British ad giant WPP has agreed to pay $19 million to settle charges in the U.S. over allegations that it bribed foreign officials to win business, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. In a settlement filed Tuesday in federal court in Chicago, the SEC claimed that WPP Group, an advertising company with businesses around the world, paid $23 million from 1995 to 2008 to third parties based in
countries ranging from Brazil to the United Arab Emirates. The payments were allegedly to secure business for the agencies. The SEC said it focused on those payments in part because it found WPP “had not previously disclosed” the bribery allegations and was involved in “multiple and material” prior cases in which it had agreed to settle claims of corruption. WPP accepted responsibility for its actions. “We take
responsibility for the improper conduct of former employees. That said, WPP strongly disagrees with the SEC’s interpretation of what constituted ‘payments’ and what constituted ‘consulting services,’ ” it said in a statement issued Tuesday. Although the SEC said that the company’s payment policies were weak, WPP said it “took prompt, decisive, and substantial steps to correct the deficiencies identified” by an
internal investigation. It said it “implemented detailed internal policies, including policies prohibiting payment of bribes in connection with any sales channel or client relationship.” Based in London, WPP is the world’s largest advertising company and holds media and communications-consulting businesses in some 130 countries. It has over 200,000 employees and earned $19.7 billion in revenue in 2017. WPP agreed to
“pay a civil penalty of $19 million,” according to the SEC. It also said that it will make a “separate but binding commitment” that “no entity” within the company, which has employees in about 130 countries, “will engage in bribery, and any such breach of policy will not be committed again.” The SEC said the company’s management made a “conscious, structured, and deliberate decision” to violate the Foreign Corrupt
Practices Act, which bars companies from bribing government officials. “WPP’s directors and senior executives should have known that paying bribes to foreign officials to secure lucrative contracts with governments would constitute a violation of the FCPA,” Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s enforcement division, said in a statement. The company’s practices resulted in “fraudulent, unlawful, and wrongful conduct
that harmed millions of shareholders, harmed millions of foreign citizens in foreign markets, and harmed WPP’s reputation in the worldwide ad industry,” the SEC said. WPP admitted that in most cases of alleged FCPA violations, its payment-policy practices did not create a need to “give assurance” to foreign government officials, the company said. The SEC said that because the agency has the power to seek sanctions on
behalf of investors “in addition to the sentence,” the payment from WPP is “the most significant such penalty imposed to date on a multinational corporation, in dollar value, for FCPA violations.” • Chris Long is the Deputy Editor of Minaret: The Christian News He is also the author of seven books. His most recent is a book on the work of Bishop TJ Harvey and the Church of Nigeria.