In September 2016, the SEC announced a $6 million settlement with multinational brewing company Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev). AB InBev was charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and SEC whistleblower protection provisions.
The SEC’s investigation concluded that AB InBev was using third-party sales promoters to make illegal payments to government officials in India in an effort to boost sales and production. According to the SEC, “[d]espite 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 entered into a separation agreement with a whistleblower in which it restricted the employee’s ability to communicate with the SEC concerning FCPA violations by imposing financial penalties on the employee. This effort to silence whistleblowers violates SEC Rule 21F-17, which prohibits companies from taking action to impede whistleblowers from communicating with the SEC about possible securities law violations.
The $6 million settlement consisted of $2,712,955 in disgorgement plus interest of $292,381 and a penalty of $3,002,955. Additionally, the SEC has required that the company cooperate with the agency and report its efforts to comply with the FCPA and to make “reasonable efforts to notify certain former employees that Anheuser-Busch InBev does not prohibit employees from contacting the SEC about possible law violations.”
In fiscal year 2016, the SEC brought a record 21 FCPA-related enforcement actions. The agency’s actions in this case underscored its ongoing commitment to protecting whistleblowers and rooting out the payment of bribes to foreign officials.