The Ides Of March And Evaluation Of Compliance Risk

by Thomas Fox

Ides of MarchTomorrow, March 15 is enshrined as one of the most famous days of all-time, the “Ides of March”. On this day in 44 BC, the “Dictator for Life” Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of Roman nobleman who did not want Caesar alone to hold power in the Roman Empire. It was however, this event, which sealed the doom of the Roman Republic as his adopted son Octavian first defeated the Republic’s supporters and then his rival Dictator Marc Anthony and became the first Emperor of the new Roman Empire, taking the name Augustus.

One of the more interesting questions in any anti-corruption compliance regime is to what extent your policies and procedures might apply in your dealings with customers. Clearly customers are third parties and in the sales chain but most compliance programs do not focus their efforts on customers. However, some businesses only want to engage with reputable and ethical counter-parties so some companies do put such an analysis into their compliance decision calculus.

However, companies in the US, UK and other countries who do not consider the corruption risk with a customer may need to rethink their position after the recent announcements made by Citigroup Inc. regarding its Mexico operations.

In an article in the New York Times (NYT), entitled “Fraud Exposes Challenges for Citi in Mexico”, reporters Michael Corkery and Jessica Silver-Greenberg wrote about the troubles which have befallen “the bank’s “crown jewel” – a sprawling retail lender called Banamex.” Citigroup recognized there was risk in Banamex, even having, what the reporters said was, a “little black book” which was stated by one un-named top executive to be the “book of redlined clients” and was also described as “an informal tally of Mexican companies” that could imperil the company’s Mexican operations. The bank has come to grief with its involvement in a $400MM fraud “that was discovered last month highlights the limitations of that kind of culling, and more broadly points to the challenges of finding solid lending clients in a country where the line between big business and political cronyism can become blurred.”

While Citigroup blamed this problem on “bad luck and bad actors” the article revealed a more complicated picture. The picture was one where “the bank had been placing large bets on a few risky corporate borrowers”. The $400MM loss involved an oil services company, Oceanografía SA de CV. But the bank also sustained other losses where loans were made to building contractors, which after a Mexican government a policy shift it “effectively killed the developers’ suburban projects” and they were not able to repay the loans.

Moreover, with regard to Oceanografía, the bank itself recognized the inherent danger of doing business with the entity. The article noted that Banamex has extended $585MM in short-term credit to a company that Citigroup itself had warned its own bond investors was “from time to time subject to various accusations, including accusations of corrupt practices.” Oceanografía is a company that provided construction, maintenance and vessel-chartering services to Pemex’s exploration and production subsidiary. However, as the article noted, “Oceanografía’s fortunes, however, changed sharply last month after it became the subject of a new government review that resulted in a suspension of government contracts to Oceanografía for the next 20 months. Banamex had advanced as much $585 million to Oceanografía through an accounts receivable program. The program was supposed to work like this: Banamex would advance money to Oceanografía to provide services to Pemex. The oil giant would then pay back Banamex, verifying invoices provided by Oceanografía to confirm that the work had been completed. In theory, Banamex was relying on Pemex’s ability to pay back the bank.”

Unfortunately for Banamex, much like the developers “which relied on government subsidies to finance their suburban developments, Oceanografía’s business relied on government contracts from Pemex. But when those ties were cut, the problems quickly surfaced. Shortly after the suspension of government contracts to the oil services company, Citigroup said it discovered the fraud at its Mexican unit, involving Oceanografía.”

These losses were coupled with the semi-autonomous relationship that Banamex had with its parent, Citigroup. The article stated, “the bank he [Mr. Medina-Mora] built has been considered something of a “black box” — a highly profitable but not especially transparent unit that was run with great autonomy by its leader, according to current and former bank executives. Sometimes, though, that autonomy rankled other executives in New York, the people said.” Citigroup denied that Banamex was semi-autonomous and in a statement in the article said, “We dispute assertions that the management team is autonomous,” Further, “While Banamex is a subsidiary of Citigroup, it is absolutely subject to the same risk, control, anti-money laundering and technology standards and oversight which are required throughout the company.”

For the compliance practitioner there are several lessons to be garnered from Citigroup’s reported problems and Julius Caesar’s demise on the Ides of March. In Caesar’s case, he wholly ignored the resentment that had been welling up in the Roman aristocracy for his high-handed action in becoming a Dictator. Even on the day in question, he dismissed his personal guard detail as he was going to the Roman Senate and finally, although he allegedly was handed a written communication warning him of his impending doom, he never took the time to read it. In other words, not only did he miss the red flags, he ignored specific warning signs and reduced his risk management capabilities by dismissing his security detail.

Similarly, as reported by the NYT, Citigroup would seem to have missed the warning signs about Oceanografía and if the NYT article is correct, might have actually internally ignored red flags while broadcasting them to bond holding investors. Lastly, whether the Banamex unit was semi-autonomous, as alleged in the article, or not as claimed by Citigroup’s statement, the point is that there must always be oversight. More than simply a ‘second set of eyes’ there should be internal controls which can be reviewed and vetted.

Finally, as noted in the article, the loans in question involved businesses that relied on government contracts, payments or some other form of support. While that may be of some comfort in developing countries, it can also be a source of risk. It also points to another analysis, which is not always considered, that being if a proposition is high reward, it is probably because it is also high risk in some area. While many companies can evaluate high financial risk and hope for attendant high financial reward, they also need to consider how a high corruption risk might factor into their analysis.

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

Written by:

Thomas Fox

Compliance Evangelist on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.