Securities Law Prof Blog

Editor: Eric C. Chaffee
Univ. of Toledo College of Law

Monday, January 31, 2011

SEC and Maxwell Technologies Settle FCPA Charges

The SEC and energy-related products manufacturer Maxwell Technologies Inc. settled charges that Maxwell violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by repeatedly paying bribes to government officials in China to obtain business from several Chinese state-owned entities.  The SEC alleged that a Maxwell subsidiary paid more than $2.5 million in bribes to Chinese officials through a third-party sales agent from 2002 to May 2009. As a result, the subsidiary was awarded contracts that generated more than $15 million in revenues and $5.6 million in profits for Maxwell. These sales and profits helped Maxwell offset losses that it incurred to develop new products now expected to become Maxwell's future source of revenue growth.

Maxwell — a Delaware corporation headquartered in San Diego — has agreed to pay more than $6.3 million to settle the SEC's charges. In a related criminal proceeding, Maxwell has reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and agreed to pay an $8 million penalty.

The SEC's complaint alleges that the illicit payments were made with the knowledge and tacit approval of certain former Maxwell officials. For example, former management at Maxwell knew of the bribery scheme in late 2002 when an employee indicated in an e-mail that a payment made in connection with a sale in China appeared to be "a kick-back, pay-off, bribe, whatever you want to call it, . . . . in violation of US trade laws." A U.S.-based Maxwell executive replied that "this is a well know[n] issue" and he warned "[n]o more e-mails please."

The SEC alleges that Maxwell failed to devise and maintain an effective system of internal controls and improperly recorded the bribes on its books. The illicit sales and profits from the bribery scheme helped Maxwell offset losses that it incurred to develop its new products. Maxwell made corrections in its Form 10-Q filing for the quarter ended March 31, 2009.

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