Friday, October 5, 2007
Multinational industrial giant Siemens A.G. settled with German prosecutors the probe of corrupt overseas payments by its telecom unit by agreeing to pay €201 million. The company will also pay an additional €179 million to the tax authorities because it improperly deducted the foreign payments as ordinary business expenses. As discussed in an earlier post (here), the scope of the questionable overseas payments is much broader than first suspected, with Debevoise & Plimpton's internal investigation raising questions about as much as €1.6 billion in transfers throughout the company and not just the telecom unit. While the settlement with the German prosecutors closes one avenue of problems, Siemens still faces investigations by the SEC and Department of Justice in the United States and an inquiry by the Italian authorities. Given the size of the payments and their occurrence in different parts of the company, this is the type of case that the federal government will pursue vigorously. A Bloomberg story (here) discusses the settlement. (ph)
Thursday, October 4, 2007
A preliminary investigation by the French financial regulator Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF) indicates that a number of senior executives at Franco-German aircraft manufacturer European Aeronautic Defense & Space Co. NV (EADS) sold shares before the announcement of problems with the company's largest development project ever, the A380. The AMF report was discussed in the French newspaper Le Figaro and the trading allegedly occurred between November 2005 and March 2006, before the June 2006 announcement of technical problems with the superjumbo A380 and also the A350 aircraft. The stock dropped over 25% on that announcement, and it is not clear how far in advance the information was known to 21 managers and executives who sold shares. The AMF issued a statement (here) that
it submitted an interim memorandum to the prosecuting authorities in Paris in early September, in accordance with law; it obviously has no comment on the Le Figaro report; it insists that it has not completed its investigations and is unlikely to do so before the beginning of 2008; consequently, the AMF Board, which has sole authority to commence regulatory proceedings against persons suspected of infringing its General Regulation, has not given an opinion on the matters reported in the article and, at this stage, has decided solely to inform the criminal court thereof; at this stage of the procedure, which is still a standard inquiry, the persons concerned have not had the opportunity to exercise their right of defence.
Insider trading cases in the European Union are fairly uncommon, at least as compared to the United States. It will be interesting to see how the investigation develops, especially when it involves a company with the political significance of EADS. A story on CNN.com (here) discusses the report. (ph)
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
The SEC's insider trading investigation of questionable options purchases in Placer Dome in October 2005 has taken an international turn as the Commission is seeking authority to interview witnesses in Canada, the U.K., and the Isle of Man. On October 31, 2005, Barrick Gold Corp. made a hostile offer for Placer Dome, and as happens in so many deals, there was questionable trading in Placer Dome before the announcement. Both companies are headquartered in Canada, and the SEC recently made a filing in federal court in New York seeking judicial authorization to require witnesses outside the United States to testify in its investigation. The SEC filed an "unknown traders" suit on November 3, 2005, to freeze the $3 million proceeds of the Placer Dome options trading (see SEC Litigation Release here), and has identified the primary investor in Toronto. The SEC is now trying to trace who might have been the source of the information.
While the federal court has subpoena authority to compel witnesses to appear in the U.S., the Commission has to resort to the foreign courts and foreign securities regulators to obtain evidence abroad. In its filing, the Commission cited an e-mail sent on October 23, 2005, by the Toronto investor who purchased the Placer Dome call options that states, "I hear from the Swiss lads that G is running at PDG. Act accordingly." "G" is the ticker symbol for Barrick Bold, and "PDG" the symbol for Placer Dome. There's more than a little smoke coming from that e-mail, which likely means a criminal investigation for insider trading. A Globe and Mail story (here) discusses the SEC filing. (ph -- with thanks to YH)
Thursday, August 9, 2007
Former Comverse Technology CEO Kobi Alexander seems to be prospering in Namibia, where he moved – or fled, depending on your point of view – prior to being indicted for his role in options backdating at the company. Since his arrival in August 2006, Alexander has begun investing in low-cost housing in the country and creating scholarships for Namibian students. Now, the High Court has granted Alexander’s request to be allowed to move about country with the permission of the head of the local Interpol office, rather than being confined to the capitol city of Windhoek, where he lives with his family. The extradition proceeding has been moving at a snail’s pace, if that, with no substantive hearings but many postponements at his attorney’s request.
