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Harry Cassin Publisher and Editor

Andy Spalding Senior Editor

Jessica Tillipman Senior Editor

Richard L. Cassin Editor at Large

Elizabeth K. Spahn Editor Emeritus 

Cody Worthington Contributing Editor

Julie DiMauro Contributing Editor

Thomas Fox Contributing Editor

Marc Alain Bohn Contributing Editor

Bill Waite Contributing Editor

Shruti J. Shah Contributing Editor

Russell A. Stamets Contributing Editor

Richard Bistrong Contributing Editor 

Eric Carlson Contributing Editor

Bill Steinman Contributing Editor

FCPA Blog Daily News

Thursday
Sep042008

Why Comply?

The potential consequences of a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violation for an individual are easy to explain and understand. Personal tragedies result from the losses of freedom, jobs and reputations, and there's often financial ruin and damage to families. But the possible consequences to a corporation -- and indirectly to its employees, shareholders, creditors, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders -- are more complex. A good explanation, however, comes from KBR in its 2007 annual report. The disclosure is comprehensive and clear, and downright spooky.

As discussed in our prior post, KBR's former chairman and CEO, Jack Stanley, just pleaded guilty to violating the FCPA. He helped arrange (and conceal) at least $182 million in illegal payments to Nigerian government officials. The continuing investigation by U.S. authorities is the focus of KBR's FCPA disclosure. Although the scale of the potential violations behind the disclosure is unusual, most of the possible consequences that KBR describes could apply to most public companies with FCPA concerns.

We've deleted a few KBR-specific references and broken the disclosure into smaller chunks for readability. Otherwise, it's straight from the annual report.

Here it is:

A person or entity found in violation of the FCPA could be subject to fines, civil penalties of up to $500,000 per violation, equitable remedies, including disgorgement (if applicable) generally of profits, including prejudgment interest on such profits, causally connected to the violation, and injunctive relief. Criminal penalties could range up to the greater of $2 million per violation or twice the gross pecuniary gain or loss from the violation, which could be substantially greater than $2 million per violation.

It is possible that both the SEC and the DOJ could assert that there have been multiple violations, which could lead to multiple fines. The amount of any fines or monetary penalties which could be assessed would depend on, among other factors, the findings regarding the amount, timing, nature and scope of any improper payments, whether any such payments were authorized by or made with knowledge of us or our affiliates, the amount of gross pecuniary gain or loss involved, and the level of cooperation provided the government authorities during the investigations.

Agreed dispositions of these types of violations also frequently result in an acknowledgement of wrongdoing by the entity and the appointment of a monitor on terms negotiated with the SEC and the DOJ to review and monitor current and future business practices, including the retention of agents, with the goal of assuring compliance with the FCPA.

Other potential consequences could be significant and include suspension or debarment of our ability to contract with governmental agencies of the United States and of foreign countries. . . . Suspension or debarment from the government contracts business would have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, and cash flow.

These investigations could also result in (1) third-party claims against us, which may include claims for special, indirect, derivative or consequential damages, (2) damage to our business or reputation, (3) loss of, or adverse effect on, cash flow, assets, goodwill, results of operations, business, prospects, profits or business value, (4) adverse consequences on our ability to obtain or continue financing for current or future projects and / or (5) claims by directors, officers, employees, affiliates, advisors, attorneys, agents, debt holders or other interest holders or constituents of us or our subsidiaries. . . .

In addition, our compliance procedures or having a monitor required or agreed to be appointed at our cost as part of the disposition of the investigation have resulted in a more limited use of agents on large-scale international projects than in the past and put us at a competitive disadvantage in pursuing such projects.

Continuing negative publicity arising out of these investigations could also result in our inability to bid successfully for governmental contracts and adversely affect our prospects in the commercial marketplace. In addition, we could incur costs and expenses for any monitor required by or agreed to with a governmental authority to review our continued compliance with FCPA law.

The investigations by the SEC and DOJ and foreign governmental authorities are continuing. We do not expect these investigations to be concluded in the immediate future. The various governmental authorities could conclude that violations of the FCPA or applicable analogous foreign laws have occurred . . . In such circumstances, the resolution or disposition of these matters . . . could have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, results or operations, financial condition and cash flow.

