VimpelCom Gets Prosecution Deferred to Pay $795 Million to Settle FCPA Charge

Amsterdam-based VimpelCom Limited, the world’s sixth-largest telecommunications company and an issuer of publicly traded securities in the United States, and its wholly owned Uzbek subsidiary, Unitel LLC, entered into resolutions with the Department of Justice in which they admitted to a conspiracy to make more than $114 million in bribery payments to a government official in Uzbekistan between 2006 and 2012 to enable them to enter and continue operating in the Uzbek telecommunications market.


The company was represented by Mark Rochon and John Davis of Miller Chevalier in Washington D.C.

In a related action, the Department also filed a civil complaint seeking the forfeiture of more than $550 million held in Swiss bank accounts, which constitute bribe payments made by VimpelCom and two separate telecommunications companies, or funds involved in the laundering of those payments, to the Uzbek official.

The forfeiture complaint follows an earlier civil complaint filed on June 29, 2015, which seeks forfeiture of more than $300 million in bank and investment accounts held in Belgium, Luxembourg and Ireland that also constitute funds traceable to bribes, or funds involved in the laundering of the bribes, paid by VimpelCom and another telecommunications company to the same Uzbek official.

In the criminal case, Unitel pled guilty and was sentenced to a one-count criminal information filed today in the Southern District of New York and assigned to U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos of the Southern District of New York, charging the company with a conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

VimpelCom entered into a deferred prosecution agreement in connection with a criminal information charging the company with conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery and books and records provisions of the FCPA, and a separate count of violating the internal controls provisions of the FCPA.

Pursuant to its agreement with the department, VimpelCom will pay a total criminal penalty of $230,163,199.20 to the United States, including $40 million in criminal forfeiture.

VimpelCom also agreed to implement rigorous internal controls, retain a compliance monitor for a term of three years and cooperate fully with the department’s ongoing investigation, including its investigation of individuals.

In related proceedings, VimpelCom settled with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Public Prosecution Service of the Netherlands (Openbaar Ministrie, or OM).

Under the terms of its resolution with the SEC, VimpelCom agreed to a total of $375 million in disgorgement of profits and prejudgment interest, to be divided between the SEC and OM.

VimpelCom will pay the OM a criminal penalty of $230,163,199.20, for a total criminal penalty of $460,326,398.40, and a total resolution amount of more than $835 million.  The department agreed to credit the criminal penalty paid to the OM as part of its agreement with the company.

The SEC agreed to credit the forfeiture paid to the department as part of its agreement with the company.

Thus, the combined total amount of U.S. and Dutch criminal and regulatory penalties paid by VimpelCom will be $795,326,398.40, making it one of the largest global foreign bribery resolutions ever.

VimpelCom and Unitel, through various executives and employees, paid bribes to an Uzbek government official, who was a close relative of a high-ranking government official and had influence over the Uzbek governmental body that regulated the telecom industry.

The companies structured and concealed the bribes through various payments to a shell company that certain VimpelCom and Unitel management knew was beneficially owned by the foreign official.

The bribes were paid on multiple occasions between approximately 2006 and 2012 so that VimpelCom could enter the Uzbek market and Unitel could gain valuable telecom assets and continue operating in Uzbekistan.  VimpelCom and Unitel contemplated additional bribes in 2013, but those bribes were not completed before VimpelCom opened an internal investigation.

VimpelCom admitted that it falsified its books and records and attempted to conceal and disguise the bribery scheme by classifying payments as equity transactions, consulting and repudiation agreements and reseller transactions.

VimpelCom also failed to implement and enforce adequate internal accounting controls, which allowed the bribe payments to occur without detection or remediation.  Moreover, when the board of directors sought an FCPA legal opinion assessing corruption risks involved in the transactions, certain VimpelCom management withheld crucial information from outside counsel performing the review that restricted the scope of FCPA opinions, rendering them worthless.

Rather than implement and enforce a strong anti-corruption ethic, certain VimpelCom executives sought ways to give the company plausible deniability of illegality while knowingly proceeding with corrupt business transactions.

A number of significant factors contributed to the department’s criminal resolution with the companies.

Among these, the companies received significant credit for their prompt acknowledgement of wrongdoing after being informed of the department’s investigation, for their willingness to promptly resolve their criminal liability on an expedited basis and for their extensive cooperation with the department’s investigation.

The criminal penalty reflects a 45 percent reduction off of the bottom of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines fine range.  However, the companies did not receive more significant mitigation credit, either in the penalty or the form of resolution, because the companies did not voluntarily self-disclose their misconduct to the department after an internal investigation uncovered wrongdoing.


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