American fashion group Ralph Lauren has agreed to pay $1.6m to US authorities to settle allegations that it bribed government officials in Argentina.
Ralph Lauren said in settlements with the Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice that from 2005 until 2009 a general manager in its Argentina subsidiary arranged the payment of $568,000 in cash to customs officials to permit clearance of items without the required paperwork, to clear prohibited goods, and to avoid inspection of products.
The company also said in court filings that the general manager provided several gifts to three different Argentine government officials that included perfume, dresses and handbags valued between $400 and $14,000 each. The bribes were disguised in invoices as “Loading and Delivery Expenses” and “Stamp Tax/Label Tax”, the SEC said.
Ralph Lauren agreed to settle civil and criminal investigations by agreeing to a statement of facts as part of a “non-prosecution agreement” with the SEC and DoJ.
In return, the fashion designer agreed to pay the SEC $593,000 in connection with the bribe payments plus $141,846 in interest. The company paid the DoJ $880,000 in fines.
The maker of the Polo brand and Ricky bag also said it closed its operations in Argentina.
The SEC said it credited Ralph Lauren for reporting the violations two weeks after a new internal compliance programme in 2010 identified the improper payments.
“When they found a problem, Ralph Lauren Corp did the right thing by immediately reporting it to the SEC and providing exceptional assistance in our investigation,” said George Canellos, acting director of the SEC’s enforcement division. “The NPA in this matter makes clear that we will confer substantial and tangible benefits on companies that respond appropriately to violations and co-operate fully with the SEC.”
The SEC said it was the first time it has agreed to grant a company a non-prosecution agreement for foreign bribery violations. In 2010, the SEC said for the first time it would credit companies that come forward through these non-prosecution pacts. It agreed to the first NPA later that year with Carter’s, the children’s clothing company, over accounting violations.
The company, “investigated, self-reported, co-operated fully with the authorities, conducted a worldwide risk assessment and implemented a series of remedial measures, including enhanced compliance programs and training”, said Tom Hanusik, a lawyer for Ralph Lauren.
Get alerts on Polo Ralph Lauren Corp (old name of Ralph Lauren Corp) when a new story is published