The Lilly FCPA Enforcement Action Part I – Key Lessons Learned on Sportsmanlike Conduct

by Thomas Fox
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Patriots PictureAs you see from today’s picture I am enthusiastically wearing a New England Patriots (classic) shirt. You may ask yourself why am I wearing this shirt? The reason is because of a rather rash wager I made with Jay Rosen, Vice President of Merrill Brink, earlier this month on the Patriots/Texans football game. (I also made the same wager with Matt Kelly, Editor of Compliance Week, who says he will use the photo for marketing Compliance Week 2013, good luck with that!) I can’t quite seem to remember the final score but I do recall that it was what we in Texas might call a full ‘butt-whoopin’. Up until that game, the Patriots were 19-1 at home in the month of December over the past ten years, after beating the Texans, they became 20-1. The key lesson I learned from this experience is to evaluate your risk and then manage that risk accordingly.

Earlier this month, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced the settlement of the Eli Lilly and Company’s (Lilly) violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The enforcement action details a number of bribery schemes that Lilly had engaged in for many years in multiple countries. Indeed Lilly used four different styles of bribery schemes in four separate countries; all of which violated the FCPA. In China, corrupt payments were falsely called reimbursement of expenses; in Brazil, money that was characterized as a discount for distributor was used to pay a bribe; in Poland, charitable donations were falsely labeled and used to induce a Polish government official to approve the purchase of Lilly products; and, finally, Lilly’s subsidiary in Russia, paid bribes to Offshore Agents who were domiciled outside Russia and who performed no services for which they were compensated.

I think the most noteworthy information found in this enforcement action is that it provides significant guidance to the compliance practitioner on not only the different types of bribery schemes used, but more importantly, by reading into the types of conduct the DOJ and SEC finds violates the FCPA, it is valuable as a lesson on how to structure tools to manage FCPA risks going forward. In this post I will detail the bribery schemes that Lilly engaged in and in Part II, I will discuss how the Lilly enforcement action should inform your FCPA compliance program.

I.     China – Use of False Expense Reports to Cover Improper Gifts and Cash Payments

In China, Lilly employees used the classic system of submitting inflated expense reports and using the excess reimbursements to pay bribes. More ominously, not only did the sales representatives engage in this tactic but their supervisors did and also instructed subordinates to do so as well. The list of gifts that were provided to Chinese government officials was as wide ranging as it was creative. There were gifts consisting of specialty foods, wines and a jade bracelet. There were paid trips to bath houses, karaoke bars and spas. There was money paid to purchase “door prizes and publication fees to government employed physicians.” It was even noted that bribes were paid consisting of cigarettes. In the SEC complaint it stated that “Although the dollar amount of each gift was generally small, the improper payments were wide-spread across the [China] subsidiary.”

II.   Brazil – Use of Distributor Discounts to Fund Bribes

In Brazil, Lilly sold drugs to distributors who then resold the products to both public and private entities. It was the classic distributor model where Lilly sold the drugs to the distributors at a discount and then the distributors would resell the products “at a higher price and then took their discount as compensation.” There was a fairly standard discount given to the distributors which generally ranged “between 6.5% and 15%, with the majority of distributors in Brazil receiving a 10% discount.”

However in early 2007, at the request of a Lilly sales manager, the company awarded an unusually high discount of between 17% and 19% to a distributor for the sale of a Lilly drug to the government of one of the states of Brazil. The distributor used approximately 6% of this additional discount to create a fund to pay Brazilian government representatives to purchase the Lilly drugs from him. Further, the Lilly sales manager who requested this unusual discount was aware of the bribery scheme. Moreover, this increase in the discount was approved by the company with no further inquiry as to the reason for the request or to substantiate the basis for such an unusually high discount. If there were any internal controls they were not followed.

