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Entries in United Kingdom (116)

Sunday
Oct252009

Halliburton May Face U.K. Charges

Halliburton disclosed Friday in its latest SEC filing that the U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) may bring civil claims or criminal charges against it under various British laws. In February this year, Halliburton and its former subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root LLC, admitted paying Nigerian officials at least $182 million in bribes for contracts awarded between 1995 and 2004 to build liquefied natural gas facilities on Bonny Island, Nigeria. The companies agreed with the U.S. Justice Department to pay a $402 million criminal fine, with Halliburton paying $382 million of that amount. Halliburton also agreed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to be jointly liable with KBR to pay $177 million in disgorgement. See our post here.

In Friday's disclosure, Halliburton said the SFO is focused on M.W. Kellogg Limited (MWKL), a U.K. subsidiary of KBR. The DOJ's criminal information had said KBR tried to shield itself from the FCPA by using MWKL to hold ownership in TSKJ, a four-party joint venture that acted as the main contractor on the Bonny Island project. TSKJ's other members were Technip SA of France, Snamprogetti Netherlands B.V. (a subsidiary of Saipem SpA of Italy), and JGC Corporation of Japan. Each partner held about 25% of the venture.

Halliburton said a finding that it broke British laws could "result in fines, restitution and confiscation of revenues, among other penalties." The amount of final civil or criminal penalties, the company said, will depend on whether MWKL knew about and authorized any of the illegal payments, how much revenue resulted from the bribes, and "the level of cooperation provided to the SFO during the investigations."

The company said its role in the Bonny Island project is also being investigated by France, Nigeria, and Switzerland and could also result in third-party claims.

In February this year, a federal grand jury sitting in Houston indicted Jeffrey Tesler, 60, of London, England, and Wojciech Chodan, 71, of Maidenhead, England, for violating the FCPA. The two U.K. citizens allegedly helped KBR bribe Nigerian officials. The Justice Department unsealed the indictments after Tesler's March 5 arrest by British police acting at the request of U.S. authorities. Chodan hasn't been arrested but faces an outstanding U.S. warrant. The DOJ said it will try to extradite both men to the U.S. to stand trial.

Tesler, a lawyer in London, and Chodan, a former employee and consultant of MWKL, were charged with one count of conspiracy to violate and ten counts of violating the FCPA. They face up to 55 years in prison if convicted on all counts. The indictment also seeks forfeiture from them of more than $132 million -- the amount they allegedly paid to Nigerian officials as bribes. See our post here.

In the U.K., the SFO hasn't indicated whether it plans to take action against Tesler and Chodan or other individuals involved in the case. Tesler was identified in KBR's 2007 annual report. British and French authorities investigated him two years ago but didn't file any charges.

In September 2008, Albert “Jack” Stanley, 65, a former chairman and CEO of KBR, pleaded guilty to a two-count criminal information that charged him him with conspiracy to violate the FCPA and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. He admitted that from 1995 to 2004, he helped TSKJ bribe government officials in Nigeria. Stanley was sentenced to seven years in prison and a restitution payment of $10.8 million. The sentence is subject to review based on his cooperation. See our post here.

Jack Stanley was a senior vice president of Dresser Industries, Inc. when it merged into Halliburton in September 1998. Dresser's wholly-owned construction subsidiary, Kellogg, was combined with Halliburton's construction subsidiary, Brown & Root, Inc., to form KBR. In November 2006, Halliburton spun off KBR, which became a separate publicly-traded company.

Under their agreement for KBR's spin off, Halliburton is obligated to pay most of KBR's fines and other penalties for actual or alleged violations of the FCPA and similar foreign laws committed before November 2006. Halliburton has said it gave the indemnity "[t]o enhance KBR's financial stability and solvency, making possible the separation of KBR . . . ."

KBR, Inc. trades on the NYSE under the symbol KBR.

Halliburton Company trades on the NYSE under the symbol HAL.

