Tuesday, December 21, 2010

DOJ Charges Two Executives In Hondutel Matter

In April 2009, Latin Node, Inc. ("Latin Node"), a privately-held telecommunication services company headquartered in Miami, pleaded guilty to violating the FCPA's anti-bribery provisions in connection with improper payments made to "foreign officials" in Honduras and Yemen. (See here). The criminal information (here) details Latin Node's efforts to obtain and retain business with Hondutel (the Honduran government-owned telecommunications company).

Yesterday, the DOJ announced (see here) the unsealing of a 19 count criminal indictment against Jorge Granados and Manuel Caceres.

According to the indictment (here), Granados "was the founder, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Latin Node" between 1999 and 2007. During this time period, Granados, a U.S. citizen, had authority to set company policy, contract with telecommunications companies, hire and fire employees, set sales prices, and approve sales practices in foreign countries." Caceres was a senior executive of Latin Node from 2004 to 2007, holding such titles as Vice President of Business Development. The indictment alleges that Caceres, a citizen of Honduras and a lawful permanent resident of the U.S., was responsible for, among other things, developing Latin Node's business in Honduras.

The indictment centers on an "interconnection agreement" between Latin Node and Hondutel "the wholly state-owned telecommunications authority in Honduras, established under Honduran law and headquartered in Tegucigalpa, Honduras." According to the indictment, Hondutel's operations "were overseen by another Honduran government entity, Comision Nacional de Telecomunicaciones."

According to the indictment, "almost immediately after winning the interconnection agreement with Hondutel, Latin Node executives realized that Latin Node needed to obtain a reduction in the Termination Rates in order to be more competitive in the Honduran telecommunications market." The indictment charges that "Latin Node executives also learned that Official 1 [a senior Hondutel executive with broad decision-making authority and influence over telecommunications contracts with private service providers] was considering whether to rescind Hondutel's interconnection agreement with Latin Node."

The indictment charges one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA's anti-bribery provisions, twelve counts of FCPA anti-bribery violations, one count of money laundering conspiracy, and five counts of money laundering.

According to the indictment, the "purpose of the conspiracy was to obtain from Hondutel business advantages for Latin Node including, but not limited to, preferred telecommunications rates, retaining the interconnection agreement, and continued operation in Honduras despite late payments to Hondutel, by paying bribes to Honduran government officials, including to officers and employees of the Government of Honduras and of Hondutel ...".

Among other things, the indictment alleges that Granados and Caceres, and others, "would and did offer to pay, promise to pay, and authorize the payments of bribes, directly and indirectly to and for the benefit of Official 1, Official 2 [an attorney in the Hondutel legal department who worked directly for Official 1], and Official 3 [a Minister in the Honduran Government who was a member of Hondutel's Board of Directors], in exchange for these Officials' agreements to secure lower rates and other benefits for Latin Node under the interconnection agreement with Hondutel." The indictment charges that Granados and Caceres, and others, "would and did wire and cause to be wired certain bribe payments from Latin Node's bank accounts in Miami-Dade County, Florida, to the bank accounts designated by Official 1, Official 2 and Official 3."

According to the DOJ release, "between September 2006 and June 2007, the defendants allegedly paid more than $500,000 in brobes to the officials, concealing many of the payments by laundering the money through Latin Node subsidiaries in Guatemala and to accounts in Honduras controlled by the Honduran government officials."

As noted in the DOJ release, in early 2007, eLandia International Inc., (here) announced an agreement to acquire Latin Node." "The indictment alleges that the defendants took additional measures to conceal the illicit payments during the acquisition due diligence process."

The DOJ release further notes that the April 2009 resolution with Latin Node resulted from the "actions of eLandia in disclosing potential FCPA violations to the department after eLandia's acquisition of Latin Node and discovery of the improper payments."

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Did the Latin Node enforcement action contribute to a coup? That is the question asked in this interesting piece by Gregory Paw (Pepper Hamilton).

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