Articles Posted in SEC Whistleblower Program: Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Cases

As the anxious public yearns for vaccines, treatments, and protections from the virus, the SEC has warned of a “substantial potential for fraud relating to COVID-19. The SEC’s enforcement actions against 23 companies are just the start, as more fraud will undoubtedly be uncovered.

Whistleblowers are critical to the SEC’s efforts to stop COVID-19 fraud.  The SEC Office of the Whistleblower is authorized to pay monetary awards to whistleblowers whose information leads to an order of sanctions of $1 million or more.

Our firm’s lawyers are uniquely suited to bring attention to meritorious SEC whistleblower claims.  Our firm has the only former Senior Officer and Regional Director of the SEC who represents SEC whistleblowers, Walter Jospin.  We have the ability and experience to evaluate a potential Whistleblower claim and determine if it will interest the SEC Division of Enforcement.  If it does not, the case is lost.  Few lawyers have that experience.

The SEC Whistleblower Program authorized in 2010’s Dodd-Frank law has greater significance because the SEC and the Justice Department share jurisdiction over Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases.

Today, SEC Director of Enforcement Robert Khuzami and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer released the “Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.” They describe the Guide as “a unprecedented undertaking by DOJ and SEC to provide the public with detailed information about our FCPA enforcement approach and priorities.”

FCPA investigations have increased significantly in the past few years, and the dollar amount of these cases is often quite large. FCPA cases brought by SEC whistleblowers will only add to amount of FCPA violations uncovered.

The Guide is a primer on the FCPA. The SEC and DOJ have attempted to summarize “who and what is covered by the FCPA’s anti-bribery and accounting provisions; the definition of a ‘foreign official’; what constitute proper and improper gifts, travel and entertainment expenses; the nature of facilitating payments; how successor liability applies in the mergers and acquisitions context; the hallmarks of an effective corporate compliance program; and the different types of civil and criminal resolutions available in the FCPA context.”

Chapter 3 describes the accounting provisions over which the SEC has authority. When a defendant pays commercial bribes to foreign officials, the offending companies often disguise the payments through false accounting entries. The FCPA creates civil liability for such violations of the Act’s “books and records” provision.

The FCPA’s “internal controls” provision is also important, as it requires that issuers devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls to assure management’s control,authority, and responsibility over the firm’s assets.
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When the SEC debated in 2011 requiring “internal” reporting within companies as a prerequisite to filing an SEC Whistleblower claim under Dodd-Frank, business interests howled that any other rule would “destroy” compliance programs.

Never mind that the vast majority of whistleblowers have always raised concerns about illegal conduct internally before reporting to the government. Whistleblower lawyers already knew that fact from twenty-five years of experience with the False Claims Act–the nation’s major qui tam whistleblower law that inspired the new SEC Whistleblower Program. The availability of rewards had not dissuaded whistleblowers from reporting their concerns internally for a quarter century.

When I met in 2011 with SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro and the other SEC Commissioners with other whistleblower advocates to discuss the proposed SEC Whistleblower rules, it was apparent–and shocking–that this false argument was being considered seriously. We urged the SEC to rely on these years of experience with the False Claims Act and to reject any such requirement.

The final whistleblower rules of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) are being announced now at a CFTC open meeting. Like the SEC, the CFTC has rejected any provision that whistleblowers be required first to report internally the violations in question, but will treat internal reporting as a “positive” consideration in its awards.

The alternative pushed by business would have required all CFTC whistleblowers first to risk career suicide by reporting the boss’s wrongdoing to the boss himself.

Industry’s approach would have made the Commission the laughing stock of law enforcement, since no rational person with a career and a mortgage would risk reporting even major fraud with that requirement.

Fortunately, the CFTC put first its responsibility to protect the public, and is taking seriously its law enforcement duties by seeking to root out major frauds.

Madoff, Stanford, and the other major frauds of the past decade prove that internal compliance programs cannot protect the public. That is why Congress in Dodd-Frank demanded the first meaningful SEC and CFTC whistleblower programs.

We applaud the CFTC on this important stand, and look forward to reviewing the text of the final rules when made available.
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The SEC Whistleblower Program encompasses not only classic securities violations, but also violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), a topic we have followed closely.

This past week, the SEC filed and settled an FCPA case against Armor Holdings, Inc., and collected more than $5.6 million, while the Department of Justice added almost $10.3 million in criminal fines.

The SEC charged that Armor Holdings, Inc. engaged in a bribery scheme to sell body armor to U.N. peacekeeping missions. The Commission also alleged that Armor Holdings violated the federal securities laws’ books and records and internal controls provisions by failing to account properly for commissions in 2001-2007.

Demonstrating the SEC’s increased emphasis on FCPA enforcement, this case is one of 32 FCPA cases the Commission has filed since 2010. Bribery of foreign government officials for business is having increased repercussions.

According to the SEC’s Complaint, through a U.K. subsidiary Armor Holdings paid more than $200,000 through an intermediary to a United Nations official who could send it business, and used a sham consulting agreement to disguise its actions. The result was more than $7 million in additional revenues, and more than $1.5 million in additional profits, according to the SEC.
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The suspense over the final SEC whistleblower rules ended with the SEC’s release of its final whistleblower rules last week. The CFTC is to follow suit soon in announcing its own commodities whistleblower rules.

