Washington, D.C. October 5, 2016. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced today that Anheuser-Busch InBev has agreed to pay $6 million to settle charges that it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and chilled a whistleblower who reported the misconduct.
An SEC investigation found that Anheuser-Busch InBev used third-party sales promoters to make payments to government officials in India in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The SEC’s announcement states that “Despite repeated complaints from employees, Anheuser-Busch had inadequate internal account controls to detect and prevent the improper payments.”
The SEC also found that the company violated SEC whistleblower protection provisions by entering into “a separation agreement that stopped an employee from continuing to voluntarily communicate with the SEC about potential FCPA violations.” The SEC has held that such restrictive agreements violate federal securities laws.
“Threat of financial punishment for whistleblowing is unacceptable,” stated Jane Norberg, Acting Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower. “We will continue to take a hard look at these types of provisions and fact patterns.”
“The silencing of whistleblowers is a long-standing and ongoing problem,” said Michael D. Kohn, President of the National Whistleblower Center (NWC). He continued, “We applaud the SEC for initiating enforcement action against bad actors who remain intent on silencing whistleblowers. The NWC was first in the nation to expose such wrongdoing. The NWC successfully obtained the first enforcement action against KBR Inc., for its past conduct of silencing potential whistleblowers by using confidentiality agreements that threatened to terminate employees for reporting wrongdoing to anyone outside of the company. While the SEC’s enforcement action in this area is meaningful, it is time that the fines and penalties be increased to the million-dollar Dodd-Frank threshold that must be reached to trigger the payment of a reward to individuals willing to expose continued attempts to silence whistleblowers.”
In this case Anheuser-Busch InBev agreed to pay $2,712,955 in disgorgement plus interest of $292,381 and a penalty of $3,002,955. For a two-year period, the company must cooperate with the SEC and report its FCPA compliance efforts while making reasonable efforts to notify certain former employees that Anheuser-Busch InBev does not prohibit employees from contacting the SEC about possible law violations.