Blood on the TracksOn this week in 1975, Bob Dylan’s 15th studio album, Blood on the Tracks, reached the Number 1 album slot on the Billboard charts. This was in spite of no song rising above the 31st slot on the single charts. It came out in the final semester of my senior year in high school so its personal nature was very poignant to me. Two interesting facts were that Phil Ramone was an engineer on the recording sessions and Buddy Cage played steel guitar (shout out to Chris Bauer). While I probably enjoyed it because I found it to be the most accessible Dylan album to that point, the critics most generally praised it as well, finding it to be his most reflective. Indeed his son Jakob has been quoted as saying, “When I’m listening to Blood On The Tracks, that’s about my parents.”

Last week we had a second Foreign Corrupt Practices Enforcement Action (FCPA) from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This one involved the California based entity SciClone Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (SCLN) which was assessed a penalty of $2.5MM, profit disgorgement of $9.42MM and prejudgment interest of $900K for a total penalty of $12.8MM to settle SEC charges that it violated the FCPA when employees in China pumped up sales for five years by making improper payments to professionals employed at state health institutions. The penalty was for the conduct of its Chinese subsidiary, SciClone Pharmaceuticals International Ltd.

Many of the allegations reached back over 10 years, to 2005, when the Chinese subsidiary created a special VIP program for high volume customers called health care professionals (HCPs). According to the SEC Cease and Desist Order, this special program provided “weekend trips, vacations, gifts, expensive meals, foreign language classes and entertainment” to selected VIPs. It was described internally as “luring them with the promise of profit.” Clearly not the tone a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) would want to see from his or her top salespersons. Oops, SCLN did not have a Chinese compliance officer at the time of the incidents in question because it did not have a compliance function at the company, so I guess that tone issue never came up.

Clearly the VIP program went beyond the pale as it provided for vacations for both the VIPs and their family members. But this program also had less egregious activities such as golf tournaments followed by beer drinking. However, the subsidiary’s conduct became more nefarious in 2007 when it hired “well-connected regulatory affairs specialist (Specialist) to facilitate” the application of certain licenses the company needed to distribute a new product in China.

This Specialist originally intended to send two foreign officials who were responsible for approving this license to Greece for an academic conference related to this new medical product. However visas could not be obtained in time so “the Specialist instead provided them at least $8,600 in lavish gifts.” In addition to the foregoing, the company sent many other Chinese government officials to in the US, Japan and the Chinese resort island of Hainan where “significant sightseeing was involved” in addition to an educational component.

The company even managed to fall prey to the well known Chinese bribery conduit of travel agencies by failing to conduct any due diligence on a number of travel vendors who were used to funnel bribes and improper gifts and trips involving improper sightseeing and tourist expenditures. Then again this may have been intentional given the overall posture of the subsidiary and its parent. Nevertheless it was another compliance program failure.

Finally, as part of SCLN’s internal investigation, after the discovery of all of the above, an “internal review of promotion expenses of employees from 2011 to early 2013. This review found high exception rates indicating violations of corporate policy that ranged from fake fapiao, inconsistent amounts or dates with fapiao, excessive gift or meal amounts, unverified events, doctored honoraria agreements, and duplicative meetings. A portion of the funds generated through the reimbursements were used as part of the sales practices described above that continued through at least 2012.”

Noting the foregoing conduct, the SEC Order held that SCLN did not have the appropriate internal controls in place for any type of FCPA compliance program. Both the subsidiary and parent engaged in false accounting entries by “recording the payments to health care providers as sales, marketing, and promotional expenses.” So SCLN violated both prongs of the Accounting Provisions of the FCPA , those being the accounting and internal controls provisions.

However, SCLN did make a come back which led to the relatively low fine and penalty. As noted in the Order, the company took steps, “to improve its internal accounting controls and to create a dedicated compliance function. These include the following: (1) hiring a compliance officer for its China operations; (2) undertaking an extensive review of the policies and procedures surrounding employee travel and entertainment reimbursements; (3) substantially reducing the number of suppliers providing third-party travel and event planning services; (4) improving its policies and procedures around third-party due diligence and payments; (5) incorporating anti-corruption provisions in its third-party contracts; (6) providing anti-corruption training to its third-party travel and event planning vendors; (7) disciplining employees (and their managers) who violate SciClone’s policies; and (8) creating an internal audit department and compliance department.”

