemens bribed government officials all around the world. (We published a story in Sunday's New York Times profiling the Siemens accountant at the center of the scandal.)

However -- and this is a big "however" if you're into accountability -- they released none of the names of the corrupt bureaucrats that took the cash or the Siemens officials who paid it.

This was done, Justice folks said, to protect the integrity of ongoing investigations and to comply with privacy laws in various countries.

At the hearing prosecutors seemed a bit wistful that they couldn't reveal the names, which were provided to Judge Richard Leon in a sealed file. Lori Weinstein, the dogged prosecutor who pursued the case, said the department could not provide exact names. But, she said, the documents were sprinkled with clues to provide "sufficient clarity" for the court to figure out who was who.

Some identifications are vague -- there are plenty of "government officials." But others are more specific. (Hello, "Wife of the former Nigerian Vice President, a dual U.S.-Nigerian citizen.") ProPublica figures that with the help of readers, we might be able to ID at least some of these folks. Below, you'll find descriptions of the bribees. Send us a name and a link sourcing the information.

To get things started, take the case of the Argentine identity card contract. The SEC's complaint said that Siemens paid bribes to a certain "president of Argentina" who left office in 1999. Not too hard to figure out that one -- Carlos Menem ran the country from 1989 to 1999. Looks like the buck really did stop there.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. As of last count, 16 countries had investigations ongoing into Siemens. Our list below includes only those bribery schemes detailed in the formal complaints by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

E-mail us if you find clues to figure out the other grafters.

Argentina
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 21
National Identity Card contract (1998-2004)
Contract Amount: $1 billion
Bribe Amount: $40 million
Recipients:

  • President of Argentina until 1999 (Carlos Menem)
  • Minister of the Interior
  • Head of Immigration Control
  • Cabinet ministers

Bangladesh
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 19
Mobile Phone contract (2004-2006)
Contract Amount: $40.9 million
Bribe Amount: $5.3 million
Recipients:

  • Son of then-Prime Minister
  • Minister of Posts & Telecommunications
  • Director of Procurement for the Bangladesh Telegraph & Telephone Board
  • In addition, Siemens Ltd. Bangladesh hired relatives of two BTTB and Ministry of Posts and Telecom officials.

Venezuela
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 14
Metro contracts (2001-2007)
Valencia and Maracaibo metro systems
Contract Amounts: $642 million
Bribe Amount: $16.7 million
Recipients:

  • A high-ranking member of the central Venezuela government
  • Two prominent Venezuelan attorneys acting on behalf of government officials
  • A former Venezuelan defense minister and diplomat

Israel
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 17
Power plants (2002-2005)
Contract Amount: $786 million
Bribe Amount: $20 million
Recipients:

  • Former director of the Israel Electric Company
  • Payments routed through brother-in-law of former CEO of Siemens Israel Ltd.

Nigeria
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 20
Telecommunications projects (2000-2001)
Contract Amount: $130 million
Bribe Amount: At least $4.5 million
Recipients:

  • Wife of the former Nigerian Vice President, a dual U.S.-Nigerian citizen who lived in the U.S.
  • "likely" the former President of Nigeria
  • "likely" the former Vice President of Nigeria

Vietnam
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 22
Hospital equipment sales (2005-2006)
Contract Amount: $6 million
Bribe Amount: $383,000
Recipients:

  • Government officials

Source: SEC Complaint, p. 27
Mobile network (2002)
Contract Amount: $35 million
Bribe Amount: $140,000
Note: Siemens did not win the project but agreed to pay 8 percent to 14 percent of project value to Vietnamese government officials
Recipients:

  • "likely" Vietnamese Ministry of Defense officials
  • Vietel, state-owned mobile phone network

China
Source: SEC Complaint, p.16
Metro trains and signaling devices contracts (2002-2007)
Contract Amount: $1 billion
Bribe Amount: $22 million
Recipients:

  • Government officials

Source: SEC Complaint, p. 18
High voltage lines (2002-2003)
Contract Amount: $838 million
Bribe Amount: $25 million
Recipients:

  • Government officials

Source: SEC Complaint, p. 23
Medical equipment sales (2003-2007)
Contract Amount: $295 million
Bribe Amount: $14.4 million
Recipients:

  • Deputy Director, Songyuan City Central Hospital, convicted in China and sentenced to 14 years in prison

Source: SEC Complaint, p.24
Hospital equipment sales (1998-2004)
Contract Amount: Unknown
Bribe Amount: $650,000
Recipients:

