Oracle Corp. agreed to pay a $2 million penalty to settle SEC charges of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations. As alleged, Oracle failed to prevent a subsidiary from secretly setting aside money off the company's books that was eventually used to make unauthorized payments to phony vendors in India.
According to the SEC complaint, certain employees of Oracle’s India subsidiary structured transactions with India's government on several occasions so that Oracle India's distributors could hold approximately $2.2 million of the proceeds in unauthorized side funds. Those Oracle India employees then allegedly directed the distributors to make payments out of these side funds to purported local vendors, several of which were merely storefronts that did not provide any services to Oracle. The Commission charged that Oracle's subsidiary documented certain payments with fake invoices.
"Through its subsidiary's use of secret cash cushions, Oracle exposed itself to the risk that these hidden funds would be put to illegal use," said Marc J. Fagel, director of the SEC's San Francisco Regional Office. "It is important for U.S. companies to proactively establish policies and procedures to minimize the potential for payments to foreign officials or other unauthorized uses of company funds," he added.
As an example, according to the SEC's complaint, Oracle India secured a $3.9 million deal with India's Ministry of Information Technology and Communications in May 2006. As instructed by Oracle India's then-sales director, only $2.1 million was sent to Oracle to record as revenue on the transaction, and the distributor kept $151,000 for services rendered. Certain other Oracle India employees further instructed the distributor to park the remaining $1.7 million for "marketing development purposes." Two months later, one of those same Oracle India employees created and provided to the distributor eight invoices for payments to purported third-party vendors ranging from $110,000 to $396,000. In fact, none of these storefront-only third parties provided any services or were included on Oracle's approved vendor list. The third-party payments created the risk that the funds could be used for illicit purposes such as bribery or embezzlement.
The SEC alleged that Oracle violated the FCPA's books and records provisions and internal controls provisions by failing to accurately record the side funds that Oracle India maintained with its distributors. Oracle failed to devise and maintain a system of effective internal controls that would have prevented the improper use of company funds.
Without admitting or denying the SEC's allegations, Oracle consented to the entry of a final judgment ordering the company to pay the $2 million penalty and permanently enjoining it from future violations of these provisions.
The SEC noted that the settlement takes into account Oracle's voluntary disclosure of the conduct in India and its cooperation with the SEC's investigation, as well as remedial measures taken by the company, including firing the employees involved in the misconduct and making significant enhancements to its FCPA compliance program.