Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Ralph Lauren to Pay Fine over Bribery in Argentina ; Settlement Ends Charges That Retailer Paid Officials to Avoid Customs Checks

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Ralph Lauren to Pay Fine over Bribery in Argentina ; Settlement Ends Charges That Retailer Paid Officials to Avoid Customs Checks

Article excerpt

The company discovered the misconduct in an internal audit and reported violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to the U.S. government.

The clothing retailer Ralph Lauren has agreed to pay about $1.6 million to resolve charges that it made illegal payments and gifts to foreign officials, including perfume, dresses and handbags, in the latest case highlighting the U.S. government's aggressive crackdown on overseas bribery by U.S. companies.

On Monday, the U.S. authorities announced the settlement of actions against Ralph Lauren related to bribes paid to officials in Argentina from 2005 to 2009. The company discovered the misconduct in an internal audit and reported violations of the law, called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, to the government, according to court filings.

Ralph Lauren signed two nonprosecution agreements to settle the actions, which were brought by the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The company agreed to pay penalties of about $882,000 to the U.S. Justice Department and about $735,000 to the S.E.C.

S.E.C. officials went out of their way to praise Ralph Lauren for its assistance in the investigation. George S. Canellos, who was named the commission's co-head of enforcement Monday, said that the nonprosecution agreement showed that the S.E.C. would "confer substantial and tangible benefits" on companies helping the government in foreign bribery cases. It was the first such agreement that the commission had entered into involving the anti-foreign- bribery laws.

"When you do all the right things in terms of investigating, self- reporting, cooperating and taking appropriate remedial measures, both the S.E.C. and Department of Justice are willing to reward that behavior," said Thomas A. Hanusik, a lawyer at Crowell & Moring who represented Ralph Lauren.

Enforcement of the once-obscure Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a Watergate-era law that sat dormant for decades, has become a priority in Washington as U.S. companies have expanded steadily across the globe. Wal-Mart Stores, for instance, is under investigation for possible violations of the law related to potential bribery in its Mexican operations, and the retail giant has disclosed that it is also conducting an internal inquiry into its businesses in Brazil, China and India. …

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