  • Chinese hospital officials

Russia
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 25
Traffic control system (2004-2006)
Contract Amount: $27 million
Bribe Amount: $741,419
Recipients:

  • Government officials

Source: SEC Complaint, p. 27
Hospital equipment (2000-2007)
Contract Amount: Unknown
Bribe Amount: $55 million
Recipients:

  • Russian state-owned hospital officials

Mexico
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 26
Refinery modernization (2004)
Contract Amount: Unknown
Bribe Amount: $2.6 million
Recipients:

  • Senior official of Pemex, state-owned oil company

Iraq
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 28
Oil for Food program (2000-2003)
Contract Amount: $124 million
Bribe Amount: $1.7 million
Recipients:

  • Iraqi Ministry of Electricity officials
  • Iraqi Ministry of Oil official
So who are these folks? Send us a name and a link sourcing the information.
_________

Will readers of the FCPA Blog contribute to this story? Let's see.

* * *
A Siemens / Jefferson Link? Meanwhile, a story in the Dec. 24 edition of Harper's Magazine by Ken Silverstein refers to the earlier joint ProPublica/New York Times story about Siemens, and then says: "Now ProPublica has asked for help identifying some of the alleged recipients of the bribes who are described but not named in the SEC complaint. One of those people appears to be Jennifer Atiku-Abubakar, who is tied to the scandal involving the former Louisiana congressman William Jefferson and is also a donor to the Republican Party. But I want to emphasize that I have no way of knowing whether the charges made in the complaint about her are accurate. . . . According to this Washington Post story, she is the wife of Atiku Abubakar, the very controversial former vice president of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007."
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Wednesday
Dec102008

Japanese Executive Jailed

A Tokyo executive was sentenced to two years in jail and fined $80,000 for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and conspiring to rig bids for the sale of marine hose and other industrial rubber products.

Former Bridgestone manager Misao Hioki pleaded guilty to two felony counts filed on Dec. 8, 2008 in U.S. District Court in Houston. He was charged for his role in a conspiracy to violate the FCPA by making corrupt payments to government officials in Latin America and elsewhere. He was also charged with conspiring to rig bids, fix prices and allocate market shares of marine hose in the United States and other countries.

Marine hose is used to transfer oil between tankers and storage facilities. The marine-hose cartel fixed prices worldwide from 2004 to 2007 for products worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Hioki was one of eight foreign executives arrested in May 2007 following their participation in a cartel meeting in Houston. The Justice Department said he's the ninth individual to plead guilty in the bid-rigging investigation but is the first person in the cartel to plead guilty to an FCPA charge.

The DOJ said Hioki and his co-conspirators:

* Negotiated with employees of government-owned businesses, who are foreign officials under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, in at least the following Latin American countries Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela to make corrupt payments to those foreign officials to secure business for his company and its U.S. subsidiary;

* Approved the making of corrupt payments to the foreign government officials through the local sales agents, to secure business for his company and its U.S. subsidiary;

* Paid the local sales agents a commission for each sale and, if a corrupt payment to the customer through the local sales agent was involved with the sale, concealed that payment within the commission payment made to the local sales agent; and

* Coordinated these corrupt payments in Latin America through the U.S. subsidiary’s offices in the United States including its Houston office.

It's becoming more common to see FCPA charges in cases investigated primarily for other offenses. Last month, for example, Shu Quan-Sheng, a naturalized U.S. citizen who sold controlled space-launch technology to China, pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and to two counts of violating the Arms Export Control Act.

And in September, U.S. citizens Nam Nguyen, Joseph Lukas, Kim Nguyen, and An Nguyen, along with their Philadelphia-based company, Nexus Technologies (see our post here) were charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and four substantive counts of violating the FCPA. They're accused of bribing government officials in Vietnam to secure contracts to supply high-tech items -- including third-party underwater mapping and bomb containment equipment, helicopter parts, chemical detectors, satellite communication parts and air tracking systems. That case doesn't yet involve charges under U.S. export laws.

View the DOJ's Dec. 10, 2008 release here.

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Monday
May052008

We Ask, And Answer, A Question

Can an employee be charged with a criminal violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act even if his or her company isn't convicted of an FCPA offense? Yes. An employee can be prosecuted under the FCPA even if the employer hasn't been convicted. But -- and this is why the question is still asked -- the answer hasn't always been yes. Here's the story.

