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

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

Winslow AZAs I end my week’s exploration of the intersection of bribery and corruption in international sports, I have also ended a week of solid listening to The Eagles 1970s studio albums. In honor of Glenn Frey, I will also end this week with a final tribute to Frey and his work with this seminal band from the 70s. Today, it is a tribute to the first Eagles hit, Take It Easy. While Jackson Browne was the primary author of this song, Frey stepped in to finish it when Browne could not complete it. The Eagles also opened their first album, titled The Eagles, with this cut.

I cannot think of anyone born after about 1970 who does not instantly recognize the opening cords from Bernie Leadon’s lead guitar on this iconic song. If this song alone does not make you want to go to Winslow Arizona, well probably nothing will. In fact the song made the town so famous that the city of Winslow erected a life-size bronze statue and mural commemorating the song, at the Standin’ on the Corner Park. The statue stands near a lamp post, the male figure securing an acoustic guitar between his right hand and the shoe of his right foot. Above his head, a metal sign, crafted in the style of US Route shields, displays the words “Standin’ on the corner”.

As I have noted this week, the world of sports continues to provide ample lessons to be learned for the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner. Although we no longer have the sad sack Astros to kick around, there are many other candidates out there you can draw inspiration from for your compliance regime. For today, I want recap some of these lessons.

Perhaps the clearest sign from the scandals reviewed this week and the ongoing Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) scandal is the role of regulators such as the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in leading the international fight against bribery and corruption. Only the US had the wherewithal to bring the charges against FIFA. While the Swiss have tagged along, they certainly did not take anything like the lead in this matter. Further, the allegations of FIFA’s bribery was publicized in Britain as long ago as 2010 and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) never brought charges against FIFA or its cronies.

The bottom line is that only the US government has the ability and, more importantly, the will to engage in such a worldwide investigation and coordinate the actions of numerous countries in providing assistance. Do you think the Swiss police would have been so involved if it was not for the US government lead in this investigation? From President Obama on down, the US government has made clear that it will lead the international fight against bribery and corruption. The FIFA indictments are yet one more indication that they will continue to do so.

From the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) scandal there are certain aspects similar to FIFA but made even more invidious. Not only was a there a long entrenched self-serving and self-congratulatory cabal running the organization, but they even out did FIFA by allegedly extorting money from athletes who they expected of using performance enhancing drugs to suppress positive drug tests. These officials were allowed to not only run rampart but also engage in essentially self-government of themselves. Kind of like having the foxes guard the henhouse.

I think the lesson is the checks and balances required in any best practices compliance program that form the basis of compliance. While some of these checks and balances are in the form of multiple internal levels of oversight, such as a Compliance Committee, which might be made up of senior managers from various disciplines; another level is brought about by internal controls and the concept of the segregation of duties (SODs). No one person should be allowed have so much discretionary power that they can approve vendors, approve contracts; then approve invoices for payments on those same vendors and contracts they have previously approved.

In the corporate world this is fairly standard in the US but there continues to be Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement actions, emanating from outside the US, where a Country or Regional Manager can make such multiple approvals. This is not only a recipe for disaster financially but also allows the creation of a pot of money to pay a bribe much easier. Internal controls also work towards having continuous oversight, if a technology solution is used it can facilitate both the prevent and detect prongs of a best practices compliance program.

The lesson for the US company which does not have a compliance program in place is that the basic forms of corporate governance are not only mandatory for a compliance and ethics regime but they are also the basics for any minimums of corporate governance in the 21st century. The level of any fraud, including bribery and corruption under the FCPA, can be low, yet the attendant costs can be far in excess of any fine or penalty. For FIFA and the IAAF, their cost will be played out in the international press and court of world public opinion for some time to come. For the former heads and senior members of those organizations, the cost may well be more pedestrian, with jail terms for felony criminal violations.

Finally, from the allegations around offers of bribes to throw matches in professional tennis is the clear lesson that employees that are offered bribes need to have an avenue to be able to report such conduct. For the CCO, it is important that employees have confidence and trust in the organization so they are willing to make such reports. To stop the scourge of bribery and corruption in any international sports group, the management must take the lead in communicating that such actions will not be tolerated and that anything less would result in expulsion and banishment. That is similar to any top management that must clearly set the expectation that it is more important for employees to follow the law than to make their quarterly numbers. For if management does not do so and communicates that making your quarterly numbers are more important, employees will find a way to make their quarterly numbers.

Moreover, it is important any company knows if a vendor, sales agent or any other party has offered or demanded a bribe to do business. Even if your employees tosses them out of the office on their collective ear, it is incumbent you be made aware of the demand/offer so you can bring it to the attention of the counter-party and take appropriate remedial action. Indeed, in many industries the number of agents or other representatives is small enough that they can be known. If there is a collective refusal to do business with such corrupt third parties, it can be a powerful driver of business behavior.

So I end this week with a fond farewell to Glenn Frey and I hope you are taking it easy about now. For a YouTube clip of The Eagles playing Take It Easy, 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