On May 20, 2015, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced a $25 million settlement with Anglo-Australian natural resource extraction company BHP Billiton. The settlement resolves charges that the corporation – actually comprised of two legal entities joined in a Dual Listed Company – violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) when it hosted foreign government officials and assorted guests at the 2008 summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China. Billiton has American Depositary Receipts listed on the New York Stock Exchange, making it subject to both the FCPA’s anti-bribery and recordkeeping provisions.
According to SEC documents, Billiton invited approximately 176 officials from Asian and African countries to take part in its hospitality program. 98 of these were representatives of state-owned enterprises that were Billiton customers or suppliers. The 60 who accepted the invitation were treated to tourism packages valued at between $12,000 and $16,000. These packages included luxury hotel accommodations, meals, event tickets, and sightseeing excursions. Billiton also offered some officials business class airfare.
Internal company correspondence indicated that two of the primary objectives in sponsoring the Olympics generally and extending such hospitality specifically were to “motivate China-based stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, government and media, to enhance business opportunities for BHP Billiton in China” and to “build relationships with stakeholders from product and investor markets, and regions where we have or would like to have operations.” The FCPA prohibits offering foreign officials anything of value in hopes of obtaining, retaining, or directing business.
Billiton neither admits nor denies the SEC’s findings that it failed to design and implement appropriate controls around its hospitality program. In its release, the SEC acknowledged that Billiton has been cooperative with the investigation and in implementing remedial efforts. The company is also cooperating with an ongoing Australian Federal Police investigation.