Halliburton Company's Form 10-Q filed October 23, 2009 (for the period ending September 30, 2009) can be downloaded here.

Read all our posts about Halliburton here.
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Thursday
Sep032009

Guilty Plea In UK Bribe Case

The former director of sales and marketing for Pacific Consolidated Industries (PCI) admitted yesterday that he bribed an official from the U.K. Ministry of Defense (MOD) in return for equipment orders. Leo Winston Smith, 73, pleaded guilty in the U.S. federal district court for central California to conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (18 U.S.C. §371) and corruptly obstructing and impeding the due administration of the internal revenue laws (26 U.S.C. §7212(a)).

Smith, along with PCI's former president and part owner, Martin Eric Self, 51, paid at least $70,000 in bribes to the MOD official. The money was funneled through a sham marketing agreement PCI created in 1999 with a relative of the official. In return, PCI was awarded MOD contracts worth around $11 million. Smith also admitted under-reporting income on his 2003 U.S. federal tax return and failing to file a 2003 corporate return for his Nevada company, Design Smith Inc.

Sentencing in Smith's case is scheduled for December 18, 2009. He faces a maximum five years in prison on the FCPA conspiracy charge and three years on the tax charge, and a fine of about $255,000.

His co-conspirator, Martin Eric Self, pleaded guilty in May 2008 to violating the FCPA (here). Although Self faced up to five years in prison on each of two FCPA counts, his plea agreement contemplated a prison term of eight months. He was finally sentenced in November 2008 to two years probation. The MOD official, Michael Hale, pleaded guilty in the United Kingdom to accepting nine separate payments from PCI totaling more than $300,000. He was sentenced in April 2007 to two years in prison.

Privately-held PCI manufactures Air Separation Units (ASUs) and other equipment for the military, medical, and oil and gas markets. ASUs generate oxygen in remote, extreme, and confined locations. The Justice Department said that in late 2003, after the alleged illegal conduct occurred, a group of private investors bought California-based PCI. They referred the case to U.S. prosecutors and "fully cooperated in the government’s investigation."

Download a copy of the DOJ's September 3, 2009 release here.

Download a copy of the plea agreement in U.S. v. Leo Winston Smith (Case No.: CR 07-69(A) - AG) here.
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Wednesday
Mar252009

First Look: The U.K.'s Draft Antibribery Law

Britain's Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, unveiled a draft bill on March 25 that will completely overhaul the country's antibribery laws. He called the old laws anachronistic, inconsistent, unclear, and difficult for the public to understand and for prosecutors and the courts to apply. The new legislation, he said, will simplify and modernize the law, and help bring transparency and accountability to international business deals.

The draft bill creates a framework of two general offenses: one dealing with the giving, promising, and offering of a bribe, and another with agreeing to receive or accept a bribe. The other main provisions are:

• extra-territorial jurisdiction to prosecute bribery committed abroad by persons ordinarily resident in the U.K. as well as U.K. nationals, and U.K. corporate bodies,

• a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment for all new offenses and corporate offenses will carry an unlimited fine,

• a new corporate liability offense of negligently failing to prevent bribery,

• provision for the Secretary of State to authorize conduct that would constitute a bribery offense by the intelligence agencies, and

• setting aside Parliamentary Privilege to make evidence from proceedings in Parliament admissible in the prosecution of a member of either of the Houses of Parliament for a bribery offense or in related proceedings.

For those familiar with U.K. law, the bill replaces the offenses at common law and under the Public Bodies Corrupt Practices Act 1889, the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 and the Prevention of Corruption Act 1916 (known collectively as the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889 to 1916 and which would be repealed).

Our correspondent from Paris, Guillermo Christensen, who sent us the draft bill, thinks it will cause big changes in the compliance landscape. He said, "The inclusion of liability for organizations that are negligent in preventing bribery by their employees is going to require a major awakening of compliance efforts among U.K. companies and executives (and non-U.K. companies operating in the U.K. . . . even more interesting), who have been frequently quoted in industry surveys as seeing compliance as something that they do 'over there' in the USA."