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Wednesday
Sep032008

Ex-KBR Boss Pleads Guilty

The Justice Department said today that Albert “Jack” Stanley, 65, a former chairman and CEO of KBR, the global engineering and construction firm based in Houston, pleaded guilty to a two-count criminal information charging him with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. He appeared in U.S. District Court in his hometown of Houston before U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison.

From 1995 to 2004, Stanley helped a joint venture that included KBR and its predecessors funnel $182 million in bribes to government officials in Nigeria. The bribes were paid in exchange for contracts worth $6 billion to build liquefied natural gas facilities there. Stanley and others met with high-ranking Nigerian government officials and their representatives at least four times to arrange the bribe payments. He also received $10.8 million in kickbacks from a consultant hired in connection with LNG projects around the world.

Under the plea deal accepted by the court, Stanley faces seven years in prison and a restitution payment of $10.8 million. A sentencing date hasn't been set. Criminal violations of the FCPA's anti-bribery provisions are punishable by five years in prison, and criminal violations of the accounting provisions by 20 years in jail. As part of his plea agreement, Stanley agreed to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in the ongoing investigations. The DOJ said it gathered evidence abroad and was helped by authorities in France, Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

In a related civil enforcement proceeding, the Securities and Exchange Commission said Stanley has consented to a final judgment permanently enjoining him from violating the anti-bribery, record-keeping and internal control provisions of Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (Sections 30A and 13(b)(5) and Rule 13b2-1).

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. Stanley became CEO of KBR and was named chairman in 2001. He was fired in June 2004. In November 2006, Halliburton spun KBR off and it became a separate publicly-traded company. Vice President Dick Cheney was Halliburton's chief executive from 1995 to 2000.

KBR's 2007 annual report describes a joint venture called TSKJ "formed to design and construct large-scale projects in Nigeria. TSKJ's members are Technip, SA of France, Snamprogetti Netherlands B.V., which is a subsidiary of Saipem SpA of Italy, JGC [of Japan] and us, each of which has a 25% interest. TSKJ has completed five LNG production facilities on Bonny Island, Nigeria and is nearing completion on a sixth such facility."

As KBR's senior representative in TSKJ, Stanley authorized the hiring of an agent in the U.K. and another in Japan to pay bribes to various Nigerian government officials, and concealed the payments. The SEC's complaint said,

In numerous Dresser, Halliburton and KBR company records, Stanley and others falsely characterized the payments to the UK Agent and the Japanese Agent as legitimate “consulting” or “services” fees when, in fact, Stanley knew they were bribes. For example, Stanley authorized entering into contracts with the UK Agent and the Japanese Agent that he knew falsely described the purpose of the contracts in order to make it appear that the agents would perform legitimate services. Stanley and others also prepared for approval internal company bid documents for the LNG Trains that mischaracterized the bribe payments as legitimate expenses. In addition, certain records falsified by Stanley were used in the companies’ due diligence process for approving use of the UK Agent.
KBR's 2007 annual report added these details:
In connection with the Bonny Island project, TSKJ entered into a series of agency agreements, including with Tri-Star Investments, of which Jeffrey Tesler is a principal, commencing in 1995 and a series of subcontracts with a Japanese trading company commencing in 1996. We understand that a French magistrate has officially placed Mr. Tesler under investigation for corruption of a foreign public official. . . .

Our representatives have met with the French magistrate and Nigerian officials. In October 2004, representatives of TSKJ voluntarily testified before the Nigerian legislative committee. Halliburton notified the other owners of TSKJ of information provided by the investigations and asked each of them to conduct their own investigation. . . .

In June 2004, all relationships with Mr. Stanley and another consultant and former employee of M.W. Kellogg Limited were terminated. The terminations occurred because of violations of Halliburton's Code of Business Conduct that allegedly involved the receipt of improper personal benefits from Mr. Tesler in connection with TSKJ's construction of the Bonny Island project.

Jeffrey Tesler, the Tri-Star Investments principal referred to in the annual report (called "the UK Agent" by the SEC), is a 60-year old lawyer in a small North London law firm called Kaye Tesler & Co.

