Rolls-Royce Brings in Lord Gold – Is it Thinking Big Enough?

by Thomas Fox

In December 2012 the BBC online service reported that Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited (Rolls-Royce) was in talks with the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) regarding potential allegations of bribery and corruption in Indonesia and China. It was reported that the investigation began in 2011 when the SFO requested information from Rolls-Royce about possible bribe-paying in those two countries. This prompted Rolls-Royce “to bring in a legal firm to conduct an internal investigation earlier this year, which uncovered potential misbehaviour in other countries as well as the two named by the SFO.” The investigation focused on certain intermediaries involved in the countries in question. The Guardian reported the initial bribery issue was reported by a whistleblower, former Roll-Royce employee Dick Taylor, and involved allegations of bribery and corruption in Indonesia and China. According to the Financial Times (FT), Taylor had made these allegations for at least six years that Rolls-Royce paid bribes to secure business for its civil aircraft engines in Indonesia. At least as long ago as 2006 Taylor took his concerns public by posting statements on local newspaper and industry news internet sites. The Guardian stated that Taylor “claimed that Tommy Suharto – a son of the late President Suharto – received $20 million and a Rolls-Royce car to persuade the national airline, Garuda, to order Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines in 1990.”

The FCPA Blog reported earlier this month that a pseudonymous blogger, named by the FT as ‘Soaringdragon’, claimed that “Rolls-Royce propelled itself into the Asian market with the help of payments passed to an executive of Air China and China Eastern Airlines. Executive Chen Qin, who worked for both airlines, allegedly acted as Rolls-Royce’s intermediary in two pivotal deals inked in 2005 and 2010, worth $2 billion in all. Chen is thought to have been detained for corruption in April 2011.” All the allegations currently made against Rolls-Royce were for actions prior to the application of the UK Bribery Act, which became effective on July 1, 2011.

Rolls-Royce is reported to be co-operating with the SFO in the investigation. The company announced that it found concern regarding the markets of China, Indonesia and other markets as well. The company reportedly released its findings over to the SFO which has not yet announced whether it would open a separate investigation or if it had made any decisions on whether it would prosecute the company. Chief Executive John Rishton was quoted as stating, “I want to make it crystal clear that neither I nor the board will tolerate improper business conduct of any sort and will take all necessary action to ensure compliance. This is a company with exceptional prospects, and I will not accept any behaviour that undermines its future success.”

Last week Rolls-Royce announced that it had retained Lord Gold to review its overall compliance program. The FT reported “Having to bring in Lord Gold to examine the robustness of the company’s compliance efforts indicates just how much Rolls-Royce wants to avoid an SFO, or worse, a DoJ probe. He has been brought in to Rolls-Royce precisely to avoid the costs associated with BAE’s bribery investigation, and thus his role is much more similar to the one Lord Woolf played at BAE.” For a company known to have an opaque culture, bringing in Lord Gold “has the potential to upset the Derby-based company’s deep-seated culture more than anyone in its recent history.”

I thought about this move by Rolls-Royce when I re-read a posting, entitled, “Wal-Mart, Go Big on FCPA Compliance”, by my colleague Matt Ellis, in his blog, FCPAméricas. In this post he detailed some of the ways that he thought Wal-Mart could use the opportunity afforded by its bribery and corruption scandal in Mexico “as an opportunity. It is an opportunity to go big on compliance.” Matt talked about how Siemens changed its culture after having paid the highest fine for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in the history of the world ever. Moreover, Matt listed several things that he thought Wal-Mart was uniquely positioned to accomplish because of its size and strength, which were as follows:

  • Wal-Mart could use these same tools to build a state-of-the-art corruption risk-tracking program to which its compliance practices could respond in real time.
  • Wal-Mart could use its enormous leverage in international markets to educate foreign audiences on compliance.
  • Wal-Mart could train these landlords of the stores they lease internationally on compliance.
  • Wal-Mart could require landlords to put a FCPA or other anti-corruption compliance programs in place themselves.
  • Wal-Mart could begin to teach communities how to identify and avoid risks of petty corruption.
  • Wal-Mart could partner with local municipalities to launch reporting centers in its Supercenters.

I am not certain Lord Gold could accomplish some of the things that Matt has suggested that Wal-Mart put in place as Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer and Rolls-Royce is, well the name says it all, Rolls-Royce. But after the black-eye the British defense and aerospace industry took in the BAE corruption and bribery scandal, Rolls-Royce may be able to use this opportunity to lead a culture change in this British market segment. According to the FT, “Lord Gold’s job at Rolls-Royce will be closer to that of Lord Woolf, who made wide recommendations at BAE after it became embroiled in a corruption and bribery scandal. If Lord Gold is similarly radical, he could completely change the way Rolls-Royce does business, forcing it to limit its use of intermediaries, or even prompt the resignation of senior executives, as happened at BAE.”

I think that the lessons for the compliance practitioner from Rolls-Royce are two-fold. First and foremost, get ahead of the curve. If you believe that you have found evidence of systemic bribery and corruption, your company has to self-disclose and work with the appropriate enforcement agency, whether that is the US Department of Justice (DOJ) or the SFO. But more than self-disclosure and extraordinary cooperation, be proactive in attacking the policies, processes and procedures which led to the allegations of corruption.

Bringing in a Lord Gold, who has dealt with “A multibillion-pound spat between oligarchs, investigating cronyism in British politics, and helping one of the world’s best-known brands respond to corruption allegations have been his bread-and-butter since the veteran litigator set up his own advisory boutique in 2011”, can certainly help give you credibility on either side of the Atlantic. On the US side, the first name that pops in my mind is Louis Freeh, former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), whose work has ranged from the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky investigation to the Trustee in the MF Global bankruptcy to his appointment to the Ethics Committee of FIFA. If you want another name, I can certainly recommend John Hanson, aka “The Fraud Guy”. He is a retired FBI agent, has worked in the fraud investigations and forensic accounting practice of a large publicly traded international financial consulting firm and has been an independent monitor under Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs). Both of these guys know their stuff and are very well respected in the compliance community.

I think the clear import of Matt Ellis’ article is to ‘think big’ and outside the box. If you proactively attack what went wrong that led to bribery and corruption, I think it will pay off dividends with the DOJ or the SFO.


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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