WASHINGTON Feb 4 A U.S. judge on Monday
narrowed his request for information from IBM as he decides
whether to approve a 2011 settlement between the company and
regulators over charges of foreign bribery.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, seeking to keep close
watch on potential misconduct at the company, has refused to
sign off on International Business Machines Corp's
settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He
scolded IBM for a "history" of violating provisions of the
Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and "major payments" to foreign
Leon is the latest federal judge to express unhappiness with
U.S. regulators' handling of settlements with corporations
during the past two years.
IBM agreed in March 2011 to pay around $10 million to
resolve SEC charges over improper gifts to government officials
in South Korea and China. IBM neither admitted nor denied the
allegations, a common feature in SEC settlements.
Leon has resisted approving the deal and requested IBM to
turn over a greater range of information about possible
misconduct than both IBM and the SEC had originally agreed to.
On Monday Leon said he was prepared to narrow his request to
matters that could prove to be reasonably likely violations of
the anti-bribery law, or those that could show the company's
books and records to be fraudulent, rather than all potential
Fraudulent records could be a sign of a broader problem at
the company, Leon said.
The law bars payments to officials of foreign governments in
exchange for business and also requires companies to maintain
"It's important, corporate America is watching," Leon said.
In a feisty exchange, Leon told IBM lawyers they were
"overthinking" his requests.
Leon told the company and regulators he would not budge on
his request for IBM to report any open investigations by federal
government agencies into the company. Lawyers for IBM resisted,
saying they feared such information could be made public if
filed in court.
In the past year numerous federal judges have repeatedly
asked whether U.S. regulators were aggressive enough in
responding to corporate misconduct.
In November 2011 New York federal judge Jed Rakoff rejected
a proposed accord between the SEC and Citigroup and said it was
neither fair nor in the public interest.
An appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments on the issue
later this week.