Record $279 Million Whistleblower Award Went to a Tipster on Ericsson

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The record $279 million whistleblower award issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this month stemmed from a bribery case against telecommunications company Ericsson.

The award from the SEC’s cash-for-tips program was related to the $1.1 billion settlement the Swedish company reached with U.S. authorities in 2019 over allegations it conspired to make illegal payments to win business in five countries, in violation of U.S. antibribery laws, according to people familiar with the matter.

The SEC didn’t name the enforcement action underlying the award and didn’t identify the tipster, in keeping with whistleblower protection rules that prevent the regulator from divulging this information to the public.

A series of alleged missteps since 2019 led Ericsson in March to agree to plead guilty and pay an additional fine of about $207 million to settle allegations it breached the deferred prosecution agreement it reached in 2019 with the Justice Department.

Under SEC rules, a whistleblower can receive an award of between 10% and 30% of the fines collected in SEC civil-enforcement actions and related actions from other enforcement agencies resulting from a tip, assuming the SEC collects more than $1 million.

A spokesman for the SEC declined to comment. A spokesman for Ericsson also declined to comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which brought the charges against Ericsson, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Two other individuals also separately applied to receive a whistleblower award from the SEC, but their claims were denied. In a publicly available but highly redacted version of the SEC order, the commission said the claimants’ information didn’t help the agency’s enforcement action.

The $279 million whistleblower award topped the previous record, a $114 million whistleblower award the SEC issued to an individual in October 2020.

Prosecutors from the Southern District of New York in Manhattan who brought the charges in 2019 said that Ericsson’s wrongdoing occurred in Djibouti, China, Vietnam, Kuwait and Indonesia from 2000 to 2016. The SEC said in its complaint that Ericsson subsidiaries won business worth about $427 million by using third parties to bribe officials in Saudi Arabia, China and Djibouti.

The deferred prosecution agreement in 2019 included a $520 million criminal penalty and $540 million disgorgement of illicit profits and required Ericsson to retain a compliance monitor for three years and to cooperate in related probes.

Prosecutors said in March that the company failed to comply with its settlement obligations, including full cooperation with U.S. authorities and failures to disclose evidence and allegations.

An investigation into Ericsson’s historic operations in Iraq is continuing. The company has said it is cooperating with the probe.

The monetary sanctions against Ericsson are among the highest ever imposed by the U.S. government for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The FCPA, a U.S. antibribery law, prohibits the use of bribes to foreign officials to win or keep business.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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