Category: WalMart

Collateral bribery damages: NYC now 3rd fund to file suit v. Wal-Mart.

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In another of what will likely be many such lawsuits by pension funds, New York City Pension Funds filed a shareholder derivative action against Wal-Mart over the bribery and corruption scandal involving Wal-Mart’s Mexican subsidiary, Wal-Mex. This follows the California State Teachers retirement systems’s similar filing in late May.

The New York City complaint similarly alleges that Wal-Mart’s officers and directors breached their fiduciary duty to the company and its shareholders by failing to properly handle credible claims of the bribery allegations and attempting to cover up details of the scandal, reducing the value of the company by their actions.

For anyone not familiar with a derivative suit, the principal is that the shareholders of a corporation seek damages from directors to reimburse losses to the corporation for which the directors can be held personally responsible, as an exception to the “business judgment rule“.

A key aspect of evidence for plaintiffs in a derivative suit is finding a direct causal link between the directors’ actions (or inaction) and the eventual loss sustained by the corporation. In this case, it’s relatively simple to show that 1) Wal-Mart’s stock price took a big hit on the bribery news and 2) Wal-mart’s goodwill and market position has (again) been damaged. Now, the plaintiffs have to show the link.

A related suit, based on securities fraud, was filed by the City of Pontiac General Employees Retirement System in Tennessee. According to Reuters, a total of  11 derivative suits have been filed against Wal-Mart since the New York Times story ran.

It is imperative for board members and executives to realize that when they are made aware of corruption allegations that they follow advice of counsel and comply fully with internal audit procedures. In this case, it is up to Wal-Mart to show they did. If not, there will be not only the DOJ and SEC to deal with, but many angry pension fund managers and likely other shareholders brought together as a class by the many American law firms specializing in such matters. This story will continue until Wal-Mart manages to come to terms with what actually happened in Mexico (and elsewhere, depending on findings).

Donald Trump on bribery scandals: US “crazy” to enforce FCPA.

On CNBC’s Squawk Box, tycoon, occasional presidential candidate, Reality TV star and bottled water purveyor Donald Trump was asked about Wal-Mart’s allegedly widespread bribery in Mexico. Having obviously thought through the arguments for and against FCPA reform, he provided the following insights:

If you want to operate in Mexico, you have to pay bribes.

This is how business is done.

This country is absolutely crazy. Every other country goes into these places and they do what they have to do. It’s a horrible law and it should be changed. We are like the policeman for the world. It’s ridiculous.

The world is laughing at us.

Let’s parse this.

1. Operating in Mexico requires paying bribes.

According to Transparency International, Mexico scores 3/10 on the bribery index (10/10 meaning little or no bribery). Empirically, Trump is 70% right. Unless a company has chosen to adhere to OECD conventions and applicable anti-corruption laws, it would likely do more business in Mexico by greasing the right hands.

2. This is how business is done. Every other country goes into “these places” (countries with high levels of corruption) and does business according to local mores, in violation of the FCPA.

Here is a list of the 10 largest FCPA fines and settlements 1977-2012:

  1. Siemens (Germany) $800 million
  2. KBR/Halliburton (US) $579 million
  3. BAE (UK) $400 million
  4. Snamprogetti (Netherlands/Italy) $365 million
  5. Technip (France) $338 million
  6. JGC Corporation (Japan) $218.8 million
  7. Daimler (Germany) $185 million
  8. Alcatel-Lucent (France) $137 million
  9. Magyar Telekom (Hungary) $95 million
  10. Panalpina (Switzerland) $81.80 million

If FCPA prosecutions are an accurate statistical measure of the willingness of foreign businesses to participate in corruption, Trump is mostly correct. Only one US company makes the list. Moreover, with nine foreign corporations on the list, it does appear that the US is the “policeman for the world” (see DOJ site for the complete list).

3. The US is crazy.

That’s probably a matter of opinion. Watching CNBC for a few days straight might make one conclude that yes, it is crazy.

4. The world laughing at the US [for enforcing the FCPA].

Foreign companies might find the US’s anti-corruption stance risible (until they find themselves caught up in it). For example, Siemens had no compunction about including bribery in its budgets, despite the fact that they were directly subject to the law.

Criminal penalties, disgorgements, fines and consent orders levied against FCPA violators are tragicomically invisible to the vast majority of the world’s population which suffers through the indignity of having to live and do business within highly corrupt economies. Monies collected by the US government or the SEC never make it back to these individuals. 

His personal life, histrionics and buffoonery aside, Trump is a strategic thinker. Perhaps his frank talk isn’t surprising given that apart from a dust-up with the SEC over financial reporting about 10 years ago (settled out of court), he has not had any notable legal troubles over a long career in real estate and the gaming industry.

In my opinion, Trump runs a tight ship, otherwise there would be more blips on the map; his views on how to do business in China, India, Mexico or other ethically-challenged countries likely have nothing to do with how deals are finally done by the Trump Organization. But he would certainly appreciate being able to compete on a level field with foreign businesses for whom bribery is simply another accounting line item.

As an aside, perhaps Trump is engaged in a bit of spin in light of his competitor and onetime enemy Steve Wynn’s unlikely use of the statute internally to oust business partner Kazuo Okada?