KBR employs 52,000 people worldwide. Revenue last year was about $8.7 billion. According to its website, "not only is KBR the largest contractor for the United States Army and a top-ten contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense, it is currently the world’s largest defense services provider. "

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

Halliburton Company trades on the NYSE under the symbol HAL.

View the plea agreement here.

View the DOJ's Sept. 3, 3008 release here.

View SEC Litigation Release No. 20700 and Accounting and Auditing Enforcement Release No. 2871 (Sept. 3, 2008) here.

View the SEC's Civil Complaint Securities and Exchange Commission v. Albert Jackson Stanley, 08-CV-02680, S.D. Tex. (Houston) here.

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Tuesday
Sep022008

Former Execs Avoid Hard Time

Two former telecommunications executives who admitted bribing employees of state-owned companies in Africa and concealing the payments have avoided prison in exchange for their cooperation in an ongoing FBI investigation.

The Justice Department said yesterday that Roger Michael Young, 48, of Washington, D.C., a former managing director of ITXC Corporation, has been sentenced to five years probation, including three months home confinement, three months in a community confinement center, and a $7,000 fine. He pleaded guilty in July 2007 to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Travel Act.

Former ITXC Vice President Steven J. Ott, 49, of Princeton, N.J., who also pleaded guilty, was sentenced in July this year to five years probation, including six months in a community confinement center and six months home confinement. He was fined $10,000.

Young and Ott faced up to five years in prison and fines of $250,000. The DOJ said both were granted a reduced sentence based on their cooperation with an investigation the FBI is conducting into the foreign bribery scheme. They were sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Garrett E. Brown of New Jersey.

A third defendant in the case, Yaw Osei Amoako, 55, of Hillsborough, N.J., pleaded guilty in September 2006. He was sentenced in August 2007 to 18 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release, and a $7,500 fine.

ITXC was a publicly-held VOIP company based in Princeton, N.J. It was acquired by Canada's Teleglobe International Holdings Ltd. in May 2004 (Teleglobe was itself acquired by Tata's VSNL in July 2005). Between August 2001 and May 2004, the three executives paid $267,468.95 in bribes to foreign officials in Nigeria, Rwanda and Senegal in order to obtain contracts for ITXC to transmit telephone calls to those countries. ITXC made $11,509,733 in net profits from contracts obtained through the bribery. Ott was ITXC's vice president for global sales, Young was its managing director for the Middle East and Africa, and Amoako was the regional director for sales in Africa.

In April 2008, the Securities and Exchange Commission settled a civil enforcement action against all three. It charged them with violating the antibribery provisions of the FCPA and concealing and falsely reporting the illegal payments. In the settlement, they each consented to the entry of a final judgment permanently enjoining them from violating and aiding and abetting violations of the FCPA. Amoako also agreed to pay $188,453 in disgorgement and prejudgment interest because he took kickbacks for some of the bribes he paid to the foreign officials.

View the DOJ's Sept. 2, 2008 release here.

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Sunday
Aug312008

Kozeny's Co-Defendant Wins Appeal

Frederic Bourke won't face Foreign Corrupt Practices Act charges after all. He was indicted in May 2005 with Victor Kozeny and David Pinkerton over an alleged plan to bribe officials from Azerbaijan from 1997 to 1999 in connection with the privatization of the state oil company. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the June 2007 dismissal of FCPA charges against Bourke, saying the government failed to indict him within the FCPA's five-year statute of limitations.

Kozeny wasn't a party to the appeal because he's outside the United States and fighting extradition. In October 2007, the Bahamas Supreme Court refused to order his return to the U.S. to face trial. He's from the Czech Republic and reportedly has Irish citizenship, but he's been living in the Bahamas for more than a decade. The Bahamas court said the FCPA charges against Kozeny were not provable or prosecutable under local law, and there was an abuse of the court process. Apparently the U.S. government did not properly disclose the U.S. trial court's dismissal of the FCPA charges on statute of limitations grounds, a failing the Bahamas judge cited as a reason for the ruling.