When Congress first debated criminalizing overseas public bribery, there was concern, especially at the Securities and Exchange Commission, that employees would become scapegoats for bribe-paying corporations. Congressman Bob Eckhardt championed the issue, and in 1977 called for testimony from Harvey Pitt, who was then general counsel of the SEC. Pitt, using the term "agent" to mean "employee," explained the SEC's concern this way:

"Indeed, the corporation's interest might even be in conflict with that of the agent. The corporation might desire to have Joe Bloke found to have intentionally engaged in bribery and to have been the sole moving agent, that is, the company never agreed to it and the quicker they can convict Joe Bloke, the better off the company is. It is relieved of responsibility and it has a sacrificial lamb in Rome and everybody forgets about the activity."

Congressman Eckhardt responded by inserting into the FCPA language requiring the government to convict an issuer or domestic concern of violating the FCPA's antibribery provisions as a condition precedent for holding any employee responsible. When the FCPA became law, it included at Section 78ff(c)(3) the following italicized language (known as the Eckhardt Amendment): "Whenever an issuer is found to have violated section 78dd-1(a) of this title, any employee or agent of such issuer who is a United States citizen, national, or resident or is otherwise subject to the jurisdiction of the United States (other than an officer, director, or stockholder of such issuer), and who willfully carried out the act or practice constituting such violation shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $10,000, or imprisoned not more than five years or both."

That solved the problem for the SEC. For the Department of Justice, however, the seemingly simple fix had disastrous consequences -- first seen publicly in a case called U.S. v. McLean, 738 F.2d 655 (5th Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1050 (1985). George McLean's employer, International Harvester Company, was the dominant worldwide supplier of turbine equipment for the oil and gas industry. After a U.S. grand jury's investigation into overseas bribery, McLean was charged in 1982 with conspiring to bribe officials at Mexico's state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos ("Pemex") and with 43 substantive FCPA counts of aiding and abetting the bribery. Also in 1982, Harvester entered into a plea agreement with the DOJ, admitting to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA. In the plea agreement, the government stipulated that Harvester wouldn't face further charges related to the sales to Pemex.

McLean, in his trial, then moved to dismiss all the charges against him. He said that under the Eckhardt Amendment, the government's failure to convict Harvester of any substantive FCPA violation barred his prosecution for any FCPA-related offenses. The federal district court agreed as to the 43 substantive counts against McLean, which were dismissed, but denied his motion to dismiss the conspiracy charge. Harvester, the trial court said, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the FCPA; therefore the government could prosecute McLean for conspiracy as well.

On appeal (in which McLean represented himself), the Fifth Circuit disagreed. It said the conspiracy count must also be dismissed. That ended the government's case against McLean. "[I]n order to convict an employee under the FCPA for acts committed for the benefit of his employer," the appellate court said, "the government must first convict the employer. Because the government failed to convict Harvester [of a substantive FCPA count] and under the plea agreement will be unable to indict Harvester and try it with McLean, the [FCPA] bars McLean's prosecution."

The DOJ faced an awful dilemma. It now had to obtain criminal convictions against companies for substantive FCPA offenses before it could bring FCPA charges against their employees. But even in the early 1980s, the DOJ recognized and feared the disproportionate damage corporate prosecutions could unleash -- best illustrated some 20 years later by Arthur Andersen's demise after a felony conviction (later overturned) and the loss of some 85,000 jobs. Clearly the Eckhardt Amendment -- intended to fix one problem for the SEC -- had caused an even worse problem for the DOJ. The fix needed to be fixed.

Relief came through the Trade and Competitiveness Act /Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Amendments of 1988. It repealed the Eckhardt Amendment language, and from then till now there's been no "condition precedent" to the government's prosecution of employees for FCPA offenses. What about the SEC's fear that employees would become sacrificial lambs for bribe-paying companies?

Some white collar criminal defendants will always feel sacrificed. That's unavoidable. But have corporations really slipped the noose for their FCPA violations by selling out their employees? Well, lots of companies have escaped criminal conviction through deferred prosecution agreements, and those agreements typically do require cooperation with the DOJ's efforts to prosecute employees. But are the companies getting off lightly? Not really.

Deferred prosecution agreements usually impose stringent compliance obligations, some of which -- like the appointment of monitors, waiver of attorney-client privilege, periodic reporting to the DOJ, and the like -- are financially burdensome and even punitive, as well as intrusive. They're also generally effective at preventing recidivism. At the same time, while individuals have been prosecuted for FCPA violations, there's been no flood of cases against employees in lieu of corporate enforcement actions.