Justice Secretary Straw also signaled a new tone in the U.K.'s enforcement strategy and its cooperation with international investigations. That follows criticism from the OECD and others about Britain's failure for the past decade to prosecute overseas public bribery. Three years ago, the Serious Fraud Office dropped an investigation into BAE's alleged £1 billion bribery of Saudi officials after the Blair government said the U.K.'s domestic security could be threatened. The U.S. Justice Department picked up the investigation, which is ongoing.

Straw said, "The UK is determined to work closely with its international partners to tackle bribery. We are already, for example, providing technical assistance to developing countries to promote better governance and making significant progress on tracing, recovering and repatriating money-laundered misappropriated assets. We are also supporting the implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption, the OECD Bribery Convention and the Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption."

Download a copy of the U.K.'s draft bribery legislation released on March 25, 2009 here.

Jack Straw's comments quoted above appear in the foreword to the draft bill.
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Monday
Feb022009

A Bit Of An Old Boy's Club

The U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office was created in 1988 with the mission to investigate and prosecute big-time fraud and corruption -- the misdeeds, as Teddy Roosevelt would have said, of the wealthy criminal class. But things at the SFO haven't gone well, and Britain's Sunday Times is reporting that dozens of lawyers, accountants and investigators are being offered up to three times their annual salaries to leave their jobs.

The SFO has often been in hot water because of blown prosecutions. But the worst trouble came after its 2006 decision to stop investigating BAE Systems for bribery. It said it had to drop the case because Saudi Arabia threatened not to buy Typhoon aircraft or continue sharing anti-terrorism intelligence. The High Court called the episode an outrage, an abject surrender to threats, and a capitulation.

After the BAE debacle, the U.K.'s then-attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, hired a former New York City prosecutor to find out why the SFO couldn't get it right. Jessica de Grazia had been an assistant district attorney in Manhattan for 13 years before she took the job. As the Times said, her arrival at the SFO sparked panic.

What de Grazia found, among other things, was that in 2007, the Serious Fraud Office had about three times more lawyers than the Frauds Bureau at the Manhattan District Attorneys Office. The New York DA's 19 lawyers, with virtually no outside help, managed to conclude the prosecution of 124 white collar defendants from 2003 to 2007. During the same period, however, the SFO's 56 staff lawyers concluded 166 prosecutions, even though the SFO spent more than £4 million on external counsel, ranging from newly qualified barristers to Queen’s Counsel. In other words, the per-lawyer prosecution rate in the New York DA's office was at least double and maybe triple that of the SFO.

De Grazia also found huge discrepancies in conviction rates. During the 2003-2007 period, the SFO’s average conviction rate for serious and complex white collar crimes was just 61%; the Frauds Bureau in New York had a 92% conviction rate for the same type of offenses. And at the federal prosecutor's office in New York City, the conviction rate was a nearly perfect 97%.

What's the problem in the SFO? De Grazia cited "a commingling of external and internal factors." External factors, she said, were the laws, government policy, and legal professional rules and practices. The big problem within the SFO's control, she said, was "insufficient innovation." The Times newspaper wasn't so polite. Cronyism and incompetence, it said, and “a bit of an old boy’s club.”

Former SFO director Robert Wardle left his post in April 2008, two months before de Grazia released her report. “She caused chaos,” one of her eventual victims recalled last week. The Times report said, “She called meetings of case controllers and asked them to identify the crap assistant directors. Then she went to the investigators and asked them who was a crap case controller.”

More changes at the SFO are probably ahead. The Times says de Grazia has just delivered another report -- this one highly confidential -- to Britain's new attorney general, Baroness Scotland. The new report, the Times says, is far more blunt than the June '08 version released to the public. It calls the SFO “a demoralised and underperforming agency” where the work of many dedicated and competent employees was “ blocked by inadequate management and leadership.”