Lessons Learned

Mike Volkov has called the SCLN enforcement action, “A Textbook Case of FCPA Violations for Gifts, Meals, Entertainment and Travel”. I would add that it is the textbook case for CCOs and compliance practitioners to study for lessons learned. The first thing is to review your own compliance program to see if any of these anomalies that SCLN engaged in appear in your Chinese operations or any other high risk areas. Beyond these general reviews, I would suggest a more detailed transaction monitoring and data analytics approach, which would involve:

  • Tracking not only the expenses paid for gifts, travel and entertainment by employees but tying this information back to the foreign government officials who received these benefits;
  • Look to any third parties who may have been involved in any of the foregoing, such as the ubiquitous Chinese travel agencies or the more iniquitous ‘Specialist’ who might be involved in facilitating license approvals;
  • Consider the positions which were lavished with such gifts, entertainment or travel. Did any of these persons make any approvals or decisions which allowed your company to obtain or retain business immediately before or after such treatment?

Finally, consider the thoughts of Scott Lane, Executive Chairman of the Red Flag Group, where he described the line of sight a compliance practitioner needed. Lane described the data points that a CCO or compliance practitioner should have visibility into going forward. By looking down a straight line at all of this information derived from the SCLN enforcement matter, the compliance function can identify measures to improve any high risk issues before they move to FCPA violations. While gifts, travel and entertainment expenses might be on your company’s radar for compliance department pre-approval, if they are spent on one or two government officials who may influence deal making authority regarding your company’s business it may well merit a more detailed analysis.

 

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2016

Spud WebbOn this day 30 years ago, history was made when Spud Webb won the 3rd NBA Slam Dunk contest. Webb joined future Hall-of-Famers Michael Jordan, who won the inaugural contest in 1984, and Dominic Wilkins, who won the second event in 1985, as the Slam Dunk champ. What made Webb’s win so noteworthy? It was his size. He was 5 feet, 9 inches tall and the shortest player in the league at that time. Webb played for 12 seasons in the NBA, mostly with the Atlanta Hawks, but for anyone who tuned in that day, we will never forget when Spud Webb stood the tallest of the all the players.

I thought about Webb, his biggest moment of personal glory and individual responsibility when I read Sunday’s Fair Game column in the New York Times (NYT) by Gretchen Morgenson, entitled “Fixing Banks by Fining the Bankers. Morgenson has written several pieces about the banking scandals coming out of the 2008 financial crisis and beyond, coupled with the lack of personal accountability in all of the settlements with US regulators.

She began her piece with the certain truism, “Ho-hum, another week, another multimillion-dollar settlement between regulators and a behemoth bank acting badly.” The settlement she referenced referred to two financial institutions, Barclay’s and Credit Suisse, who agreed to pay $154.3MM, regarding their misrepresentations to investors around high-frequency trading. But what concerned Morgenson was the following, “As has become all too common in these cases, not one individual was identified as being responsible for the activities. Once again, shareholders are shouldering the costs of unethical behavior they had nothing to do with.”

Morgenson identified the reason behind the continued failings of banks “could not be clearer: Years of tighter rules from legislators and bank regulators have done nothing to fix the toxic, me-first cultures that afflict big financial firms.” She believes it is a failure of banks to change their culture. In her piece she quoted the Chairman of FINRA, Richard Ketchum, who said firms that continue to have violations are because of “poor cultures of compliance”. He finds the opposite to be true stating, “Firms with a strong ethical culture and senior leaders who set the right tone, lead by example and impose consequences on anyone who violates the firm’s cultural norms are essential to restoring investor confidence and trust in the securities industry.”

The rules and regulations of compliance can set down the written standards for employees to follow. Yet for a compliance program to be effective, it is much more than the paper part of the program. Morgenson believes that banks must change their culture to help stop these systemic breakdowns. Yet she did not end her piece there as she explored what regulators can do, more than simply talk, to facilitate this change in culture.

She considered two separate approaches regulators might consider. The first was suggested by Andreas Dombret, a member of the executive board of Deutsche Bundesbank, who noted, “Most companies have codes of ethics, but they often exist only on paper.” To help make the message of doing business ethically and in compliance, he also suggested banking regulators could help encourage a more ethical approach by routinely monitoring how a bank cooperates with the regulatory authorities particularly in an oversight rule. Finally he asked, “How often is the bank the whistle-blower?” He felt this question was important because “Not only to get a lesser penalty but also to show that it won’t accept that kind of behavior. We are seeing more of that.”