Co-defendant Pinkerton was dropped from the case in July this year after the government withdrew all charges against him. See United States v. Kozeny, No. 1:05-cr-00518-SAS (S.D.N.Y. July 2, 2008) (order of nolle prosequi). The former head of AIG Global Investment Corp. invested about $15 million of AIG's money with Kozeny. After the government ended the case against Pinkerton, his lawyer said, "We have always known that David Pinkerton is completely innocent of any wrongdoing and we are thrilled by his vindication. Mr. Pinkerton is a self-made man who through his hard work, integrity and talent rose to the highest levels of his profession. Now that these charges have been entirely dismissed, Mr. Pinkerton looks forward to continuing his career."

Prosecutors obtained a related conviction in the case in February 2004. Clayton Lewis, a former employee of Omega Advisors, Inc., pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the FCPA. Then in July 2007, Omega itself settled with the government, entering into a non-prosecution agreement with the DOJ and agreeing to a civil forfeiture of $500,000. Omega invested more than $100 million with Kozeny in 1998 for the Azeri privatization program. The program fizzled and Omega lost its entire investment, as did Bourke, AIG and others. Reports said Kozeny kept $182 million from the deal.

Bourke, 62 -- owner of the luxury handbag brand Dooney & Bourke -- said after his indictment in 2005 that he invested
$8 million with Kozeny only after lawyers had advised him the deal was legal. Soon after, he said, he suspected illegal behavior. His lawyers said he traveled to Azerbaijan to warn then President Heydar Aliyev about the scheme and he testified before a New York grand jury "as a victim of Kozeny's fraud."  

Last month, a Washington-based non-profit watchdog group that defends whistleblowers alleged that James Wolfensohn, the former head of the World Bank, helped Kozeny by quashing staff concerns and writing letters on Kozeny's behalf. Wolfensohn has said the report by the Government Accountability Project (GAP) is wrong.

On its website, GAP says,

The report shows that James Wolfensohn, then president of the World Bank, personally assisted a rogue financier in his efforts to gain control of the State Oil Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan (SOCAR). While these efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, documents show that Wolfensohn silenced Bank staff members who spoke out about corrupt government officials working with Viktor Kožený, a notorious financial operator who had allegedly defrauded investors in the Czech Republic of nearly $1 billion only three years earlier.
“Before the financial fiasco in Azerbaijan occurred, Bank staff tried to expose the risks inherent in dealing with Kožený and corrupt government officials poised to profit illicitly from Caspian oil,” said Bea Edwards, GAP International Program Director and author of the report. “They were silenced about the impending fraud, however, when Wolfensohn directly intervened on Kožený’s behalf.”

A Bloomberg story said Bourke's lawyers provided documents to GAP and that Bourke funded the Kozeny-World Bank report. GAP says Kozeny's scheme in Azerbaijan came to light "in 1999, when U.S. investor and whistleblower Frederic Bourke came forward and exposed the fact that at least one major investor had been defrauded . . . ." Kozeny has denied taking money illegally from investors and criticized GAP for its work on Bourke's behalf.

 

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Thursday
Aug282008

Con-way Settles FCPA Enforcement Action

Internal controls and books and records violations; impermissible "facilitating payments" to customs officials and bribes to airline employees

California-based Con-way, Inc., a global freight forwarder, has paid a $300,000 penalty and accepted a cease and desist order to settle a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Con-way's FCPA violations were caused by a Philippines-based subsidiary, Emery Transnational. It made about $244,000 in improper payments between 2000 and 2003 to officials at the Philippines Bureau of Customs and the Philippine Economic Zone Area, and $173,000 in improper payments to officials at fourteen state-owned airlines.

The bribes to customs officials consisted of hundreds of small payments. They were intended to induce the officials to violate customs regulations, settle customs disputes, and reduce or not enforce otherwise legitimate fines for administrative violations. To fund the payments, Emery's employees obtained cash advances to complete customs processing. The SEC said that "unlike legitimate customs payments, the payments at issue were not supported by receipts from the Philippines Bureau of Customs and the Philippine Economic Zone Area. Emery Transnational did not identify the true nature of these payments in its books and records."

