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

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).

One of the most interesting twists to the new SEC Whistleblower Program will be how many commercial bribes and kickbacks paid to foreign government officials will now come to light. As we have written about previously, the SEC shares jurisdiction with the Justice Department over such cases that violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

An example of why whistleblowers will come forward is this afternoon’s announcement of the SEC’s $39 million settlement with ABB Ltd (“ABB”), a Swiss company that provides power and automation products and services.

The SEC alleged that ABB made more than $2.7 million in bribes and kickbacks to obtain more than $100 million in contracts. The payments allegedly were made to “government officials in Mexico to obtain business with government owned power companies,” and to the “former regime in Iraq to obtain contracts under the United Nations Oil for Food Program.”

According to the SEC, some of the kickbacks were made through bank guarantees and cash payments. As is common in disguising unlawful payments, the kickbacks were recorded on the company’s books as legitimate payments–here, for “after sales services,” “consultation costs,” and “commissions.”

ABB, without admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint, agreed not only to pay disgorgement and penalties totalling more than $39 million, but also agreed to pay a criminal fine of $30,420,000, according to the SEC. The company also agreed to be bound by certain “undertakings” concerning its FCPA compliance program.

As to how an FCPA whistleblower might fare who reports similar FCPA violations of bribery of foreign government officials, the new SEC Whistleblower Program pays 10% to 30% of monetary sanctions collected–approximately $4 million to $12 million under similar facts.

The SEC’s announcement is reprinted in full below, and the SEC’s Complaint is linked here:
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