Tidewater Inc., one of about a dozen oil-and-gas-services companies dragged into FCPA compliance problems a few years ago by Swiss logistics giant Panalpina, said in its latest annual report that it expects a settlement soon with the SEC and possibly the DOJ.
The company said its SEC settlement would require a total payment of about $11.4 million, consisting of $8.4 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest, and a contingent civil penalty of $3 million. The disgorgement would be payable right away, while the contingent civil penalty would be due within 18 months, but only to the extent Tidewater has not paid a penalty to the DOJ for the same FCPA offenses.
So whatever Tidewater pays to the DOJ in penalties will be deducted from the SEC’s penalties (that’s why it’s a contingent civil penalty). That doesn’t mean Tidewater won’t pay more than $3 million in penalties to the DOJ. But it does mean it might pay the SEC $3 million less, depending on how things work out with the DOJ.
Why the special deal?
Usually the DOJ and SEC walk hand-in-hand in FCPA settlements with issuers. For some reason — maybe the DOJ’s limited FCPA bandwidth these days because of the shot-show prosecutions, or the backlog caused by this summer’s time-consuming OECD review — the SEC has taken the lead with Tidewater while the DOJ, according to the company’s disclosure, isn’t yet ready to settle. But to help Tidewater out, the SEC is giving the company a way to budget for a settlement, reserve the money, and partly limit its financial exposure.
The process of making financial arrangements for FCPA-related settlements among defendants, the DOJ, and SEC is usually completely opaque. This time, however, we’re glimpsing the work in progress. The only similar deal we’ve seen involved ABB in 2004. The company was hit with an SEC disgorgement and interest payment of about $6 million and a civil penalty of $10.5 million. That civil penalty, however, was to be “deemed paid” by amounts ABB later paid in criminal fines to the DOJ (it eventually paid about $5.2 million in criminal fines).
Back to today’s news, Panalpina itself has reserved about $110 million for an expected FCPA settlement with the DOJ and SEC, and a separate antitrust resolution. In April it said the settlements should happen “in the near future.”
The DOJ and SEC since 2007 have been investigating whether Pananlpina, on behalf of several customers including Tidewater, paid bribes in Nigeria for customs clearance and licensing. About a dozen leading oil and gas-related companies received letters from the DOJ and SEC asking them to “detail their relationship with Panalpina.” Shell, Schlumberger, Nabors Industries, Transocean, GlobalSantaFe Corp., Noble Corp. and Pride International were also involved.
Pride said in February this year it has set aside $56.2 million for an expected FCPA settlement with the DOJ and SEC. The Houston-based oil rig operator first disclosed potential FCPA compliance issues in 2006.
Tidewater said its tolling agreement with the SEC expired on June 15 this year. It hasn’t said if the settlement deadline was extended.
The company’s disclosure was reported yesterday by Main Justice.
Here’s the complete FCPA discussion in Tidewater Inc.’s Form 10-K for the year ended March 31, 2010:
Foreign Corrupt Practices Internal Investigation
The company has previously reported that special counsel engaged by the company’s Audit Committee had completed an internal investigation into certain FCPA matters and reported its findings to the Audit Committee. The substantive areas of the internal investigation have been reported publicly by the company in prior filings.
Special counsel has reported to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) the results of the investigation, and has engaged in a series of cooperative discussions with the two federal agencies as to the potential legal ramifications of those findings. The following reflects the status of those discussions:
Securities and Exchange Commission
The company has reached an agreement in principle with the staff of the SEC to resolve its previously disclosed investigation of possible violations of the FCPA. Under the proposed resolution, the company would consent to the filing in federal district court of a complaint (“Complaint”) by the SEC, without admitting or denying the allegations in the Complaint, and to the imposition by the court of a final judgment against the company, including a permanent injunction against us. The Complaint would allege civil violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery and accounting provisions with respect to certain previously discussed conduct involving tax authorities in Azerbaijan, and the FCPA’s accounting provisions with respect to amounts paid by a subsidiary of the company to a third party customs broker to procure certain permits necessary for the company’s vessels to operate in Nigeria. The final judgment would not take effect until it is confirmed by the court, and would permanently enjoin the company from future violations of those provisions.
The agreement in principle would require the company to pay a total of approximately $11.4 million, consisting of the sum of $8.4 million (principally representing disgorgement of profits and prejudgment interest) payable at the time of settlement and a contingent civil penalty of $3.0 million. The contingent civil penalty would be payable to the SEC in 18 months, to the extent that the company had not agreed to pay fines or penalties of at least that amount to another government authority (or authorities) in connection with the matters covered by the internal investigation. The financial charge associated with the proposed settlement with the SEC was recorded in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2010 and is included in general and administrative expenses.
The agreement in principle is contingent upon the parties’ agreement on the terms of the relevant documents, approval by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and confirmation by a federal district
court. There can be no assurance that this settlement will be finalized, or finalized on the terms set forth above. If the settlement is not finalized, the SEC may bring an enforcement action against the company. The company’s current tolling arrangements with the SEC extend through June 15, 2010.
Department of Justice
To date, the company has not reached any agreement with the DOJ regarding a negotiated resolution of the previously disclosed internal investigation. Based on discussions with the DOJ regarding the possible disposition of this matter, it appears likely that any negotiated disposition would involve charges and sanctions imposed by the DOJ, although the company is unable to predict at this time the nature and scope of such charges and sanctions and upon whom they would be imposed. The timeframe for resolution of these matters is also uncertain. Given these uncertainties, the company is unable at this time to estimate the range of any monetary exposure that might arise from such a settlement. As a result, no accrual for potential additional liabilities associated with a negotiated resolution with the DOJ has been recorded as of March 31, 2010. Any fines or penalties paid to the DOJ would reduce the balance of the SEC contingent penalty referenced above under the company’s agreement in principle with the SEC. Should additional information be obtained that any potential liability in connection with the resolution of these matters with the DOJ is probable and reasonably estimable, the company will record such liability at that time. While uncertain, ultimate resolution with the DOJ could have a material adverse effect on the company’s results of operations or cash flows. It is possible that if agreement is not reached, the DOJ may bring enforcement action against the company.