Our thanks to a friend, now in Paris, for sending us the Times stories this weekend.

Download a copy of Jessica de Grazia's June 2008 report here.

Listen to this podcast here.
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Friday
Jan092009

Aon Pays £5.25 Million Corruption Fine

The U.K.'s Financial Services Authority said yesterday that it has fined Aon Ltd £5.25 million ($8.05 million) for failing to recognize and control the risks of overseas payments being used as bribes. The fine is the largest the FSA has levied for financial crimes. Aon Ltd is the principal U.K. subsidiary of Chicago-based Aon Corporation, the world's biggest insurance broker.

Aon Corporation disclosed in November 2007 an internal investigation into possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and non-U.S. anti-corruption laws. Aon said then in its Form 10-Q that it had self-reported the investigation to the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and others, and that it had already agreed with U.S. prosecutors to toll any applicable statute of limitations. The U.S. investigations are still pending.

This is now the third case brought by U.K. authorities involving overseas bribery by U.K. companies. In September 2008, the Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit of the City of London Police said an employee of CBRN Team Ltd, a U.K. security consulting firm, and an official of Uganda, had pleaded guilty to bribery charges. The CBRN employee received a suspended sentence and the Ugandan official was sentenced to twelve months in jail. And in October last year, the U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office reached a £2.25 million civil settlement with construction firm Balfour Beatty plc for alleged unlawful accounting in connection with overseas "payment irregularities" which it self-reported.

Apparently to emphasize the new willingness of her agency and other U.K. authorities to prosecute overseas bribery, Margaret Cole, the FSA's director of enforcement, said:

The involvement of UK financial institutions in corrupt or potentially corrupt practices overseas undermines the integrity of the UK financial services sector. The FSA has an important role to play in the steps being taken by the UK to combat overseas bribery and corruption. We have worked closely with other law enforcement agencies in this case and will continue to take robust action focused on firms’ systems and controls in this area.
According to its website, the Financial Services Authority is an independent non-governmental body with statutory powers under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. It has a range of rule-making, investigatory and enforcement powers intended to "promote efficient, orderly and fair financial markets and help retail financial service consumers get a fair deal." The Treasury appoints its 12-member board.

Between January 2005 and September 2007, according to the FSA, Aon Ltd didn't properly assess or control the risks involved in its dealings with overseas firms and individuals who helped it win business. "As a result of Aon Ltd’s weak control environment, the firm made various suspicious payments, amounting to approximately US$7 million, to a number of overseas firms and individuals." The payments were made in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burma, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The FSA said Aon cooperated fully and agreed to settle early in the investigation, qualifying for a 30% discount under the FSA’s settlement discount scheme. Without the discount the fine would have been £7.5 million.

View the FSA's January 8, 2009 release here.

Download the FSA's Final Notice (January 6, 2009) here.

View Aon's January 8, 2009 statement here.
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Wednesday
Nov192008

The Briefing Book

The President Elect and his transition team aren't spending hours each day pondering the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. But there is one FCPA matter that should be on their radar -- the investigation of BAE Systems. Why? Because that case -- whatever the outcome -- is a chance for the United States to demonstrate its commitment to the rule of law and the fight against global public corruption. The new administration can also show its in situ allies in the war on terror that, unlike the British, the U.S. won't give in to political blackmail.

Some allegations in the case are these: U.K. military-equipment-maker BAE secretly paid $2 billion to Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud in return for inside help selling Typhoon jet fighters to the Saudi government; the money moved irregularly from American banks to accounts in Switzerland; and the prince, who was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington from 1983 to 2005, shared the largess he received during those years with other Saudi officials.

According to reports, Prince Bandar has never denied what happened, only that neither he nor BAE broke any laws -- notwithstanding British prohibitions on international public bribery, Swiss money laundering concerns, and the application of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. BAE denies all allegations of corruption.