These suggestions would seem to be more aligned with an industry with significant oversight, such as banking. So I found the second area she explored more directly applicable to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA. It met her criticisms that it was either the shareholders or perhaps the company D&O insurance carrier who foot the bill for any FCPA violation.

She explored an idea posited by Claire A. Hill and Richard W. Painter, professors at the University of Minnesota Law School, in a new book they published, entitled “Better Bankers, Better Banks”. In this book the law professors urged “making financial executives personally liable for a portion of any fines and fraud-based judgments a bank enters into, including legal settlements. The professors called this “covenant banking.”

This covenant banking plan had some very interesting elements that spoke to the issue of individual v. corporate liability, similar to the discussion compliance professionals have engaged in since the release of the Yates Memo. Morgenson said the covenant banking plan “contains a crucial element, requiring the best-paid bankers in the company to be liable for a fine whether or not they were directly involved in the activities that generated it. Such a no-fault program, the professors argued, would motivate bankers not only to curb their own problematic tendencies but to be on the alert for colleagues’ misbehavior as well.” She quoted the book’s authors stating that this plan would help to change corporate culture as it “discourages bad behavior and its underlying ethos, the competitive pursuit of narrow material gain.”

Moreover, the professors believe, “If bankers aren’t willing to institute a system involving personal liability, regulators and judges could require it as part of their settlements or rulings. Something like covenant banking could be included in nonprosecution agreements. Or a judge overseeing a case in which a company is paying $50 million could require individuals to pay $10 million of that personally.” Finally, “A regulator could give a company the choice of a far lower fine if it were to be paid by managers, not shareholders. A company choosing to pay the higher fine and billing it to the shareholders would have some explaining to do”.

While most banks or non-financial institutions subject to the FCPA might well be reluctant to put such corporate strictures in place, it certainly could be a part of a civil penalty which comes before a court for review and consideration, such as when the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) goes to court when filing a Cease and Desist order in a FCPA enforcement action.

The Yates Memo recognized that individual accountability will help to drive compliance with the FCPA. The problem in going after individuals is that it is often difficult to pinpoint any single or series of actions by a senior manager that may have lead to the violation. It can be as nefarious as the General Motors (GM) nod or simply the diffusion of liability was the basis for the original creation of the corporate structure long ago.

Yet, by focusing on corporate culture Morgenson, the banking industry and banking regulators are hitting on a key theme. Paper programs are only that if there is not the culture of compliance set by senior management that the company will follow the rules. I was also intrigued that both FINRA Chairman Ketchum and banker Dombret recognized the business problem which poor cultures of compliance led to, lack of faith in capital markets and the securities industry. If companies will work to enhance culture, they move to addressing this most serious and long-term business issue.

Spud Webb was the first ‘Little Big Man’ in the modern era of the NBA. His 12-year run of success led to players such as the five-foot, five-inch Earl Boykins and five-foot, three-inch Muggsy Bogues. In 2006, 5’9” Nate Robinson of the New York Knicks became the second-shortest player to emerge victorious in the NBA slam-dunk contest. Webb changed NBA culture just as corporate culture can be changed as well.

For a YouTube video clip of Spud Webb at the 1986 Slam Dunk contest, click here.

 

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2016

CyclocrossOn this day in 1934, Hammerin’ Hank Aaron was born; who for my money is the greatest home run hitter ever. He began his professional baseball career in 1952 in the Negro League but soon joined the Milwaukee Braves of the National League in 1954, eight years after Jackie Robinson had integrated baseball. He quickly established himself as an important player for the Braves and won the National League batting title in 1956. The following season, he took home the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award and helped the Braves beat Mickey Mantle and the heavily favored New York Yankees in the World Series. The Braves returned to the World Series in 1958 but lost to the Yankees in seven games.

In 1959, Aaron won his second league batting title. He hit .300 or higher for 14 seasons and slugged out at least 40 homers in eight separate seasons. In May 1970, he became the first player in baseball to record 500 homers and 3,000 hits. I will never forget Milo Hamilton’s call of Aaron’s shot to break Babe Ruth’s record of 714 career home runs, on April 8, 1974, against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Aaron retired in 1976 with 755 total homers, 2297 career runs batted in, 6856 career total bases and 1477 career extra base hits; the final three records still standing.