Emery's employees also made corrupt payments between 2000 and 2003 to employees at fourteen state-owned airlines that did business in the Philippines. According to the SEC, the "payments were made with the intent of improperly influencing the acts and decisions of these foreign officials and to secure a business advantage or economic benefit." There were “weight shipped” payments intended to induce airline officials to improperly reserve space for Emery on the airplanes, and “gain shares” payments to induce airline officials to falsely under-weigh shipments and to consolidate multiple shipments into a single shipment, resulting in lower shipping charges. Emery paid the airline employees 90% of the reduced shipping costs.

Government-owned or controlled airlines receiving payments were Air France, Alitalia (Italy), China Airlines, EgyptAir, Emirates (Dubai), Gulf Air (Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Oman), Kuwait Airways, Malaysian Airlines, Pakistan International Airlines, Royal Brunei Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, SilkAir (Singapore), Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways International.

According to the SEC's complaint, none of Emery's improper payments were accurately reflected in Con-way’s books and records. Also, Con-way knowingly failed to implement a system of internal accounting controls concerning Emery that would both ensure that Emery complied with the FCPA and require that the payments it made to foreign officials were accurately reflected on its books and records. As a result, Con-way violated Sections 13(b)(2)(A), 13(b)(2)(B), and 13(b)(5) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (15 U.S.C. §§ 78m(b)(2)(A) and 78m(b)(2)(B)).

Con-way discovered the illegal conduct at Emery in early 2003. After a preliminary internal investigation, Con-way self-disclosed the potential FCPA violations to the SEC. Following a more thorough internal investigation, Con-way imposed strict financial reporting and compliance requirements on Emery, fired a number of Emery employees involved in the misconduct, provided FCPA training and education to Con-way's own employees and strengthened its compliance program. In December 2004, Con-way sold Emery to UPS.

In the Philippines, payments to customs officials by local employees are a common compliance problem. Such payments are locally referred to as "facilitating payments" but shouldn't be confused with payments of the same name that are permitted under the FCPA. There's an exception in the FCPA for facilitating payments -- but only as defined by the FCPA itself. Among other things, the payments must be for “routine governmental action . . . which is ordinarily and commonly performed by a foreign official." See 15 U.S.C. §§78dd-1 (b) and (f) (3) [Section 30A of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934].

The exception will not apply, however, if there was no legitimate routine governmental action pending and for which the payment was made. A governmental action obtained or sought to be obtained by subornation of the official’s duty is not an action “ordinarily and commonly performed by a foreign official” and therefore is outside the scope of the exception. For example, paying a customs clerk to schedule an inspection of goods already in the customs queue may be permissible. But paying a customs clerk to jump the queue, or paying for positive inspection results, may be outside the exception.

Emery's payments to customs officials were intended to induce them to (i) violate customs regulations by allowing Emery to store shipments longer than otherwise permitted, thus saving the company transportation costs related to its inbound shipments; and (ii) improperly settle Emery's disputes with the Philippines Bureau of Customs, or to reduce or not enforce otherwise legitimate fines for administrative violations. Those clearly weren't actions “ordinarily and commonly performed by a foreign official.” That's why the payments fell outside the scope of the FCPA's facilitating payments exception. And whether or not the payments were permissible, Con-way was required to accurately account for them in its books and records, which it didn't do.

The case is also a reminder that employees of government- owned or controlled airlines are "foreign officials" for purposes of the FCPA. Contact with them, either directly or through travel agents or others, should be covered by compliance programs.

Con-way Inc. trades on the NYSE under the symbol CNW.

View SEC Litigation Release No. 20690 and Accounting and Auditing Enforcement Release No. 2866 (August 27, 2008) here.

View the Complaint in Securities and Exchange Commission v. Con-way Inc., Civil Action No. 1:08-CV-01478 (D.D.C.) (EGS) here.

View the SEC's Administrative Enforcement Action / Cease and Desist Order here.

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Tuesday
Aug262008

Two Minute Warning

Boy, were we wrong. Syriana deserves our top rating of 5 Red Flags -- not as a movie, but as a compliance tool. A thoughtful reader set us straight. Our sincere thanks to Daniel, whose imaginative use of Syriana we heartily endorse.

Here's what he told us:

Dear FCPA Blog,

 

Very nice analysis of Syriana in response to the movie that at least this reader had called out, following your post entitled "Sleaze in the Cinema, Take One."  