The U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office launched an investigation. But in December 2006 -- just as the SFO was getting close to evidence it needed about the money transfers through Switzerland -- the Blair government told it to stand down. In High Court hearings in London this year to determine if the SFO broke any laws by dropping the investigation, witnesses said Saudi Arabia had threatened to end all anti-terrorism cooperation with the U.K. unless the Blair government pulled the plug. According to one report on the hearings,

Investigators said they were given to understand there would be another 7/7 and the loss of British lives on British streets if they carried on delving into the payments. The government argued . . . that these threats were so grave and put Britain's security in such imminent threat that the head of the Serious Fraud Office had no option but to shut down his investigation immediately.
On April 10, 2008, the High Court's Lord Justice Moses and Mr. Justice Sullivan tried to reclaim for Britain the simple idea that no man or woman is above the law, an idea that shapes and preserves every great and not-so-great democracy on the planet. "No one," their scathing 46-page ruling against the government said, "within this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice."

The victory for the rule of law was short lived. In July, the House of Lords (to which the government had appealed) ruled that the Serious Fraud Office didn't do anything illegal. All five law lords hearing the case agreed that although the SFO "was confronted by an ugly and obviously unwelcome threat," its decision to stop investigating BAE was justified because it reasonably believed the Saudi threats were putting British lives at risk.

In Washington, meanwhile, the Justice Department had started its own investigation. It wanted to know whether BAE and Prince Bandar had violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and anti-money laundering laws. In November 2007, the DOJ reportedly obtained Swiss banking records and evidence from a U.K. businessman who was part of the deal. The U.K. press said Peter Gardiner had boxes of invoices allegedly detailing payments from BAE to members of the Saudi royal family. Gardiner, the reports said, was flown by FBI agents to Washington in August 2007 to give testimony there, traveling via Paris to avoid British attention. And in May this year, U.S. authorities detained BAE's chief executive Mike Turner and director Nigel Rudd at U.S. airports. Before letting them leave, investigators copied information from their laptops, PDAs, cell phones and papers.

BAE's reaction? "A severe lack of cooperation," according Joshua Hochberg, the former head of the DOJ's group responsible for Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prosecutions. As we said some months ago, instead of making peace with the DOJ, BAE is flipping the feds an awfully rude gesture. (A report out today in law.com says BAE is now trying to repair the damage with the DOJ and the two parties are talking.)

And the reaction from the rest of the world? Last month the OECD said it is "disappointed and seriously concerned with the unsatisfactory implementation of the [OECD Anti-bribery] Convention by the UK. . . . The Working Group also strongly regrets the uncertainty about the UK's commitment to establish an effective corporate liability regime in accordance with the Convention . . . ."

On the U.K. government's decision to stop the investigation of BAE, the editors of the Wall Street Journal said this: "[Former Prime Minister] Blair has eloquently argued on other occasions that bringing democratic institutions to the Middle East is a vital part of fighting Islamic terrorism. In stopping the BAE case, his administration missed a perfect opportunity to show the Saudis that one of the foremost of these institutions is the rule of law -- and that neither justice nor human lives should be toyed with for expediency's sake."

The lawyers who have retaken the White House have another "perfect opportunity" to show the majesty and importance of the rule of law. We can't think of a better reason for the FCPA to be in the President Elect's Briefing Book than that.

View our prior posts about BAE here.

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Thursday
May222008

The Highest Roller In Town

Does it ever pay to stonewall the Department of Justice in an FCPA investigation? We're asking because of an item that ran in the May 21st edition of the U.K. Times Online (available here). It described the DOJ's detention of BAE's ceo and a director as they travelled separately through the Houston and Newark airports last week. The DOJ, investigating alleged corrupt payments to Saudi officials, reportedly searched and copied information from their laptops, phones and briefcases, then let the men continue traveling. In the Times piece, Joshua Hochberg, the former head of the DOJ's group responsible for Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prosecutions, explained "that the recent heavy-handed behaviour of investigators indicated 'a severe lack of cooperation by BAE'."