III.     Poland – Use of Charitable Donations to Obtain Sales of Drugs

In Poland we see our old friend the Chudow Castle Foundation (Foundation). You may remember this charity as it was the subject of a prior SEC enforcement action involving Schering-Plough Corporation. The thing that got both Lilly and Schering-Plough into trouble was that the Foundation was controlled by the Director of the Silesian Health Fund (Director) and with this position he was able to exercise “considerable influence over the pharmaceutical products local hospitals and other health care providers in the region purchased.”

Just how did this bribery scheme camouflaged as a charitable donation work? Initially it started while Lilly was in negotiations with the Director for the purchase of one of Lilly’s cancer drugs for public hospitals and other health care providers in the region. The Director actually made a request for a donation directly to representatives of Lilly. Thereafter, the Foundation itself made “subsequent requests” for donations.

In addition to this obvious red flag, Lilly did no due diligence on the Foundation and falsely described the nature of the payments not once but three separate times with three separate descriptions. Lilly turned some of the monies over not to the Foundation, but to the Director for use at his “discretion”. Interestingly, the donations were not only made at or near the time of a contract execution, with one donation being made two days after the Director authorized the purchase of the drugs from Lilly.  Internally Lilly even discussed the size of a donation, calling it a “rebate” and said “it will depend on the purchases of medicines.”

IV.     Russia – Use of Offshore Agents Who Performed No Services

As with Brazil, Lilly used a distributor sales model in Russia. However, there was a further twist which got Lilly into FCPA hot water. Lilly would enter into an agreement with a third party other than the distributor who was selected by the government official making decisions on the purchase of Lilly products. The other third parties were usually not domiciled in Russia, nor did they have bank accounts in Russia. In other words, they were Offshore Agents who were paid a flat fee or percentage of the total sales with no discernible work or services performed.

There was little to no due diligence performed on these Offshore Agents. In one instance, detailed in the SEC Complaint, Lilly ran a Dun and Bradstreet report on a third party agent, coupled with an internet search on a third party domiciled in Cyprus. There was no determination of the beneficial ownership of this Offshore Agent nor was there any determination of the business services which this Offshore Agent would provide, subsequently this . This Offshore Agent was paid approximately $3.8MM. An additional  Offshore Agent, again in Cyprus, which Lilly conducted little to no due diligence on, received a $5.2MM commission. Under another such agreement, yet another Cypriot Offshore Agent received a commission rate of 30% of the total sale.

What about the services that these Offshore Agents provided to Lilly? First and foremost, they all had their own special “Marketing Agreement” which was actually a template contract prepared by Lilly. The services allegedly provided by these Offshore Agents included “immediate customs clearance” or “immediate delivery” of the product. There were other equally broad and vague descriptions such as “promotion of the products” and “marketing research”. But not only was there little if no actual evidence that these Offshore Agents provided such services; Lilly, or its regular in-country distributors, actually performed these services.

Unlike their experience in Poland, officials from Lilly simply inquired directly from government officials with whom it was negotiating if it could “donate or otherwise support various initiatives that were affiliated with public or private institutions headed by the government officials or otherwise important to the government officials.” As noted in the SEC Complaint, Lilly had neither the internal controls in place nor performed any vetting to determine whether it “was offering something of value to a government official for the purpose of influencing or inducing him or her to assist Lilly-Vostok in obtaining or retaining business.”

In my next post I will discuss how the compliance practitioner can use the information and facts presented in the Lilly enforcement action as teaching points to evaluate and enhance a company’s compliance program.

Although I rarely agree with Peggy Noone, I always read her Saturday column in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and would like to end my blogging year with the closing paragraph, which I quote in full, from her article entitled “About Those 2012 Political Predictions”:

Lesson? For writers it’s always the same. Do your best, call it as you see it, keep the past in mind but keep your eyes open for the new things of the future. And say what you’re saying with as much verve as you can. Life shouldn’t be tepid and dull. It’s interesting—try to reflect the aliveness in your work. If you’re right about something, good. If you’re wrong, try to see what you misjudged and figure out why. And, always, “Wait ’til next year.”

A safe and Happy New Year to all.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

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