Bio-Rad paying $55M to resolve US claims of failing to prevent foreign bribes, hiding payments

WASHINGTON – Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc. has agreed to pay about $55 million to resolve U.S. authorities’ allegations that it failed to prevent bribery of officials in Russia, Thailand and Vietnam and falsifying records to hide the payments.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department announced settlements Monday with Bio-Rad, which makes instruments used in bio-medical research. The regulators said the company paid some $7.5 million in bribes to officials in the three countries from 2005 to 2010 to win business, enabling it to make $35 million in illicit profits.

Bio-Rad masked the bribes as legitimate expenses such as commissions, advertising and training fees, they said.

The company, based in Hercules, California, is paying a $14.35 million criminal fine to Justice and $40.7 million in restitution and interest to the SEC.

“Public companies that cook their books and hide improper payments foster corruption,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said in a statement.

Under its agreement with Justice, Bio-Rad will be allowed to avoid criminal prosecution in exchange for reporting periodically on its compliance efforts for a two-year period. They will also need to continue making progress on an improved compliance program and company internal controls designed to prevent violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The law prohibits bribery of foreign government officials or company executives to secure or retain business.

Justice said it declined to prosecute Bio-Rad largely because the company had voluntarily disclosed the misconduct to the government and had fully co-operated with the investigation.

“The actions that we discovered were completely contrary to Bio-Rad’s culture and values and ethical standards for conducting business,” Bio-Rad President and CEO Norman Schwartz said in a statement.

The company said it terminated the employees involved.

“We took strong, decisive action to end the problematic practices and prevent anything like this from happening in the future,” Schwartz said.