Is a "severe lack of cooperation" a viable legal strategy -- for BAE and its personnel, or for any company facing an FCPA investigation? Does being non-cooperative and recalcitrant ever serve the best interests of a corporation? When dealing with the FCPA, does ordering company employees and agents to keep quiet and stay away from the DOJ ever enhance a company's defensive position?

The questions aren't merely academic. In most criminal investigations, corporate targets have some options to consider. They can decide to force the government to do the hard work of uncovering evidence. That's their right. Defendant's don't have to testify against themselves, and the government's burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is a safeguard for corporations too. At its criminal trial, an accused company can sit mute and force the government to make its case.

But the FCPA doesn't work like a typical criminal statute. Companies facing FCPA charges don't go to trial. They can't withstand the withering publicity -- the front page stories around the world of their alleged international public bribery. They usually can't risk being banned from U.S. government contracts, or losing their export licenses -- which can happen based on mere allegations of FCPA offenses. And anyway, their chances at trial are exremely bleak. With the application of respondeat superior, once a company employee admits to violating the FCPA, the company is guilty as a matter of law. That's the rule in most U.S. circuits that have considered the question. It doesn't matter if the guilty employee held a low rank or was violating company policy. The employee's guilt is still imputed to the company. So one bad apple really does spoil the barrel.

Companies are sitting ducks in FCPA cases, and their people are vulnerable too. Let's face it, what director, officer or executive responsible for compliance wants to risk his or her hide because an assistant sales manager in Mongolia decided sui generis to grease some government palms? In other words, it's all downside risk to fight the DOJ in an FCPA case. So instead, companies cooperate, knowing a "good" outcome -- usually involving a deferred prosecution agreement -- is only possible when the DOJ is on their side.

If fighting isn't an option, if cooperating is the only way to salvation, then the DOJ ends up holding all the cards. Its decision to investigate and charge a corporation becomes paramount. There won't be a trial where lawyers can argue, raise defenses, challenge the witnesses' credibility, and implore the jury to dish out justice. Instead the process will start and end with the DOJ itself. Yes, there are grounds to criticize the prosecutors' omnipotence in FCPA cases. But for now that omnipotence is a fact of life that has to be faced. Why, then, would a corporation under investigation for alleged FCPA offenses thumb its nose at the prosecutors? What's to be gained?

Instead of fighting, the path forward has been for accused companies to work with the DOJ, to investigate the facts cooperatively, to self-disclose the results, to take remedial action, and to hope the DOJ will be willing to defer the prosecution if the company keeps its nose clean. But that's not what BAE is doing. Why not?

Well, in the U.K., BAE has been protected. The Serious Fraud Office -- responsible for investigating and prosecuting high-level overseas public corruption -- opened a file on the company but closed it in 2006 under irresistible pressure from the Blair government. The High Court in March this year ruled that the SRO couldn't legally drop the investigation, but the government is now appealing that decision to the House of Lords. In the U.K., BAE may yet keep its secrets. So is the company also betting that its U.K. protectors will prevail against U.S. prosecutors as well? That the Western Alliance will be unwilling to press the case and embarrass Saudi Arabia -- a key security ally and OPEC's largest exporter?

We don't know what's going on inside BAE. It has denied doing anything illegal. So all we really know is that the company isn't playing by the usual rules. Instead of making peace with the DOJ, it's flipping the feds an awfully rude gesture. Does that mean BAE has a legal strategy that relies on an ultimate savior, such as the man in the White House? If that's true, what happens if the strategy doesn't work? What happens if BAE ends up in the hands of the Department of Justice like every other company facing FCPA allegations? In that case, BAE and its leaders will have lost an enormous bet, and life will never be the same.

View prior posts about BAE here.

Monday
May192008

U.S. Prosecutors Detain And Search BAE Leaders

The Justice Department escalated its politically explosive investigation into BAE Systems' role in the $2 billion bribery scandal involving alleged illegal payments to former Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, in return for the sale of jet fighters to the Saudi government.

