Thursday, October 29, 2020

Former Chief Exec of Canadian Clean-Fuel Tech Company Charged With Bribing Chinese Official

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A Canadian clean-fuel technology company and its former chief executive agreed to pay about $4.1 million to settle charges related to bribes paid to a Chinese government official, the Securities and Exchange Commission said.

Westport Fuel Systems Inc. and the former CEO, Nancy Gougarty, violated provisions of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that require companies to maintain accurate books and records and internal accounting controls, according to an administrative order released Friday.

The two defendants agreed to settle the civil charges without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings. Ms. Gougarty, a U.S. citizen and resident of Leesville, S.C., retired in January, but had agreed to assist Westport’s leadership through a transition period, according to a company press release from that time.

Westport in a statement Friday said the settlement related to a transaction that took place more than three years earlier and that it was handled by individuals who had since departed from the company.

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“With the investigation resolved and a steadfast commitment to maintaining a culture of integrity, we are able to return our full focus to providing our customers around the world with our clean transportation technologies and products to address the urgent challenges of climate change and urban air quality,” Westport’s current CEO, David M. Johnson, said.

A lawyer for Ms. Gougarty declined to comment.

Beginning around 2016, Ms. Gougarty and others at Westport engaged in a scheme to bribe the Chinese official in an effort to bring in business, according to the SEC’s order.

Westport also sought to obtain a cash dividend payment by transferring shares of stock in a joint venture to a Chinese private-equity fund in which the government official held a financial interest, according to the order.

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The SEC in a press release highlighted the participation of Westport’s former top executive. “A company’s commitment to compliance is only as strong as the effort put in by senior management,” Charles Cain, chief of the SEC’s FCPA unit, said.

Westport agreed to pay back about $2.5 million in profits it obtained as a result of the scheme, plus interest, as well as a $1.5 million civil penalty, the SEC said. The company had taken steps to strengthen its anticorruption and financial reporting compliance programs, the agency said.

Separately, Ms. Gougarty will pay a civil penalty of $120,000, according to the order.

Expenses relating to the settlement were booked in the company’s second-quarter financials, Westport said Friday.

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