The balance, then, seems healthy. Bribe-paying companies are being punished (if not convicted) for their criminal behavior, but they're also being allowed to survive. Meanwhile, employees who blatantly flout the FCPA are also held accountable for their crimes.

View the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Amendments of 1988 here.

View U.S. v. McLean, 738 F.2d 655 (5th Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1050 (1985) in the Public Library of Law (by free registration) here.

Monday
Mar032008

Pride Discloses Global Corruption Probe

Pride International, Inc., a Houston-based drill-rig provider to the oil and gas industry, disclosed in its February 29, 2008 Form 10-K (annual report) an ongoing internal investigation into potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The countries involved may include Venezuela and Mexico, India and Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Nigeria, Libya, Angola and the Republic of the Congo.

Wide scope of alleged practices . . . and Panalpina too. The company says it has already found evidence that from 2001 through 2005 payments were made directly or indirectly to government officials "in connection with clearing rigs or equipment through customs or resolving outstanding issues with customs, immigration, tax, licensing or merchant marine authorities." Pride says it is also responding to requests from the Department of Justice about its "relationships with a freight and customs agent and . . . importation of rigs into Nigeria." That inquiry apparently relates to the DOJ's wide-ranging investigation of global-logistics firm Panalpina and its oil and gas services customers in Nigeria and other countries.

Self-disclosure. Pride -- which has over 7,000 employees and offices in the United States, Africa, Asia, Europe and South America -- said it self-disclosed to the DOJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission the potential FCPA violations when the company's audit committee first heard about them. Since then it has been keeping U.S. authorities up to date on the progress and results of the investigation.

Remedial action has started. Pride said members of its senior operations management probably knew or should have known about the improper payments. It said its former chief operating officer retired from his post on May 31, 2006 and the audit committee will decide whether it has cause to terminate his employment and strip him of retirement benefits. Other employees, including officers, have already been fired, placed on leave or resigned, and more workplace discipline may be imposed, the company said.

Of special note. We've written and read a lot of FCPA disclosures. But Pride's -- which is reprinted below -- stands out. It's the most complete and clearest statement about an ongoing investigation and the company's response to it that we've seen. It conveys not only the required factual information, but through a dogged recitation of the facts in unusually direct language, it also imparts something more. There are, we think, hints of the company's shock on discovering an apparently corrupt culture; its disappointment with senior people and others who betrayed the trust of their positions; the professional and personal wreckage being left behind by the scandal; and the company's bracing for whatever institutional punishment U.S. prosecutors, foreign governments and customers will impose. The honest tone and plain words also convey that Pride's leaders are taking responsibility. That they're fixing what's been wrong at the company and preparing to move forward with a new culture of compliance. Presumably, we'll hear more about the next chapter from Pride and the U.S. authorities in the coming months.

Pride International, Inc. trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol PDE.

View Pride's February 29, 2008 Form 10K (annual report) here and read from it the FCPA disclosure immediately below.

_______________________

Although we implement policies and procedures designed to promote compliance with the laws of the jurisdictions in which we operate, our employees, contractors and agents may take actions in violation of our policies and such laws. Any such violation, even if prohibited by our policies, could materially and adversely affect our business. We are conducting an investigation into allegations of improper payments to foreign government officials, as well as corresponding accounting entries and internal control issues. The outcome and impact of this investigation are unknown at this time.

During the course of an internal audit and investigation relating to certain of our Latin American operations, our management and internal audit department received allegations of improper payments to foreign government officials. In February 2006, the Audit Committee of our Board of Directors assumed direct responsibility over the investigation and retained independent outside counsel to investigate the allegations, as well as corresponding accounting entries and internal control issues, and to advise the Audit Committee.

The investigation, which is continuing, has found evidence suggesting that payments, which may violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, were made to government officials in Venezuela and Mexico aggregating less than $1 million. The evidence to date regarding these payments suggests that payments were made beginning in early 2003 through 2005 (a) to vendors with the intent that they would be transferred to government officials for the purpose of extending drilling contracts for two jackup rigs and one semisubmersible rig operating offshore Venezuela; and (b) to one or more government officials, or to vendors with the intent that they would be transferred to government officials, for the purpose of collecting payment for work completed in connection with offshore drilling contracts in Venezuela. In addition, the evidence suggests that other payments were made beginning in 2002 through early 2006 (a) to one or more government officials in Mexico in connection with the clearing of a jackup rig and equipment through customs, the movement of personnel through immigration or the acceptance of a jackup rig under a drilling contract; and (b) with respect to the potentially improper entertainment of government officials in Mexico.