In truth, the aspect of the movie I liked best is the original promotional trailer itself, of which I have shown a portion (after having received a license) at the start of anti-corruption compliance training to grab an audience's attention ("for three points, name the movie; for five points, name three actors you'll see; for fifteen points, recite the fifteen key words you'll hear in the voice over" and I then stop the trailer at the 1.25'' mark, after the oily Texas oilman's rich ["NOT"] assertion "... Corruption is why we win!").

I note that if Hollywood gave central casting to the FCPA in this 2005 movie, it surely is a sign of the importance of the issue. Of course, I make clear, as you have understood, that the movie is not reflective of the approach and experience today of most in the U.S. multinational business community - certainly, not of those in the company for which I work. Almost without fail, I am assured that the audience will then listen to the many legal and business imperatives for clear corporate policies and commitment to procedures on anti-corruption that follow.


Thus, while conceding that "five" may be too high a ranking given the film's dark and jaundiced take on corruption, I would award at least four red flags to a movie trailer that can accomplish this goal in less than 2 minutes. This is especially the case for an audience in the regulated pharmaceutical industry in which I practice, which today may suffer from "compliance fatigue" as a result of the virtually continuous training employees receive to address the many many different and evolving standards required to ensure that operations in a heavily regulated industry are conducted in a compliant manner.

The "enthusiastic support" you may have read into my singling out the movie was more for the educational values of both the trailer and your terrific blog - of which I am a devoted and appreciative reader, than for the underlying message of George Clooney's thriller.

 

Sincerely,

Daniel Kessler

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Monday
Aug252008

Swiss Police Raid Alstom

Swiss police last week arrested a former manager of French engineering giant Alstom and searched for evidence as part of a corruption and money-laundering investigation. Offices near Zurich and in Baden were raided, as were homes in several cantons.

Paris-based Alstom is a global leader in equipment and services for power generation and high-speed rail transport. It operates in more than 70 countries with about 76,000 employees. Revenues last year were €16.9 billion. It has an office in Windsor, Connecticut and its securities trade in the pink sheets (Other OTC: AOMFF.PK).

The raids and arrest last week are reported to be unrelated to another investigation involving suspected corrupt payments in Asia and South America between 1995 and 2003. Reports in May said that Swiss authorities found evidence Alstom paid around €20 million via shell companies to agents and others in Singapore, Indonesia, Venezuela and Brazil. Reports also mentioned payments of $6.8 million in connection with a $45 million contract for the Sao Paolo subway and a Brazilian energy plant.

In June this year, the press said French judges had charged a former Alstom consultant for his role in suspected overseas bribes. The company apparently appeared as a civil plaintiff in that case, claiming it may have been a victim of embezzlement.

Alstom said over the weekend that it's "cooperating fully with the judicial authorities in this [new] matter."

Forbes said "investors were cautious about painting [Alstom] with the same brush as Siemens, which has been embroiled in a slush fund scandal. Also, the previous investigation into Alstom was over infrastructure contracts in South America and Asia between 1995 and 2003, before the company's chief executive, Patrick Kron, took charge. If the previous investigation was over past contracts, chances are that this one is too, suggesting a limited impact on the company and its current management."

U.S. authorities haven't said whether they're investigating or planning to investigate Alstom for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or other laws.

Thanks to CW for the heads up.

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Sunday
Aug242008

More Than Gold

Just a generation ago, the idea that China would host the greatest Olympics ever would have been outlandish. Black bicycles, gray Mao suits, grim faces -- it was a closed country, both fearful and feared. But for the past 16 days, the world has witnessed something awesome. A new and beautiful China -- smiling, proud, and graceful. Traditional but suddenly modern, and above all a nation now capable and effective.

Could anyone who knew the country back then have imagined it? That around the globe the Bird's Nest and Water Cube would become as familiar as the Great Wall and the Summer Palace. That scores of Chinese athletes would weep in victory. That thousands of exuberant local fans would pack the basketball venue, many wearing Kobe's jersey, whooping it up as their "Little Flying Warrior" brought his second-half brilliance to the Games' last event.

