Welcome to This Week In Compliance: GAN’s weekly news roundup, where we curate the latest stories on compliance and anti-corruption to keep you informed. This week Pfizer receives an inquiry from the SEC’s foreign bribery unit. Read the full story and more news below:
Pfizer Receives Inquiry From SEC Bribery Unit:
In early November, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer disclosed that an inquiry had been made by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) foreign bribery unit into suspicions of bribery in the company’s China operations based on its third-quarter reports. After the release of the report, Pfizer announced a 90% effective COVID-19 vaccine, which is reportedly soon to be submitted for emergency regulatory approval. In the foreign bribery inquiry, the SEC is formally asking Pfizer to share information on its Chinese operations following two informal information requests from both the SEC and the Department of Justice (DOJ) last summer. Pfizer stated it is producing records to respond to the disclosure requests. Pfizer has a history with bribes. You might recall that the drugmaker paid USD 60.2M in 2012 for FCPA breaches in Europe and Asia.
Amazon Faces New EU Antitrust Charges:
The European Commission’s top antitrust enforcer Margrethe Vestager announced charges against Amazon related to violations of the EU competition law for using nonpublic data to unfair competition against third-party sellers. The indictment, which stems from an investigation opened in 2019, concluded that Amazon uses nonpublic information in its algorithms resulting in the marginalization of third-party sellers on their site, particularly in France and Germany. While the investigation still has to be completed before any fine can be imposed, Amazon could potentially be facing fines of up to 10% of the value of annual global sales. The EU Commission also announced the opening of a second antitrust investigation into the company centered around Amazon’s logistic services to determine whether sellers who make use of them are in an advantaged position.
Swiss Bank Julius Baer Settles FIFA Corruption Charges:
Swiss bank Julius Baer reached an agreement to settle FIFA-related corruption charges with the DOJ with an expected fine of USD 79.7M. The settlement will give an end to a long-running investigation into the role of the bank in laundering money related to the FIFA bribes. Julius Baer stated that it cooperated with U.S. authorities since 2015 in the global corruption investigation that ultimately led Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, to step down. The bank has been implicated in similar scandals in the past. In February 2020, it was sanctioned by the Swiss Financial Watchdog over money laundering, and in 2016 the bank admitted to conspiring to help clients evade taxes.
EU Agrees to EU Wide Anti-Money Laundering Authority:
EU finance ministers agreed on Wednesday, November 4th, to establish an EU-wide anti-money laundering authority. The watchdog is set to have the power to directly interfere with national jurisdictions in cases of non-compliance with AML rules. More concrete legislative proposals on the EU-level supervisory body will be formulated in 2021. Member states will also continue to work on various areas in which the Commission can harmonize the EU’s AML framework.
Peru’s President Impeached for Corruption:
On November 9th, Peru’s congress impeached popular President Martín Vizcarra over corruption charges and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Congress accused Vizcarra of accepting EUR 483,000 worth in bribes for public contracts. Vizcarra left office without contesting the decision. The impeachment has been described by legal and political experts as ‘illegitimate’ and was met by discontentment in the Peruvian public. Protests against the impeachment and the swearing-in of new interim President Manuel Marino the following day of the outsing have raged in the Peruvian capital of Lima.
South Africa ANC Secretary-General Faces Corruption Charges:
South African authorities announced an arrest warrant against Ace Magashule, one of the country’s highest-ranking political figures. Magashule is the secretary-general of South Africa’s incumbent party African National Congress (ANC). The secretary-general is accused of funneling millions of dollars of party funds to government officials and allies, who have been commended by South Africans for enjoying lavish lifestyles. Magashule, who has been the main spokesperson advocating for the innocence of former President Jacob Zuma from corruption charges, has also denied all allegations.
OECD Presses Netherlands to Strengthen Whistleblower Protections:
The OECD’s Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions published a report on the progress the Netherlands has made in the implementation of legal provisions to counter foreign bribery and whistleblower protection. The report notes that The Netherlands has been significantly successful in ramping up foreign bribery efforts in the past eight years but also expressed concern about the low number of convictions. Additionally, the OECD criticized the Netherlands’ newly implemented 2016 whistleblower law for failing to provide comprehensive protection to whistleblowers, noting a case of foreign bribery whistleblowing retaliation in recent years.