U.S. SEC fines Telefonica Brasil over World Cup tickets

(Reuters) - Telefonica Brasil SA will pay a $4.13 million civil fine to settle U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charges over incentives provided to 127 government officials in connection with soccer’s 2014 World Cup and 2013 Confederations Cup.

The SEC on Thursday said Telefonica Brasil’s books failed to accurately reflect payments for tickets and hospitality awarded to officials capable of influencing legislative, regulatory and business activity involving the Sao Paulo-based telecommunications company, Brazil’s largest. It said this violated the books and records and internal accounting controls provisions of the federal Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, an anti-bribery law.

Telefonica Brasil, which sells services under the Vivo brand and is a unit of Spain’s Telefonica SA, did not admit or deny wrongdoing in agreeing to settle.

In a statement confirming the settlement, Telefonica Brasil said it has a strong code of ethics, and has been upgrading its compliance and anti-corruption controls.

According to the SEC, Telefonica Brasil provided 194 World Cup tickets to 93 officials, and 38 Confederations Cup tickets to 34 officials. Both tournaments were held in Brazil.

The SEC said the conduct “arose in an environment in which the company failed to adequately enforce its corporate antibribery and anticorruption policies.” It said this included Telefonica Brasil’s general ethics code which, like its parent’s code, forbade gift-giving that “may reward or influence a business decision.”

Settlement papers describe a June 2014 email in which an employee sought a World Cup ticket for a legislative chief of staff who had “opened many doors for us” and whose help on legislation was still needed.

The SEC said the fine reflected Telefonica Brasil’s cooperation and remedial acts.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Susan Thomas and Leslie Adler