The magnificent sporting performances throughout the Games paid tribute to China's great staging, keeping the focus on the play and off the politics. The country is still a work in progress but it's rising fast, powered by pride and purpose, and lifting the rest of Asia with it. Korea's baseball team, Mongolia's boxers, Singapore's ping-pong paddlers -- they all reflect the new confidence of the Orient re-made.

The PRC has often appeared in these posts for the wrong reasons. But not today.

Congratulations, China.

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Thursday
Aug212008

That's Milton Friedman?

Syriana is the best Hollywood movie ever made about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It's also the only Hollywood movie ever made about the FCPA. But despite enthusiastic support for the film by some of our readers, we can't give it top marks in our Sleaze in the Cinema category. Here's why.

While the movie takes on plenty of important themes -- the term Syriana is supposed to be Potomac shorthand for a political re-alignment of the Middle East -- it's unrelentingly cynical. Statecraft, spycraft, energy and military policy, the oil business -- all come off as dark and dirty to the core. There's no daylight anywhere, and that's the problem.

If you haven't seen the 2005 film, it's about lots of things. There's Bob Barnes (George Clooney), a CIA war horse thrown into a U.S. plot to remove a Middle East prince. The oil companies and U.S. government don't want the prince around because he's too independent. Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) is an oil broker helping the prince consolidate power. Then there's the Justice Department, busy reviewing a merger of two U.S. oil companies -- which is where the FCPA comes in. So the film has plenty going on.

As for the FCPA, it's thoroughly trashed. In a scene featuring an oily Texas oilman called Danny Dalton (Tim Blake Nelson), he annihilates the rule of law:

. . . Corruption charges! Corruption? Corruption is government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulations. That's Milton Friedman. He got a goddamn Nobel Prize. We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are prancing around in here instead of fighting over scraps of meat out in the streets. Corruption is why we win.
Well . . . baloney. Instead of the greedy evasiveness of Syriana, we've found that most American business people genuinely want to do the right thing. Sure, in the early days of the FCPA nearly everyone involved with it was upset. The law seemed vague and threatening and somehow unfair. Why should American companies have to keep it clean overseas when others could do whatever the heck they wanted? But the years passed and the FCPA started to make sense. Today (and Syriana takes place today) most American business leaders and the rank-and-file understand why graft anywhere is bad for everyone. They even talk and act as though they're proud of our global leadership in fighting public corruption.

Syriana is clever, raw, and disturbing. It's slick and sophisticated. The dialogue is edgy and gives the impression that you're eavesdropping on insiders. But the film is just too mean for our taste, and it's inconsistent with our experience in the world.

Although we're fans of Clooney, Damon and the FCPA, in the category of Sleaze in the Cinema, we give Syriana . . . 3 (out of 5) Red Flags.

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Tuesday
Aug192008

Why We Cheat

People who've violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act fall into two categories: those who had criminal intent from the start, and those who stumbled into the offense. It's the second group -- the regular folks who've done a bad thing -- who are so tragic. They're just like the rest of us -- except they've ruined their careers and professional reputations, and sometimes lost their freedom and more.

It's also the second group -- the "ordinary, well-meaning people" -- who are the focus of an article in this month's Stanford Business Magazine (available here). Author Margaret Steen looks at how easy it is for well-intentioned corporate employees to break the law. She also recommends ways to reduce corrupt behavior -- without crippling the organization with too much internal regulation. Promote a culture of compliance, encourage dissent, hire an ethics officer, rethink goals and rewards, and marginalize misconduct. Sound familiar? The article doesn't say so, but those recommendations echo elements of an "effective compliance program" described in the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

So why do "normal" corporate employees break the law? Here are some excerpts from the article:

Group Power. If there’s a single, most primitive lever for behavior in our species, it’s the power of the crowd.

Organizational Structure. “My lifetime’s work in business ethics suggests that business corruption has everything to do with culture and with incentives,” says Kirk Hanson, MBA ’71, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University and an emeritus GSB faculty member. For example, auditors want smooth working relationships with their clients, and they don’t want to be fired, so they have an incentive not to ask awkward questions.

Rationalization. The division of labor required for much corporate work, with many people contributing a small amount to a project, makes this easier. For example, an employee can tell himself, "I’m not the person who falsified the safety data for the product; I just reported the data that I had.”