According to an article in The Namibian (here), there may be one bump in the road for Alexander remaining in Namibia. Apparently, Alexander received a two-year work visa when he entered Namibia, and the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration is planning to open an investigation into whether he fully disclosed his U.S. residence and potential criminal problems when he applied for the visa. Although Alexander denies any problems, if he lost his visa there’s a chance he could be expelled from the country and sent to a place where the United States may have a better chance of extraditing him – but don’t count on it. The recent conviction of former Brocade CEO Gregory Reyes on options backdating charges can’t make Alexander comfortable, so efforts to resist extradition or expulsion will likely intensify. (ph)
Saturday, August 4, 2007
A press release of the US Attorney's Office of the Central District of California reports on the arrest of two individuals for their alleged "roles in a[n alleged] scheme to extort actor Tom Cruise for $1.3 million in exchange for copies of Mr. Cruise’s wedding photos which had been stolen." One claim is that one of the individuals maintained that "he could sell the images in foreign countries where U.S. copyright laws are not enforced."
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California announced the guilty plea of a defendant for trying to send to China the computer source code for a visual simulation software program used for training military fighter pilots. The defendant pleaded guilty to violating the Economic Espionage Act, because the code constitutes a trade secret, and for violating the Arms Export Control Act along with the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. According to a press release (here) issued by the USAO: "This conviction, the first in the nation for illegal exports of military-related source code, demonstrates the importance of safeguarding our nation’s military secrets and should serve notice to others who would compromise our national security for profit." (ph)
Friday, August 3, 2007
The Wall Street Journal (here) and Washington Post (here) have interesting articles on possible criminal charges against board members of Chiquita Brands International for payments to a Columbian paramilitary group to protect the company's operations. While Chiquita settled the case by pleading guilty and paying a $25 million fine, the investigation of individuals has moved forward because the payments continued after the company informed the government of them. Chiquita apparently believed it could not simply cut off paying the paramilitary organization, which was designated a terrorist group on September 10, 2001, without endangering its workers. While the government never said they could continue, it appears that federal prosecutors, including the then-head of the Criminal Division, Michael Chertoff, the current secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, did not tell Chiquita it had to stop.
As co-blogger Ellen Podgor points out in the WSJ story, "This case will make companies think twice about self-reporting." At a minimum, the government's consideration of criminal charges against individual board members signals that when a company decides to cooperate it better be ready to stop all illegal activity it plans to disclose. It may be that Chiquita did not have a Plan B in case the government did not authorize it to continue the payments because prosecutors clearly look askance at cooperation that does not include a cessation of the underlying activity. The prosecution of Stolt-Nielsen is an example of a company accused of wrongdoing after agreeing to cooperate due to what prosecutors alleged is continued misconduct. In addition to the decision to cooperate, the timing of the disclosure is an important issue if a company wants to show that it has made a clean break for prior illegal conduct. (ph)
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California issued a press release of a plea in an export case where according to the information, the accused failed to secure the "required expert license to export vibration amplifiers, cable assemblies, and vibration processor units." The accused "was an international sales manager and was responsible for all exports at Endevco Corporation, an Orange County, California company that manufactures electronic sensors, vibration testing equipment, and other technology with both civilian and military applications. The information alleges that [the defendant] illegally exported a variety of sensitive items in 1999 and 2000 from the United States to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Engine Division, in Bangalore, India."
Plea Agreement -
Saturday, June 30, 2007
An English Magistrate rejected the request of the U.S. government to extradite Stanley Tollman to face bank fraud and tax evasion charges that he defrauded investors of over $100 million (opinion available below). The ground for denying the request was that the passage of time since the underlying criminal conduct would make it "unjust and oppressive" to extradite the defendant to face the charges. Among other things, the Magistrate noted that two important witnesses, one Tollman's brother, have died since the case was first indicted, and the underlying transactions took place in the early 1990s so documents may no longer be available. Interestingly, the Magistrate did not find that Tollman was a fugitive even though he left the U.S. while his lawyers were negotiating his surrender with prosecutors (see New York Times story here). The court noted that Tollman, a South African citizen, lived openly in Great Britain after the indictment. Therefore, his argument that the passage of time harmed his defense was not negated by his having been a fugitive.