Aaron’s career home run records stand in stark contrast to the man who broke his record, Barry Bonds, who is believed to have used performance enhancing drugs to break the record. While Bonds’ cheating may not have been proven that of Lance Armstrong in cycling is well known and well documented. One of the most interesting (or perhaps saddest) things which occurred when Armstrong finally admitted he had doped was that cheating was so wide-spread in the sport there was no one left to award the vacated first place awards to after Armstrong was stripped of his.

Yet as bad as cheating in cycling was, it actually may have been taken to a new level with the introduction of what the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) called “technological fraud”. In an article entitled “Cycling’s New Scandal is a Motor” Jason Gay detailed that the latest scandal to hit international cycling events is the motorization of the bike. He wrote, “I’m talking about an elite-level cyclist getting busted this weekend for a motor in a bicycle. That’s right, a motor inside a leg-powered bicycle. Just when you think you’ve heard it all about illegal performance enhancement in sports, here comes … vroooooooooom … perhaps the goofiest scandal ever.”

The motor appeared in the bike of Femke Van dem Driessche in the sport of cyclocross, which combines cycling, some running with the bike on your shoulder and clearing obstacles such as barriers and steps. Gay reported that Union Cycliste Internationale President Brian Cook confirmed that there was “a concealed motor” at a news conference. You do have to admire cyclist Van dem Driessche who mounted the best big dog ate my homework since at least the Pink Panther movies when she said denied that it was her bike, adding, “I would never cheat.”

Even Gay admitted the entire episode sounded so preposterous as to be absurd, yet he noted, “It sounds absurd, but such technology exists. Small, battery-powered motors have been made that can fit inside the bottom bracket of a bicycle, near the pedals, which can be turned on and off with the push of a hidden button. It isn’t as if the bike suddenly turns into a Harley-Davidson – instead, the motor gives the rider an artificial push as he or she continues to pedal the bike.”

Sadly, Gay cited to Katie Compton, a US cyclocross racer, who was quoted as saying, “I didn’t think that it would actually ever happen.” Even worse she said, “this has probably been happening on the road more than anyone realizes”. Gay also quoted former men’s US cyclocross champion Tim Johnson who said he was “ashamed to have this happen in our sport.”

Obviously this is a problem. But it also speaks to why the myth of the rogue employee is simply that, a myth. How many people do you think it took to develop and sell the motor unit, custom made for cyclocross? Then who do you think installed it? Too bad Van den Driessche is not German, as perhaps she could advise Volkswagen going forward on how to claim its 10-year program to defraud emissions testing was the result of ‘rogue engineers’.

How about the most recent Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action involving SAP? There have been rumblings that the former head of Latin America Sales, Vicente Garcia, was that pesky lone wolf, the rogue employee. He somehow managed to create a slush fund for the payment of bribes all on his own by intentionally deceiving his employer, the worldwide software giant SAP. Does anyone realistically think he did this all on his own?

But perhaps the more important question is the following: if Garcia defrauded a $85bn company, according to the site NetWorth.com; what does it say about the internal controls of a company that allowed a senior level employee to do this and indeed one who admitted that he believed paying such bribes was necessary to secure both the initial contract and additional Panamanian government contracts.

The tale of the rogue employee likens to the explanation that it was really just human error. The problem with this is there is no exploration of the compliance system failures that allowed the employee to engage in the bribery and corruption. Even if an employee can evade the controls in a system at one level there should be another level of oversight. In Garcia’s case, it appears he could set the discount rate for the corrupt distributor through which the bribe was paid in addition to the sales price with no meaningful oversight.

What about cheating by putting a motor on a leg powered bicycle? Gay said it was probably “a punch line too far”, and quoted Johnson for the following, “I laugh and you laugh, but it’s really not funny. It sucks.”

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2016

SECThe Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement journey, which began last summer with the guilty plea of Vicente Garcia for the payment of bribes to obtain contracts in Panama for his employer, SAP International, ended this week with the release of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) civil action against the parent of SAP International, SAP SE, a German company. The case was concluded via a Cease and Desist Order (the “Order”). The fine was a relatively small $3.7MM with prejudgment interest of another $188K.

