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GE In $23 Million SEC Settlement

General Electric Company, whose compliance program is among the most respected and admired in the world, has settled civil violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company today agreed to pay $23.4 million to resolve claims that arose from a $3.6 million kickback scheme by four GE subsidiaries — two of which were acquired after the offenses occurred. The kickbacks were paid under the United Nation’s oil-for-food program. The GE subsidiaries were selling medical and water purification equipment to the Iraqi government.

The SEC charged GE and two subsidiaries — Ionics Inc. and Amersham plc — with civil violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the FCPA.

The kickbacks were paid from 2000 to 2003 and were not properly accounted for. They consisted of cash, computer equipment, medical supplies, and services to the Iraqi Health Ministry or the Oil Ministry. GE acquired two of the subsidiaries in 2004 and 2005 and became liable for their securities law violations, including FCPA offenses.

Cheryl J. Scarboro, the head of the SEC’s FCPA unit, said: “GE failed to maintain adequate internal controls to detect and prevent these illicit payments by its two subsidiaries to win oil for food contracts, and it failed to properly record the true nature of the payments in its accounting records. Furthermore, corporate acquisitions do not provide GE immunity from FCPA enforcement of the other two subsidiaries involved.”

In the SEC settlement, GE was ordered to disgorge $18,397,949 of profits and pay $4,080,665 in prejudgment interest and a penalty of $1 million. GE and subsidiaries Ionics Inc. and Amersham plc agreed not to violate Sections 13(b)(2)(A) and 13(b)(2)(B) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

The SEC said it has taken 15 FCPA enforcement actions against companies involved in the now discredited U.N. oil for food program and has recovered more than $204 million. The program was intended to provide humanitarian relief for the Iraqi population, which faced hardship under international trade sanctions. It allowed the Iraqi government to purchase humanitarian goods through a U.N. escrow account. The Iraqi government instructed vendors to use middlemen and to inflate prices to fund the kickbacks.

In addition to GE, other companies charged under the oil-for-food program include Chevron, Total SA, AB Volvo, Innospec, Ingersoll-Rand, Akzo-Nobel, and Fiat.

The DOJ did not join the enforcement action against GE or the subsidiaries. It usually prosecutes criminal antibribery offenses under the FCPA, which require payments to foreign officials. In GE’s case, the kickbacks apparently went directly to Iraqi ministries and not to government officials.

The SEC said that in settling the case, it “considered remedial acts promptly undertaken by GE and the cooperation the company afforded the Commission staff in its investigation.”

View the SEC’s July 27, 2010 press release here.

View the SEC’s Litigation Release No. 21602 and Accounting and Auditing Enforcement Release No. 3159 (both dated July 27, 2010) in Securities and Exchange Commission v. General Electric Company; Ionics, Inc.; and Amersham plc, Civil Action No. 1:10-CV-01258 (D.D.C.)(RWR) here.

View the SEC civil complaint against GE, Ionics, and Amersham here.

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