While the court did not rest its decision specifically on the ground of prosecutorial misconduct, it found that the Assistant U.S. Attorney in the case had been less than honest in his dealings with foreign courts and his conduct "reprehensible." In one instance, the Magistrate determined that the prosecutor misled a Canadian court related to having Tollman's brother returned to the United States. The prosecutor was also alleged to have said that he would make Tollman's "life as miserable as possible" and would make his wife, who was also indicted, do a "perp walk" when she returned to New York -- the same Magistrate earlier turned down an extradition request for Mrs. Tollman. The prosecutor submitted an affidavit denying he made the statements, which the Magistrate found "to be untruthful." The English court sent a clear message that there was prosecutorial overreaching, a point that will not aid the Department of Justice if it appeals the decision. (ph)
The co-founder of NETeller PLC, which acted as a middleman to facilitate Americans placing bets with on-line gambling sites, entered a guilty plea to one count of conspiracy and is cooperating with the government investigation. The company did not take any bets itself, instead served as the conduit through which the money passed to the gambling concerns located off-shore and handled the proceeds of any pay-offs. The defendant was arrested in January 2007, along with the company's other founder, as part of a broad federal crackdown on internet gambling that caused the shares of a number of companies, most traded in London, to fall sharply. Federal law now prohibits virtually all internet gambling. A Reuters story (here) discusses the guilty plea. (ph)
Friday, June 8, 2007
The first hearing on the U.S. government's request to Namibia that it extradite Kobi Alexander is set to start on June 8 in Windhoek, the nation's capital. Alexander is the former CEO of Comverse Technology, and was indicted in August 2006 on securities fraud and conspiracy charges related to options backdating at the company. Comverse's former CFO and general counsel entered guilty pleas and are cooperating in the government's prosecution of Alexander, assuming it ever takes place in the Eastern District of Brooklyn where he was indicted. Alexander left the U.S. while the investigation heated up in July 2006 and then bobbed to the surface in Namibia a couple months later, where he moved with his family. He has begun investing in Namibia and spreading his largesse in the country. He has started a scholarship program for Namibian students, and billboards have appeared in Windhoek in the name of "Alexander Enterprises" stating "Yes to investment." At least they don't say "Let me stay and I'll give you money!" The extradition process promises to be slow, with appeals likely to take years if an extradition order is issued. A story from Globes (here) discusses the hearing and billboards. (ph)
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Just when one thinks that the recent white collar sentences have been usually high (e.g. Ebbers, Skilling), one finds a comparison of a sentence given outside the United States. In this case, the sentence is death, and the place is China. According to an article on Yahoo.com (AP), a drug regulator in China has been sentenced to death for allegedly taking "bribes to approve substandard medicines." Arguably one could say that this is not a white collar crime case, despite it being bribery, as the report states that deaths resulted from the alleged activity.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Canadian pharmaceutical company Biovail Corp. and its former CEO have been running into a bit of trouble with securities regulators in the U.S. and Canada recently. On May 14, the company disclosed (here) that the SEC had sent a Wells Notice that the Enforcement Division staff intends to seek authorization from the Commission to file a civil action related to accounting problems. According to Biovail's 6-K (foreign Issuer) filing:
On May 14, 2007, the Company issued a press release acknowledging that it had received a "Wells Notice" from the staff of the SEC alleging violations of federal securities laws. The notice relates to the staff's investigation of the Company's accounting and disclosure practices for the fiscal year 2003 and certain transactions associated with a corporate entity acquired by the Company in 2002, as described above. These issues include whether the Company improperly recognized revenue and expenses for accounting purposes in relation to its financial statements in certain periods, disclosure related to those statements, and whether the Company provided misleading disclosure concerning the reasons for Biovail's forecast of a revenue shortfall in respect of the three-month period ending September 30, 2003. Under the Wells process established by the SEC, the Company has the opportunity to respond to the "Wells Notice" before the staff makes a formal recommendation regarding what action, if any, should be brought against the Company by the SEC. The Company continues to cooperate with the SEC. The Company cannot predict either the outcome or the timing of when this matter may be resolved.