The facts were straightforward, which Garcia had previously admitted to in his guilty plea and sentencing hearing last December. He circumvented SAP internal controls to create a slush fund from which to pay bribes. To do so, he had to actively evade an internal compliance system that had stopped him from hiring a corrupt agent to facilitate the bribe payments. Frustrated by the success of the SAP compliance function to stop his initial bribery scheme, he then turned to using a previously approved distributor to facilitate the payment. He did so through giving this distributor an extra ordinary discount. The corrupt distributor then sold the SAP products to the Panamanian government at full price and used the price difference to fund the bribes to the corrupt government officials. This led to a $14.5MM sale to the distributor with $3.7MM in profits to SAP. Hence, the amount of profit disgorgement.

The bribery scheme is a clear lesson for any company that utilizes a distribution model in the sale chain. Bill Athanas, a partner in Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis LLP, has articulated a risk management technique for this type of bribery scheme, which he has called Distributor Authorization Request (DAR) and it provides a framework to help provide a business justification for any such discount, assess/manage and document any discount offered to a distributor. 

It begins with a DAR template, which is designed to capture the particulars of a given request and allows for an informed decision about whether it should be granted. Because the specifics of a particular DAR are critical to evaluating its legitimacy, it is expected that the employee submitting the DAR will provide details about how the request originated as well as an explanation in the business justification for the elevated discount. In addition, the DAR template should be designed so as to identify gaps in compliance that may otherwise go undetected.

The next step is that channels should be created to evaluate DARs. The precise structure of that system will depend on several factors, but ideally the goal should be to allow for tiered levels of approval. Athanas believes that three levels of approval are sufficient, but can be expanded or contracted as necessary. The key is the greater the discount contemplated, the more scrutiny the DAR should receive. The goal is to ensure that all DARs are vetted in an appropriately thorough fashion without negatively impacting the company’s ability to function efficiently.

Once the information gathering, review and approval processes are formulated, there must be a system in place to track, record and evaluate information relating to DARs, both approved and denied. The documentation of the total number of DARs allows companies to more accurately determine where and why discounts are increasing, whether the standard discount range should be raised or lowered, and gauge the level of commitment to compliance within the company. This information, in turn, leaves these companies better equipped to respond to government inquiries down the road.

Yet in addition to the DAR risk management technique advocated by Athanas is more robust transaction monitoring in your compliance program going forward. As noted in the Order, one of the remedial measures engaged in by SAP after the bribery and corruption was detected was that the company “audited all recent public sector Latin American transactions, regardless of Garcia’s involvement, to analyze partner profit margin data especially in comparison to discounts so that any trends could be spotted and high profit margin transactions could be identified for further investigation and review.”

This is the type of transaction monitoring which a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner traditionally does not engage in on a pro-active basis. However this is clearly the direction that US regulators want to see companies moving towards as compliance programs evolve.

Here a couple of questions would seem relevant. What happened? and How do you know? In answering these questions, it is clearly important that there should be an understanding of the business cause of significant sales and that there could be other issues involved in the situation that may require consideration by the compliance practitioner. While a company would usually only consider an analysis of variations at the level at which the sales increase was material, this was not the path taken by SAP in their post-incident investigation. Moreover, such a sales increase would most probably be material for the Panama region and certainly for the employee in question.

Once the appropriate level is determined, direct questions should be asked and answered at that level. Explanations of a sales increase as being the result of the appointment of a new head of business development or a more aggressive sales manager should not simply be taken at face value. Questions such as what techniques were used; what was the marketing spend; how much was spent on discounts to distributors; etc., might help to get at the true underlying reason for a spike in sales. Further, a company should review its findings over subsequent periods for confirmation. So, for example, if a sales increase legitimately appears to be due to the efforts of a new person in the territory or region, is that same increase sustained in later periods? The answer to such a question might identify red flags indicating the need for further review.

A final lesson to be considered is when you have an employee like Garcia. Is he a rogue employee? Does rogue mean his behavior is only sociopathic so that he appears to operating within the rules? Or were there clear signs that greater scrutiny needed to put in place? What about his clear attempt to bring in a corrupt agent, at the last minute of a deal to facilitate it? This is a clear red flag and was not approved by SAP compliance. Does this put the company on notice that an employee is not only willing to go beyond the rules but also engage in illegal conduct down the road? How many passes does such an employee get before they are shown the door?

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2016