Risk Management

Siemens Reserves $1.3 Billion for Probe

German giant makes no further comment, but its action during an ongoing investigation suggests to some that the matter is being handled at a lower-...
Stephen TaubNovember 5, 2008

Siemens AG said it will set aside $1.3 billion (€1 billion) in fiscal 2008 to settle ongoing corruption investigations with authorities in Germany and the U.S.

The German conglomerate said that the current estimate is based on the status of discussions being held between the company and authorities in the two countries. “The company will make no further comments on the ongoing proceedings,” it said in its statement.

UniCredit analyst Roland Pitz told the Associated Press the announcement meant that the corruption issue was essentially over, and added that the amount was lower than many had expected. Some experts had thought the settlement could be as high as $3.9 billion.

Back in April, international law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, hired by Siemens to investigate bribery and corruption charges dating back to the late 1990s, found evidence of violations of domestic and foreign compliance regulations. Its report said many of the violations were due both to corruption and violations of regulations that govern internal controls and the accuracy of documentation.

That report, delivered to the German conglomerate’s compliance committee, covered business transactions between 1999 and 2006, and management conduct related to those practices.

A number of former managers of Siemens have been accused of bribery and fraud. Countries investigating violations involving Siemens include the U.S., Switzerland, Italy, Greece, China, Hungary, Israel, Russia, Norway, and Indonesia.

The report described “a wide range of shaded areas between doing everything right, passing the buck, no reaction or not reacting properly or fast enough, and possible participation in non-compliant activities.”

Last year, Siemens agreed to pay a €201 million fine that brought to an end some of the proceedings in Germany, according to the AP. The wire service also pointed out that in July Siemens had said that it planned to sue two former chief executives and nine other former executives for alleged supervisory failings in the corruption scandal that has cost the company millions in fines and damaged its reputation.

Siemens is hardly the only European company to be racked by a corruption scandal, of course. As CFO Europe pointed out last month, Deutsche Bahn, BAe Systems, and Alstom have also been involved in recent scandals that have highlighted the need for companies to have ethics programs in place.

Indeed, according to CFO Europe, a survey in early summer by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and the Institute of Business Ethics found that nearly 60 percent of the 1,300 finance professionals polled globally said they contribute to their firm’s ethical performance, and 73 percent believed that ethical performance will become a formal part of their role in the next few years.

A global study of nearly 400 executives published this year by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Economist Intelligence Unit, a sister company of CFO, found that most companies have, at a minimum, a code of ethics — be it a doctrine posted on an intranet or a booklet that’s handed out to employees. Yet the survey also found that nearly one-third of the respondents admitted that they have problems communicating or enforcing these codes, and less than one-quarter were very confident that their programs would hold up if put to the test.

The $1.3 billion settlement dwarfs many previous bribery and corruption settlements. In 2005, defense contractor Titan Corp. agreed to pay $28.5 million to settle criminal and civil charges that it bribed the president of Benin. At the time, the combined settlement was the largest ever under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a 1977 law barring U.S. companies from bribing foreign presidents, princes and potentates to secure overseas contracts.

Last year, Baker Hughes Inc. agreed to pay a total of $44 million to settle criminal and civil charges that it violated the FCPA. The charges and fines were levied on both the parent company and a subsidiary.

Also last year, three subsidiaries of Vetco International Ltd. paid a total of $26 million in criminal fines to settle Nigerian bribery charges filed by the Justice Department under the FCPA. Vetco agreed to hire an independent monitor to oversee future compliance, and committed itself to an internal investigation.

Last year, York International agreed to pay $22 million to settle a number of civil and criminal bribery charges, including allegations related to the United Nations’ Oil for Food Program for citizens of Iraq. York was acquired by Johnson Controls in 2005.