Ralph Lauren Corp. settled U.S. Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission allegations that bribes were paid to Argentine import officials, agreeing to give up more than $700,000 of illicit profits and pay an $882,000 penalty, federal authorities said Monday.
The New York-based apparel company promptly reported the violations from 2005 to 2009 after discovering them in 2010, terminated culpable employees and a third-party agent, and shut down its offices and stores in Argentina, officials said. Lauren won't be prosecuted under agreements for maintaining worldwide risk assessment and training employees about the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which it was accused of violating.
"The NPA in this matter makes clear that we will confer substantial and tangible benefits on companies that respond appropriately to violations and cooperate fully with the SEC," said George Canellos, acting director of its enforcement division. The SEC said bribes of $593,000 were paid over four years through its customs broker to get its products into Argentina without necessary paperwork and avoid inspection of prohibited products. The violations were found when the company adopted measures to improve its worldwide internal controls.
U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch in New York said the agreement acknowledges that the manager of the Lauren subsidiary in Argentina bribed customs officials to get goods into the country, disguising them by funneling money through a customs clearance agency.
The corporation agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department, report periodically on its compliance efforts and continue internal controls to prevent violations. If Lauren abides by the agreement, it will not be prosecuted, according to Lynch and Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman.
"Of course the company did do all the right things when it surfaced to make sure it will not happen anywhere else, " Attorney Thomas Hanusik said. "We've ceased operations in Argentina."
Hanusik said the company reported preliminary findings of its internal investigation to federal authorities within two weeks of discovering illegal payments and gifts.