(Reuters) - Las Vegas Sands Corp agreed to pay $9 million to end the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s more than five-year probe into whether it violated a federal anti-bribery law by paying a consultant to help it do business in China and Macau.
Thursday’s civil settlement resolves charges that the casino operator run by billionaire Sheldon Adelson violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by failing to properly authorize or document more than $62 million of payments to the consultant, known within the company as a “beard,” between 2006 and 2011.
The SEC said the consultant served as a middleman to conceal Las Vegas Sands’ effort to buy a team in the Chinese Basketball Association, which forbade gaming companies from ownership, and part of a Beijing building despite China’s casino gambling ban.
Las Vegas Sands also failed to properly document transactions involving its Macau operations, the SEC said.
Publicly traded companies “must have appropriate financial controls in place to ensure that expenses are paid for bona fide services,” Andrew Ceresney, head of the SEC enforcement division, said in a statement.
Las Vegas Sands also agreed to retain an independent compliance consultant for two years.
It did not admit wrongdoing, and said there was no finding of corrupt intent or bribery.
The probe stemmed from a breach-of-contract and wrongful termination lawsuit against Las Vegas Sands by Steven Jacobs, who once led its Sands China unit and claimed he was fired in retaliation for complaining about its activities.
Las Vegas Sands said his claims formed no basis for the SEC’s findings, which it called consistent with those found by its internal audit committee.
In a statement, Adelson said Las Vegas Sands is committed to having a “world class” compliance program.
The $9 million penalty represents less than two days of profit for the company.
Todd Bice, a lawyer for Jacobs, said he was unaware of another company licensed to do gaming in Nevada having agreed to oversight by a federal monitor like the consultant.
“To say this had nothing to do with what Mr. Jacobs raised is silly,” he said in a phone interview.
Jacobs’ trial is scheduled for June 27.
Adelson, 82, was not accused of wrongdoing. He is worth $27.8 billion according to Forbes magazine, and is a major donor to Republican political candidates.
Las Vegas Sands’ properties include the Venetian and the Palazzo in Las Vegas, the Venetian and the Four Seasons in Macau, and the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, among others.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco and Arathy Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Chris Reese