BAE confirmed today that chief executive Mike Turner and director Nigel Rudd were detained by U.S. officials when they landed last week at Houston's George Bush International Airport. They were later released and allowed to leave the country. Reports say U.S. authorities confiscated and copied information on the executives' laptop computers, cell phones, and papers. The DOJ has also reportedly served additional subpoenas in the U.S. on employees of BAE Systems PLC and BAE Systems Inc. The DOJ's investigation centers on alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and money laundering.

Britain's Serious Fraud Office dropped its investigation of BAE in 2006. The High Court last month ruled that the SFO acted illegally when it shut down the investigation, but allowed the SFO to appeal the decision to the House of Lords. That appeal is pending. Evidence in the High Court showed that Prince Bandar threatened to stop Saudi Arabia's cooperation with the U.K. on counter-terrorism unless the SFO ended its investigation. The High Court strongly criticized the government's capitulation. It said, "No one within this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice."

View prior posts about BAE here.

Friday
May092008

FCPA Guilty Plea For Bribing UK Official

A former co-owner and executive of California-based Pacific Consolidated Industries (PCI) pleaded guilty yesterday to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Martin Eric Self, 51, of Orange, California pleaded guilty to a two-count information charging him with violating the FCPA by paying more than $70,000 in bribes to a U.K. Ministry of Defence official. The bribes were intended to secure equipment contracts with the U.K. Royal Air Force.

In October 1999, Self, a U.S. citizen, and Leo Winston Smith, then PCI’s executive vice president and director of sales and marketing, had PCI enter into a marketing agreement with a relative of a U.K. Ministry of Defence official. According to the DOJ, Self -- a signatory on PCI's marketing agreements and bank accounts -- admitted that he didn't know of any genuine services provided by the official’s relative. Instead, Self believed the payments probably were benefiting the official in exchange for obtaining and retaining the equipment-supply contracts.

Self is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court on September 29, 2008. Although he faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison per count, his plea agreement contemplates a prison term of eight months, subject to the court's final determination at sentencing.

For his role in the scheme, former marketing head Smith, a co-founder of PCI, was indicted in April 2007. The government says he conspired to bribe the U.K. Ministry of Defence official in order to obtain equipment contracts worth more than $11 million dollars. In addition to the FCPA violations, the indictment also charges Smith with money laundering and tax offenses. He's scheduled to stand trial in July 2008. Self, as part of his plea agreement, will presumably testify against his former colleague. Evidence against Smith is also likely to come from U.K. authorities. Their investigation of the U.K. Ministry of Defence official resulted in his guilty plea in the United Kingdom for accepting bribes from PCI. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

Privately-held PCI manufactures Air Separation Units (ASUs) and other equipment for the military, medical, and oil and gas markets. ASUs generate oxygen in remote, extreme and confined locations. The DOJ said that in late 2003, after the alleged illegal conduct occurred, PCI was acquired by a group of investors who referred the case to U.S. prosecutors and "fully cooperated in the government’s investigation."

Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Alice S. Fisher, who departs from the DOJ later this month, said, “Individuals who resort to bribery and other fraudulent means to secure contracts with foreign governments not only corrupt legitimate bidding processes, but they also damage the integrity of the global marketplace. Furthermore, using an intermediary to make bribe payments will not insulate individuals from prosecution."

Referring to the collaboration by prosecutors in the U.S. and U.K., Ms. Fisher also said, "The coordinated international law enforcement efforts of this case exemplify the type of cooperation needed to fight crime in the 21st century, where physical borders are not boundaries for criminal activity. I would like to thank our colleagues in the United Kingdom for their efforts and assistance in prosecuting this case as well as the FBI and IRS for their investigatory assistance.”

View the DOJ's May 8, 2008 news release here.