The Audit Committee, through independent outside counsel, has undertaken a review of our compliance with the FCPA in certain of our other international operations. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice has asked us to provide information with respect to (a) our relationships with a freight and customs agent and (b) our importation of rigs into Nigeria. The Audit Committee is reviewing the issues raised by the request, and we are cooperating with the DOJ in connection with its request.

This review has found evidence suggesting that during the period from 2001 through 2005 payments were made directly or indirectly to government officials in Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Nigeria, Libya, Angola, and the Republic of the Congo in connection with clearing rigs or equipment through customs or resolving outstanding issues with customs, immigration, tax, licensing or merchant marine authorities in those countries. In addition, this review has found evidence suggesting that in 2003 payments were made to one or more third parties with the intent that they would be transferred to a government official in India for the purpose of resolving a customs dispute related to the importation of one of our jackup rigs. The evidence suggests that the aggregate amount of payments referred to in this paragraph is less than $2 million. We are also reviewing certain agent payments related to Malaysia.

The investigation of the matters described in the prior paragraph and the Audit Committee’s compliance review are ongoing. Accordingly, there can be no assurances that evidence of additional potential FCPA violations may not be uncovered in those or other countries.

Our management and the Audit Committee of our Board of Directors believe it likely that members of our senior operations management either were aware, or should have been aware, that improper payments to foreign government officials were made or proposed to be made. Our former Chief Operating Officer resigned as Chief Operating Officer effective on May 31, 2006 and has elected to retire from the company, although he will remain an employee, but not an officer, during the pendency of the investigation to assist us with the investigation and to be available for consultation and to answer questions relating to our business. His retirement benefits will be subject to the determination by our Audit Committee or our Board of Directors that it does not have cause (as defined in his retirement agreement with us) to terminate his employment. Other personnel, including officers, have been terminated or placed on administrative leave or have resigned in connection with the investigation. We have taken and will continue to take disciplinary actions where appropriate and various other corrective action to reinforce our commitment to conducting our business ethically and legally and to instill in our employees our expectation that they uphold the highest levels of honesty, integrity, ethical standards and compliance with the law.

We voluntarily disclosed information relating to the initial allegations and other information found in the investigation and compliance review to the DOJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission and are cooperating with these authorities as the investigation and compliance reviews continue and as they review the matter. If violations of the FCPA occurred, we could be subject to fines, civil and criminal penalties, equitable remedies, including profit disgorgement, and injunctive relief. Civil penalties under the antibribery provisions of the FCPA could range up to $10,000 per violation, with a criminal fine up to the greater of $2 million per violation or twice the gross pecuniary gain to us or twice the gross pecuniary loss to others, if larger. Civil penalties under the accounting provisions of the FCPA can range up to $500,000 and a company that knowingly commits a violation can be fined up to $25 million. In addition, both the SEC and the DOJ could assert that conduct extending over a period of time may constitute multiple violations for purposes of assessing the penalty amounts. Often, dispositions for these types of matters result in modifications to business practices and compliance programs and possibly a monitor being appointed to review future business and practices with the goal of ensuring compliance with the FCPA.

We could also face fines, sanctions and other penalties from authorities in the relevant foreign jurisdictions, including prohibition of our participating in or curtailment of business operations in those jurisdictions and the seizure of rigs or other assets. Our customers in those jurisdictions could seek to impose penalties or take other actions adverse to our interests. In addition, disclosure of the subject matter of the investigation could adversely affect our reputation and our ability to obtain new business or retain existing business from our current clients and potential clients, to attract and retain employees and to access the capital markets. No amounts have been accrued related to any potential fines, sanctions or other penalties, which could be material individually or in the aggregate.

We cannot currently predict what, if any, actions may be taken by the DOJ, the SEC, the applicable government or other authorities or our customers or the effect the actions may have on our results of operations, financial condition or cash flows, on our consolidated financial statements or on our business in the countries at issue and other jurisdictions. If we are unable to renew or obtain new and favorable contracts for rigs whose contracts are expiring or are terminated, our revenues and profitability could be materially reduced.

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.

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