Fear and Confusion. For most people fear is a more common cause of corrupt behavior than greed. People want to avoid conflict, and being a whistleblower can ruin a person’s career, even if the person is vindicated. So many people keep quiet.

The lesson? It's easy (and wrong) to think compliance programs should be aimed only at stopping hard-core criminal activity. The more subtle internal threat comes from regular employees -- those who wouldn't jaywalk outside the office but who fall into illegal behavior at work, one tiny step at a time.

The article is "How to Prevent Cheating" by Margaret Steen, from this month's Stanford Business Magazine.

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Monday
Aug182008

Panalpina Quits Nigeria

Compliance concerns have forced Swiss logistics giant Panalpina to withdraw completely from the Nigerian domestic market. It said in its 2008 half-yearly report (available here) that it will sell its local operations to a Nigerian group and retain no ownership or operating interest.

The exit from Nigeria follows Panalpina's announcement in September 2007 that it would suspend domestic logistics and freight forwarding services there for all oil and gas-related customers. That earlier announcement was part of Panalpina's statement that it was cooperating with the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission in a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigation.

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

As we've said, with crude prices above $100 and global supplies tight, the U.S. government wants to avoid impairing output anywhere. So to protect production in Nigeria but ensure FCPA compliance, the DOJ may have made special arrangements directly with the Nigerian government for customs clearance and permitting on behalf of U.S. producers and services companies.

Here's the full text of Panalpina's recent announcement:

Withdrawal from Nigeria and discontinuation of inland services

The Board of Directors and the Executive Board of Panalpina have decided to withdraw from the domestic business in Nigeria by the end of 2008. The company will continue to offer transportation services up to arrival port / airport Nigeria, including flight operations and coastal shipping services but will terminate all local and domestic services. In the meantime, Nigerian investors have shown interest in taking over Panalpina’s local service portfolio. They intend to acquire some of Panalpina’s assets and resources for their own company and they also plan to recruit employees from the current Panalpina Nigeria staff. This company will operate completely independently from Panalpina and the Panalpina Group will not have any equity stake in this new company.

[CEO] Monika Ribar explains, “In view of the Group’s future development, the withdrawal from Nigeria is in the company’s best interest”. She emphasizes that it has not been an easy decision to make. “Admittedly foreign companies operate in an ongoing uncertain and hard to assess legal environment in Nigeria. This makes it difficult for Panalpina to offer both a comprehensive service portfolio and at the same time meet the high ethical standards as outlined in Panalpina’s Code of Business Conduct”, she continues to explain. With the emerging solution customer demands can be fulfilled even after Panalpina’s withdrawal from the domestic and local business.
View our prior posts about Panalpina here.

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Monday
Aug182008

Trouble For Siemens In South America

Scandal-plagued Siemens now faces possible charges of public corruption in Argentina. Police in Buenos Aires raided Siemens' office there in connection with a bribery investigation. The United States, Greece, Italy, China, Hungary, Indonesia and Norway are also investigating whether Siemens broke anti-corruption laws.

Here's a dispatch from the August 16, 2008 online edition of Deutsche Welle:

Argentine authorities on Friday searched the Buenos Aires offices of German technology giant Siemens, in an investigation of the payment of bribes during the 1989-99 government of former Argentine president Carlos Menem.

German media reported in recent days, based on court documents, that Menem allegedly received a direct payment from Siemens of $16 million (10.9 million euros). The firm reportedly expected to pay $100 million in bribes to Argentine officials including Menem and the then ministers of finance and interior.

Siemens' Argentine headquarters, located near the historic Plaza de Mayo in central Buenos Aires, were searched in an effort to secure evidence on an order from Judge Ariel Lijo.

Former Siemens officials claimed -- in the context of a broader investigation against the German multinational firm -- that the company paid bribes in Argentina. German courts forwarded the information to authorities in Buenos Aires.

Siemens in the 1990s was seeking a $1.26-billion contract to digitalize Argentine identity documents and other services, the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported. The contract was signed under Menem in 1998 but cancelled in 2001 by his successor, President Fernando de la Rua.

Later, Siemens allegedly paid further bribes until 2004 -- under former Argentine president Nestor Kirchner, husband of current President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner -- in an effort to have the contract restored.