Today, I want to consider some of the key FCPA enforcement actions involving mergers and acquisition. These cases and the 2012 Guidance have made clear that Justice Department and SEC will vigorously prosecute companies which allow bribery and corruption to continue after a merger or purchase occurs. The key point to remember is that if a company was engaging in bribery and corruption before it was acquired and continues to do so after the transaction is completed, it is now you which is engaging in bribery and corruption, not them.
Syncor International Corporation (2002)
- Allegations- Cardinal Health, Inc. acquired Syncor International Corporation, a radiopharmaceutical company based in California. Between 1997 and 2002, Syncor’s Taiwanese subsidiary made improper commissions payments totaling $344,000, to physicians who were employed by state-owned hospitals to influence the doctors’ decision to buy Syncor products and services. Another $600,000 in corrupt payments were made through Syncor’s foreign subsidiaries in Mexico, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. All payments were authorized by and with the knowledge and approval of Syncor’s Founder and Chairman.
- Penalties-Syncor Taiwan Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Syncor International Corporation, pled guilty to substantive violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery and books and records provisions, was sentenced to 3 years of supervised probation and ordered to pay a US $2 million fine. The company also agreed to pay a $500,000 civil penalty and to cease and desist in future violations and was required to retain an independent consultant to review and make recommendations concerning the company’s compliance policies and procedures. At the time, it was the largest penalty ever obtained by the SEC in an FCPA case.
- Key Lessons Learned- This was the first time the DOJ charged a foreign company under the 1998 amendments, for taking acts place in the US (i.e., Chairman’s approval). Parent liability was established through the foreign subsidiary’s books and records and employees of a state-owned entity are instrumentalities of the government. This case also demonstrated how a government investigation can slow the closing of an acquisition as the acquisition by Cardinal Health was delayed until the investigation was concluded and agreements were struck with the DOJ and SEC. The acquirer brought Syncor for a lower price than originally negotiated.
Titan Corporation (2005)
- Allegations- This case involved the acquisition of Titan Corporation, by Lockheed Martin Corporation but perhaps most importantly, the acquisition ultimately failed. Titan employed a consultant and paid $3.5 million to a known business advisor of the President of Benin. Of the $3.5 million paid to the advisor, approximately $2 million were indirect contributions to the President’s re-election campaign. At the direction of a Titan senior officer, at least two payments of $500,000 each were wired from Titan’s bank account in San Diego, California, to the agent’s account in Monaco. The remaining payments were made to the agent in cash. Payments were characterized on Titan’s books and records as “social program payments” that were required by its contract with the government, the company also falsified documents to enable its agents to under-report local commission payments in Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Finally, Titan falsely reported to the US government commission payments on equipment exported to Sri Lanka, France, and Japan.
- Penalties- Titan pled guilty to substantive violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery and books and records provisions, as well as a tax violation, was sentenced to 3 years of supervised probation and ordered to pay a $13 million fine. SEC alleged violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery and books and records provisions. Titan agreed to pay the SEC and additional $15.5 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest penalties and a $13 million penalty, which was satisfied by payment of the criminal fines. Titan was required to retain an independent consultant to review its compliance procedures and to adopt its recommendations. Finally, the SEC issued a 21(a) Report criticizing Titan’s proxy statement for incorporating what it deemed false FCPA representations and warranties. Most importantly for Titan, its acquisition by Lockheed-Martin ultimately failed.
- Key Lessons Learned-some of the basic tenets of a compliance program were laid out in this enforcement action. They included: a company must conduct meaningful due diligence with respect to foreign agents and consultants and must ensure that the services alleged to be performed are provided. Internal controls must be designed to detect “red flags,” such as offshore payments and inconsistent invoices. From the M&A perspective, representations and warranties in a merger agreement must be accurate (or qualified) when included in a proxy statement. There can be a risk of additional prosecution under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and possible suspension of export privileges, potential US and foreign tax exposure and possible contractor debarment issues by the Department of Defense. Ultimately and most importantly from the business perspective, the merger failed when Titan was unable to meet contractual agreement to settle with the US government by a certain time.
Latin Node (2009)
- Allegations-In June 2007, eLandia acquired Latin Node, which provided wholesale telecommunications services to several developing countries by leasing lines from local phone companies, in Latin America for $20 million. In August 2007, during a post-acquisition financial integration review, eLandia discovered evidence that Latin Node had paid approximately $2.25 million in bribes to Honduran and Yemeni government officials between March 2004 and June 2007. Subsequently, eLandia voluntarily reported the payments to DOJ, eventually paying a $2 million fine and placing Latin Node into bankruptcy and thereby losing its entire investment.
- Penalties-Latin Node pled guilty to a one-count criminal information as part of a plea agreement with the government. Under the agreement, Latin Node agreed to pay a $2 million criminal fine, a $400 special assessment and agreed to continue its cooperation with the government. Four Latin Node executives were charged with criminal conduct for their actions. They were Jorge Granados, 54, the company’s former CEO; Manuel Caceres, 64, a former vice president; and Juan Pablo Vasquez, the chief commercial officer; and Manual Salvoch, the company’s former CFO. All four pled guilty.
- Key Lessons Learned-This was the first FCPA enforcement action based entirely on pre-acquisition conduct that was unknown to the buyer when the transaction closed. The purchaser’s entire $22+ million investment in Latin Node was wiped out due to inflated acquisition price of corrupt company and investigation costs. All of this demonstrated the need for rigorous pre-acquisition due diligence in addition to the post-acquisition integration. It also exposed individuals to the real possibility of jail time for their actions.
There have been several M&A cases since these three but they set the model for the DOJ’s prosecution going forward. Every compliance practitioner should be aware of these cases and communicate to management that one of the most well settled areas of FCPA enforcement is around M&A. Simply put if you do not engage in appropriate pre-acquisition due diligence and there continues to be ongoing bribery and corruption after you acquire an entity, your company will bear the brunt of any prosecution.
Three Key Takeaways
- FCPA enforcement in the M&A space is one of the most well settled areas of enforcement.
- Failure to perform pre-acquisition due diligence can significantly devalue a purchased asset.
- Always remember that if bribery continues after an acquisition it is no longer them engaging in bribery and corruption but you who are engaging in bribery and corruption.
Duties in mergers and acquisitions under the FCPA have been well-settled through enforcement actions and the 2012 Guidance.Click to tweet
This month’s podcast series is sponsored by Michael Volkov and The Volkov Law Group. The Volkov Law Group is a premier law firm specializing in corporate ethics and compliance, internal investigations and white collar defense. For more information and to discuss practical solutions to compliance and enforcement issues, email Michael Volkov at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out www.volkovlaw.com.