Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Final Act In The BAE Circus?

Last week, the State Department announced (here) that "BAE Systems plc of the United Kingdom (BAES), including its businesses, units, subsidiaries, and operating divisions and their assignees and successors, except BAE Systems, Inc. and its subsidiaries, entered into a civil settlement with the Department of State for alleged violations of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR)." The release states that "under the four-year term of the Consent Agreement, BAES will pay in fines and in remedial compliance measures an aggregate civil penalty of $79 million, the largest civil penalty in Department history."

The State Department action follows the March 1, 2010 guilty plea of BAE Systems plc. (see here for the prior post). BAE pleaded guilty to "conspiring to defraud the United States by impairing and impeding its lawful functions, to make false statements about its FCPA compliance program, and to violate the Arms Export Control Act and International Traffic in Arms Regulations." In that DOJ enforcement action, BAE Systems plc agreed to pay a $400 million criminal fine.

I previously called (here) the BAE "bribery, yet no bribery" enforcement action one that contributes to the "facade of FCPA enforcement" (see here) and was asked several questions about the enforcement action by former Senator Arlen Specter (see here).

Like the DOJ enforcement action, the State Department action specifically notes that BAE Systems, Inc. was not involved in the conduct giving rise to the enforcement actions. BAE Systems Inc. is "the U.S.-based segment of BAE Systems plc" and "is responsible for relationships with the U.S. Government...". (See here).

The State Department action involved BAE Systems plc entering into a consent decree (see here for the relevant documents) "to settle 2,591 violations of the AECA and ITAR in connection with the unauthorized brokering of U.S. defense articles and services, failure to register as a broker, failure to file annual broker reports, causing unauthorized brokering, failure to report the payment of fees or commissions, and failure to maintain records involving ITAR-controlled transactions."

Certain of the improper conduct identified in the State Department documents relate to the lease and lease/sale of Gripen aircraft to the Ministries of Defence in the Czech Republic and Hungary - conduct also at issue in the DOJ's prosecution of BAE (see here for the criminal information).

The State Department documents also relate to BAE's use of advisers for defense transactions and proposed defense transactions involving U.S. defense articles and services without obtaining authorization from the State Department.

One of the advisors identified is Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly. As noted in this previous post, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office ("SFO") originally charged Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly with "conspiracy to corrupt" and for "conspiring with others to give or agree to give corrupt payments [...] to unknown officials and other agents of certain Eastern and Central European governments, including the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria as inducements to secure, or as rewards for having secured, contracts from those governments for the supply of goods to them, namely SAAB/Gripen fighter jets, by BAE Systems Plc." Within days, the SFO dropped the charges. As noted in this previous post, the SFO explained that BAE would not agree to the SFO plea (watered down as it was) without the SFO agreeing to drop the charges against Count Mensdorff.

As to debarment, the State Department consent agreement states (at page 20) that the State "Department has determined to impose a statutory debarment of BAE Systems plc pursuant to section 127 of the ITAR [see here], based on the criminal charges [in the previous DOJ enforcement action].

Yet, the next sentence of the consent decree states as follows. "However, based on the foregoing and additional information provided by Respondent, and request for reinstatement by BAE Systems plc, the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs has determined under Section 38(g)(4) of the AECA [see here] that Respondent has taken appropriate steps to address the causes of the violations and to mitigate law enforcement concerns. Accordingly, BAE Systems plc shall be reinstated."

The consent decree did however "place under a policy of denial" BAE Systems CS&S International, Red Diamond Trading Ltd. and Poseidon Trading Investments Ltd. Per the consent decree, this means that there will be "an initial presumption of denial during the case-by-case review of all licenses and other authorizations" involving these subsidiaries even though the consent decree states that "Transaction Exceptions" may be granted by the State Department. Furthermore, the consent decree states that all licenses, agreements, and other authorizations involving these subsidiaries previously issued "are not affected and are not revoked."

The most recent annual report on BAE's website states as follows regarding CS&S International. "The operating group’s CS&S International business predominantly acts as prime contractor for the UK government-to government defence agreement with Saudi Arabia and has a major in-country presence. Its main activities include operational capability support to both the Royal Saudi Air Force and Royal Saudi Naval Force and, more recently, the commencement of supply of 72 Typhoon aircraft." Neither Red Diamond Trading Ltd. nor Poseidon Trading Investments Ltd. are mentioned in the 190 page annual report.

According to this U.K. Guardian article "BAE's Secret Money Machine," "in February 1998 Red Diamond Trading Ltd was anonymously incorporated in the British Virgin Islands and was used to channel payments all over the world, via Red Diamond accounts in London, Switzerland and New York." As to Poseidon Trading, the same article states as follows. "BAE set up a second front company, purely to handle the Saudi commission payments for al-Yamamah. Poseidon Trading Investments Ltd was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands on June 25 1999."

The DOJ's criminal information contains various allegations regarding Saudi Arabia - without specifically mentioning the al-Yamamah contract. For more on the al-Yamamah contract see here -a PBS Frontline documentary titled Black Money.

The State Department's recent $79 million enforcement action against BAE is in addition to the DOJ's $400 million enforcement action against BAE from 2010. However, as Dru Stevenson (Professor of Law, South Texas College of Law) and Nick Wagoner (a law student at South Texas College of Law) explored in this recent post, in the 365 days that followed the 2010 DOJ enforcement action, BAE was awarded U.S. contracts in excess of $58 billion dollars.


Speaking of debarment (or lack thereof) Senator Al Franken continues to lead on this issue. Earlier this month, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Franken questioned Attorney General Eric Holder why, over the past three years, hundreds of billions of dollars have been awarded to defense contractors who have previously been convicted of fraud. See here for the video. Senator Franken similarly questioned Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer during a January Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. See here for the video.

In connection with the Senate's November 2010 hearing "Examining Enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act" the DOJ was asked whether it favored "mandatory, conduct-based, debarment remedy for companies that engage in egregious bribery." See here for the prior post including the DOJ's response.

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