We have followed the SEC rules’ development, after being part of the small group of pro-whistleblower attorneys who met with the Commissioners and staff and urged changes to the draft rules to make them effective.

In January, I had the opportunity to visit with SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro, Director Khuzami, and SEC staff, and then separately with Commissioners Luis A. Aguilar, Kathleen L. Casey, Troy A. Paredes, and Elisse B. Walter, to discuss changes to the proposed rules for the new SEC Whistleblower program.

Just as we have followed closely the development of the IRS Whistleblower program since Congress authorized it in December 2006, we are watching the birth of the new SEC Whistleblower program. In 2010’s Dodd-Frank Financial Reform law, Congress mandated the creation of what could be the first meaningful SEC and CFTC Whistleblower programs.

Today, the SEC took a major step in announcing the first head of the nascent SEC Whistleblower Office: Sean McKessy, a former Senior Counsel in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement from 1997 to 2000.

According to the SEC’s announcement, “Mr. McKessy served as corporate secretary for both Altria Group, Inc. and AOL Inc., and as securities counsel for Caterpillar, Inc. In these roles, Mr. McKessy developed and supervised internal compliance and reporting programs related to the federal securities laws, served as corporate compliance officer, and coordinated the reporting of potential violations to boards of directors.”

As we have discussed previously, bribery of foreign government officials is the subject of many cases filed by the SEC under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Those cases, which often bring significant recoveries, will increase in number as a result of rewards to whistleblowers under the new SEC Whistleblower program that we have followed.

The SEC today announced the successful conclusion of an FCPA investigation of Maxwell Technologies, Inc. The SEC announced it had filed a “settled” case through which Maxwell agreed to pay $6.3 million in disgorgement and interest, based on allegations that a Maxwell subsidiary “repeatedly” paid bribes to Chinese government officials. The object was to obtain business from Chinese entities owned by the state.

In a related criminal case, Maxwell reportedly agreed to pay an $8 million criminal penalty in installments.

We have been awaiting the SEC’s proposed rules for its new SEC Whistleblower Program, released yesterday. Even before the announcement, however, those who oppose this first potentially meaningful SEC Whistleblower Program have begun efforts to undermine it.

The SEC’s website already includes some firms’ suggestions to impose extreme restrictions on SEC whistleblowers–contrary to how other successful whistleblower programs operate.

Designing any new whistleblower program should begin with studying more than two decades of successes of the nation’s major whistleblower law, the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act has been so effective in uncovering and penalizing fraud against the government since 1986 that it has inspired Congress and the states to enact a wave of new whistleblower statutes–including the Dodd-Frank whistleblower mandate in section 922.

Unless the SEC seeks to create an ineffective program, it makes no sense to impose restrictions on whistleblowers that do not exist in False Claims Act cases.

One such damaging restriction would be requiring whistleblowers first to report within the company violations of the law, before going to the SEC. Past experience with the False Claims Act shows that warning violators of the law (who know their own violations) invites destruction of evidence by those who engineered the lawbreaking, and destroys the whistleblower’s career.

Other deceptive suggestions are that the SEC follow the “approach” of the promising new IRS Whistleblower Program–but with far greater restrictions on whistleblowing.

For example, one representative of future defendants urges what are actually variations on the “one-bite” and “no-bite” rules of the IRS, which historically have restricted the IRS’s receipt of certain information, or information from certain whistleblowers.

In fact, the IRS trend appears to be the opposite. In a March 2010 IRS Notice and in June 2010 changes to the Internal Revenue Manual, the “one-bite” rule appears to be giving way to the more sensible approach of allowing whistleblowers more than “one bite” at submitting information that may be useful to the IRS.

Likewise, a suggestion that the SEC adopt a variation the “no-bite” rule would expand it far beyond the IRS concept of not accepting information from the “taxpayer’s representative” before the IRS. This suggestion would go much further and prohibit submissions to the SEC by anyone who has a “fiduciary” duty to a public company–which arguably could be most or all employees.

We will comment further on the specifics of yesterday’s proposed rules, but the basic principles above should guide the SEC in what it finally decides.

The SEC’s announcement yesterday is reprinted below:
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Our whistleblower lawyer blog has followed closely the development of the first potentially meaningful SEC Whistleblower and Commodities Whistleblower Programs. That link provides regular updates.

Based on our firm’s long experience in representing whistleblowers, we were asked by the Senate Banking Committee staff for input in how the new SEC and CFTC whistleblower provisions of the July 2010 Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act should work. We urged that the Senate change the tepid House version, which provided no meaningful rewards to whistleblowers, in favor of an enforceable right for SEC and CFTC whistleblowers to a significant reward.

Fortunately, that approach is now the law. We are currently working on select Dodd-Frank whistleblower matters involving SEC whistleblowers and Commodities whistleblowers, as well as our False Claims Act and IRS Whistleblower cases. Those cases include a growing area of enforcement, bribery of foreign government officials and other violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

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