Biovail noted that it had agreed to toll the five-year statute of limitations until July 31, 2007. Along with the potential civil charges comes a bit more ominous disclosure about a criminal investigation: "Recently, the Company was contacted by the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York ("EDNY"), who informed the Company that they were conducting an investigation into the same matters that the SEC is investigating. The EDNY has also recently requested interviews of several Biovail employees. The Company intends to cooperate with the investigation. The Company cannot predict the outcome or timing of when this matter may be resolved."
Biovail's former CEO and chairman of the board, Eugene Melnyk, agreed to an administrative settlement with the Ontario Securities Commission (here) on May 18, 2007, regarding trading in company shares through four trusts set up by Melnyk in the Cayman Islands during a time when Biovail executives were not permitted to trade. The company's shares are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, and the settlement with the OSC requires Melnyk to pay $1 million (Cdn.) in a penalty and costs, and imposes a one-year ban on serving on the board of directors of a publicly-traded company. Melnyk resigned as Biovail's CEO in 2004, and announced recently his retirement from the board as of June 30.
If it's any consolation for Melnyk, the NHL team he owns, the Ottawa Senators, made the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in the history of this iteration of the Senators, overcoming years of underachievement in the playoffs. Getting your name on what is probably the most famous trophy in professional sports can make a lot of bad thoughts disappear. (ph)
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
The resignation of BP p.l.c. CEO Lord John Browne included his admission that he made a false statement to a British court in order to obtain an injunction preventing the publication of an embarrassing story about a personal relationship. In a statement (here) acknowledging the relationship, Lord Browne stated, "My initial witness statements, however, contained an untruthful account about how I first met Jeff. This account, prompted by my embarrassment and shock at the revelations, is a matter of deep regret. It was retracted and corrected. I have apologised unreservedly, and do so again today." He denied allegations that he allowed the person to use company resources, and BP's chairman stated that "[a]t John's explicit request, the Board instigated a review of the evidence. That review concluded that the allegations of misuse of company assets and resources were unfounded or insubstantive." I'm not sure what "insubstantive" means, although perhaps the point is the amount is insignificant and so should not be a concern to shareholders. The problem for the company is that related-party transactions must be disclosed, and any misuse of corporate resources can be a significant concern for regulators.
The British tabloid that broke the story, The Mail on Sunday, issued a statement (here) assailing Lord Browne: "That Lord Browne should have felt free to lie deliberately and repeatedly raises deeply worrying questions about the system of secret court hearings which is increasingly being used by the rich and powerful to prevent the public knowing the truth about their activities." The paper said it would make its evidence available to the Attorney-General for possible prosecution for perjury. The governing statute is the Perjury Act of 1911, which makes it a crime for a witness in a judicial proceeding to "make a statement material in that proceeding, which he knows to be false or does not believe to be true . . . ." That provision is similar to the federal perjury statute in 18 U.S.C. Sec 1621, which makes it a crime to testify about a matter "which he does not believe to be true." Lord Browne's explanation for making the false statement does not negate the intent for perjury, because a violation is based on knowledge of the falsity of the statement, not that the witness had a good explanation for lying. That said, Lord Browne is a highly-regarded business person, and the underlying story has at best a tenuous connection to BP's business, so it may be one prosecutors decide to pass on. (ph)
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
It started as a major conspiracy case, but ended with the defendant receiving probation after a plea to a charge of lying to a federal officer under 18 U.S.C. s 1001.
The accused had been the subject of a FISA warrant and the charges in the SDNY were initially violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and in D.Conn. he was charged with acting as an agent of the Chinese government. The Hartford Courant notes that the accused "originally was accused of conspiring with Chinese officials to sell $27 million in telecommunications equipment to the Iraq government from 1999 to 2001." But in the end all that happened was the accused pleading guilty to this single charge and receiving probation. Attorney Ross Garber represented the accused. The prosecuter being quoted in the Hartford Courant is Kevin O'Connor, the U.S. Attorney in Connecticut and AG Alberto Gonzales' new chief of staff.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Two from South Carolina were indicted as part of a "15-count indictment, which was returned by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia and unsealed on March 23, [that] charges the defendants with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Arms Export Control Act and with acting as illegal agents of a foreign government." Two individuals from India was also indicted. The DOJ Press Release states that without proper export licenses:
"the defendants acquired in the United States for VSSC and BDL electrical components that could have applications in missile guidance and firing systems. According to the indictment, the defendants concealed from vendors the true end-users of the goods. In particular, the indictment alleges how, in the case of one vendor, Cirrus provided the company with fraudulent certificates that claimed that the end-user in India was a non-restricted entity, when, in fact, the items were for VSSC."
