SAP to cough up $220M to drag bribery charges into recycle bin

Enterprise software giant claims it has cut ties with bad apples

Enterprise software giant SAP has agreed to pay at least $220 million to settle bribery charges brought by the US Justice Department (DOJ), the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

SAP SE, based in Walldorf, Germany, is accused of conspiring to bribe government officials in South Africa, Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Indonesia, and Azerbaijan to secure government deals.

SAP's settlement – a three-year deferred prosecution agreement – resolves criminal charges filed in the Eastern District of Virginia that allege violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The biz initially acknowledged the investigation in 2017.

According to the SEC, SAP violated the FCPA through third-party intermediaries and consultants from at least December 2014 through January 2022. The financial watchdog says that SAP recorded bribes as legitimate business expenses, a failing facilitated by inadequate financial controls related to third-parties and subsidiaries.

"SAP paid bribes to officials at state-owned enterprises in South Africa and Indonesia to obtain valuable government business,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in a statement.

"Today's resolution – our second coordinated resolution with South African authorities in just over a year – marks an important moment in our ongoing fight against foreign bribery and corruption."

For what it's worth, SAP SE recorded a profit after tax of $1.4 billion in its latest financial quarter, the three months to September 30, 2023.

SAP said it welcomes the conclusion of the case and plans to comply with the terms of the deal. It claims that it cut ties with those responsible more than five years ago and since then has strengthened its global compliance regime and financial controls.

"SAP has zero tolerance for those who do not adhere to the company’s compliance policies and procedures," the company said in a statement. "SAP remains vigilant in maintaining the highest standards of ethics and compliance so that, together with a global network of customers, partners, suppliers, employees, and thought leaders, SAP can help the world run better and improve people’s lives."

This is the second significant bribery case brought by US authorities against SAP over the past decade. As the SEC put it in an administrative order [PDF], "SAP is a recidivist." In 2016, SAP agreed to pay about $3.9 million to resolve charges that the company paid off officials in Panama to secure business deals.

Despite past bribery charges, the Feds gave credit to SAP for cooperating with investigators during the multi-year probe, as well as good behavior that resulted in a 40 percent reduction in the recommended fine under US Sentencing Guidelines.

The SEC cites nine successful FCPA settlements in 2023, involving companies such as Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings, 3M Company, Grupo Aval, Gartner, and Koninklijke Philips. ®

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