Tuesday
May062008

The Woolf Report Tells No Tales

The message in our inbox yesterday said: You may find this interesting if you haven't seen it already. It's the Woolf Committee Report on BAE -- released this morning. It's breathtaking in the extent to which they have focused stubbornly on the future and avoided a meaningful review of past conduct. I know that was the basis upon which the committee was formed, but it's difficult to imagine how future conduct can be determined without past wrongdoing explored.

Our correspondent is a fine compliance professional with one foot in Washington and the other in London, so we took the warning seriously. That is, we lowered our expectations. But even so, the report was disappointing. Not only does it avoid dealing with anything historical or factual, but it also never says that public corruption is wrong. That it's a crime that always cheats a national treasury somewhere, perverts the marketplace, and victimizes the citizens. There was none of that.

Instead, the report from the 75-year-old former lord chief justice, who was commissioned in June 2007 by BAE at a wage of £6,000 a day, says over-and-over that BAE's reputation is hurt when the company is caught doing bad things, and that damage to its reputation is in turn bad for its business. Beyond that, the report's action items could have been cut-and-pasted from compliance boilerplate -- creating an impression that the Woolf Committee (Lord Woolf, Philippa Foster Back, Sir David Walker, Dr Richard Jarvis and Douglas Daft) either didn't actually speak with anyone who works at BAE, or didn't find anything they said notable enough to be repeated.

The Guardian, meanwhile, posted a short list of provocative questions that remain unanswered:

· Did BAE set up a secret offshore subsidiary called Red Diamond to handle worldwide cash for arms deals?

· Did the company pay 31% "commission" into a Swiss account on a sale to the African state of Tanzania?

· Did BAE employ Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly, previously caught up in a bribery scandal, as its undercover agent in central Europe?

· Did it provide exotic holidays and prostitutes to the entourage of the head of the Saudi air force?

· Did it pay £1bn to Saudi agents including Wafic Said, and another £1bn to Saudi Prince Bandar? To every question about what BAE may have actually done, Woolf's answer was the same: "We weren't given the job of looking at the past."

The Guardian also reminded readers that BAE "still faces criminal investigations in London, Washington, Dar es Salaam, Bucharest, Prague, Berne, Budapest and Johannesburg, over continuing multi-million pound arms contracts. Last month Woolf's former colleague, Lord Justice Moses, ruled that the abandonment of the Serious Fraud Office investigation into BAE had betrayed the rule of law. Moses said there had been an 'abject surrender' to threats when the SFO, under pressure from BAE, from the then prime minister Tony Blair, and from Prince Bandar, agreed to drop investigations into the Saudi payments."

(As an aside, we're not often on common editorial ground with the Guardian. But its enterprise and leadership on the BAE story show why the somewhat offbeat, trust-controlled newspaper has a reputation for courageous reporting. In the movie, "The Bourne Ultimatum," an investigative report in the Guardian that mentions Jason Bourne is important to the plot and ultimately leads to the assassination of the fictional reporter. )

The Corner House, one of the public-interest campaigners that won the BAE court case against the Serious Fraud Office, called the Woolf inquiry "an interesting academic exercise. . . BAE should have saved its £1.7m spent on the committee and adopted instead accepted best practice: namely, to employ a law firm as an independent investigator to go through all its internal emails and documents in order to make adequate disclosure to the law enforcement authorities. . . . If BAE is serious about breaking from the past, it needs to show that it is fully cooperating with all the current investigations by law enforcement officers in the UK, US and Switzerland."

As for our disappointment, we always try to be realistic about public corruption. We know bribery is the second oldest profession and won't disappear anytime soon. The temptation in business to take shortcuts via well-placed bribes to government officials is powerful. When people fall, as they sometimes will, they and their approving employers deserve punishment. Once punished, though, they also deserve another chance -- assuming there's at least some recognition of wrongdoing ("mistakes were made"). That, after all, is the path to rehabilitation and to a full restoration of corporate citizenship.

The Woolf Committee Report is available here.