Sunday, April 1, 2007
Monday, March 5, 2007
A press release of the US Attorney's Office for the Central District of California reports that "[a] federal grand jury in Los Angeles has indicted two attorneys with one of the West Coast's largest immigration law firms on charges of filing fraudulent employment visa applications on behalf of foreign nationals, including some of the law firm's own workers." The two attorneys were charged with 33 counts including charges of "visa fraud, making false statements and conspiring to commit visa fraud." Others in this law firm had previously plead guilty.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Just in time for the end of Carnival, two Brazilians settled an SEC insider trading civil suit arising from purchases in the target of an impending tender offer. The defendants are Luiz Gonzaga Murat was the chief financial officer and investor relations director at Sadia S.A., a Sao Paulo frozen food company, and Alexandre Ponzio De Azevedo, who formerly worked for ABN AMRO's Brazilian affiliate. Sadia planned a tender offer for Perdigão S.A., another Brazilian company, and ABN AMRO's investment banking unit advised on the deal. According to the SEC's Litigation Release (here):
[O]n April 7, 2006, representatives of an investment bank met with Murat and another Sadia executive to propose that Sadia make a tender offer for Perdigão. According to the complaint, Murat proceeded to purchase American Depositary Shares ("ADSs") of Perdigão both later the same day and subsequently on June 29, 2006, on the basis of material, nonpublic information concerning the proposed acquisition, and in breach of a duty of trust and confidence he owed to Sadia. The complaint alleges that Murat's holdings totaled 45,900 ADSs of Perdigão by the time Sadia announced the tender offer. On July 17, 2006, the price of Perdigão ADSs increased to $24.50, up $4.25 (21%) from the previous closing price. According to the complaint, Murat had imputed illicit profits of $180,404 from his unlawful trading.
The Commission's complaint against Azevedo alleges that he learned of the possible tender offer on April 11, 2006, in his capacity as an employee of ABN AMRO assigned to the tender offer financing team, and that ABN AMRO later placed Perdigão on a list of securities in which ABN AMRO employees could not trade. According to the complaint, Azevedo subsequently purchased 14,000 ADSs of Perdigão on June 20, 2006, on the basis of material, nonpublic information concerning the proposed acquisition, and in breach of a duty of trust and confidence he owed to ABN AMRO. Azevedo sold 10,500 ADSs on July 17, 2006, one day after Sadia had publicly announced its tender offer for Perdigão. According to the complaint, Azevedo realized illicit profits of $52,290 on the 10,500 ADSs he sold on July 17 and had imputed profits of $14,875 on his remaining 3,500 ADSs.
Murat agreed to pay $184,028 in disgorgement and a civil penalty of $180,404, while Azevedo will pay $68,215.45 and a civil penalty of $67,165.
An interesting aspect of the case is that neither defendant ever set foot in the United States in connection with the transaction, and none of their trading involved an American company or even any communications that passed through the U.S. The jurisdictional hook is the securities of each company, which are traded on the New York Stock Exchange as ADS. Under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act, the general antifraud prohibition applies to any person who "directly or indirectly, by the use of any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce or of the mails, or of any facility of any national securities exchange . . . ." The fact that the securities of the target trade on the NYSE brings the case under the Act, although it is a fair question whether conduct wholly outside the United States with only a tangential connection to this country should be subject to a civil enforcement action by the SEC. The trades were placed in Brazil, and the companies were incorporated and operated there, but the transaction ultimately occurred in New York, bringing it into the SEC's cross-hairs. The case shows the long arm of the insider trading prohibition. (ph)