Whistleblower Sues SEC For ‘Outsourcing’ Bribery Investigation To Sempra Favorite
Monday, April 30, 2012
Aired 4/30/12 on KPBS News.
The lawsuit says firms who perform SEC outsourced investigations are paid millions by their clients -- the targets of probes -- to investigate whether they broke securities laws.
A former Sempra executive who accused the company of paying bribes in Mexico is suing the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Rodolfo Michelon has alleged that the government agency outsourced its investigation into the bribery allegations to a law firm friendly to Sempra.
“We want the records from the SEC of how they conducted this investigation,” said Michelon’s attorney, Gary Aguirre, who is a former SEC lawyer. “The SEC has not produced them.”
Michelon used to work as a comptroller for Sempra Global in Mexico. He said Sempra bribed Mexican officials to further their business dealings. Last year, the U.S. government opened an investigation. It closed the probe in June of last year after concluding that Sempra had adequately addressed the allegations.
But Michelon said the government allowed Sempra to handpick the law firm that investigated. Michelon said Sempra used the firms Baker & McKenzie and Jones Day, where its current general counsel Javade Chaudhuri used to be a partner.
Michelon's attorney Aguirre said the SEC does not allow individuals whom it accuses of wrongdoing to cherry pick a firm to investigate them.
"So the notion that there is a class of companies, Fortune 500 Companies and Wall Street banks and Wall Street in general who are able to conduct their own investigations through favorite law firms is repugnant to the host of regulations that require the SEC to be neutral, unbiased and treat everybody the same,” Aguirre said.
He added that in performing these SEC-outsourced investigations, law firms understand they are obligated to act “as zealous advocates of their clients interests.”
Given such ethical and financial incentives, not surprisingly, the firms routinely issue reports to SEC staff concluding their clients committed no securities acts violations, he said. In turn, Aguirre said, SEC officials ignore what prompts the firms to give their clients a clean slate and treat the findings as if they were the result of impartial investigations.
Sempra spokesman Doug Kline repeated earlier company assertions that Michelon is a disgruntled ex-employee who made a series of false claims of wrongdoing in an attempt to extract money from the company.
Kline said the company has fully cooperated with authorities.
“We believe strongly that the conduct of our employees was both ethical and proper," Kline said. "Since June 2011, we have received no further inquiries from federal authorities about these claims.”