Las Vegas Sands Corp (NYSE: LVS) agreed Thursday to pay $9 million in order to end a five year probe into allegations that it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – a federal anti-bribery law, when it failed to properly authorize and document over $62 million in payments to an unidentified consultant for assistance in doing business in Macau and on mainland China.
The civil settlement, which allowed the company to admit no wrongdoing, also records no findings of corrupt intent or bribery in regard to poorly documented payments that occurred between 2006 and 2011.
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigators found that LVS kept “inaccurate” books and records as well as failed to document proper approvals for payments to the consultant (referred to only as “The Beard”) who acted as a middle man to hide the company’s role in several business transactions such as purchasing a basketball team and a mainland Chinese building. Gambling companies are not allowed by Beijing to own Chinese Basketball Association teams.
The lax bookkeeping and record keeping resulted in over $700,000 in payments going to the “consultant” being unaccounted for as the company continued to transfer millions more to him. Among the discrepancies was $1.4 million supposedly spent on artwork for the building when none was actually purchased. Almost $1 million was paid to an entity controlled by the consultant for “property management fees” when no property management services were actually performed. Comps were not recorded in the company’s Macau casinos, making it impossible to know if the gifts went to government officials.
“Publicly traded companies must have appropriate financial controls in place to ensure that expenses are paid for bona fide services,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, Director of the SEC Enforcement Division. “Las Vegas Sands failed to implement controls to prevent tens of millions of dollars from being paid out without appropriate documentation or authorization.”
Assisting the SEC in its investigation were the Fraud Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
The bribery probe came out of a wrongful termination and breach of contract suit brought by former Sands China CEO, Steve Jacobs who claimed he was fired for airing grievances about the activities. LVS contends that the settlement put to bed Jacobs’ allegations, yet most of the investigation’s findings relate to bad record keeping in 2006, before Jacobs came on board.
In addition to losing about two days profits, the company agreed to, “retain an independent consultant for two years to review its FCPA-related internal controls, recordkeeping, and financial reporting policies and procedures and its ethics and compliance functions,” according to a statement by the SEC.
Steven Jacobs v. Las Vegas Sands Corporation, et al is scheduled to be heard in Las Vegas on June 27, 2016.
Las Vegas Sands owns and operates several casino properties in Las Vegas including the Venetian and the Palazzo – in Macau including Venetian Macao, Sands Macau, and Sands Cotai Central – as well as the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, and Sands Bethlehem in Pennsylvania.