NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice is pushing to block the release of documents detailing how the German industrial conglomerate Siemens AG (SIEGn.DE) improved compliance in the wake of a sweeping bribery case, in the latest battle over how much information about corporate settlement agreements should be made public.
The non-profit news organization 100Reporters filed a lawsuit in 2013 in U.S. District Court in Washington under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking annual reports from a corporate monitor installed after Siemens pleaded guilty in 2008 to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
The act sanctions companies for bribing foreign officials and accounting failures related to corrupt payments.
The DOJ moved to throw out the lawsuit in a filing late on Tuesday, arguing that releasing the information would discourage other companies from cooperating with the government.
“If the information that a monitor gives the DOJ can be obtained through FOIA, companies and their employees are not likely to be candid with monitors,” the DOJ wrote. The Department declined to comment beyond the filing.
Reports on how companies accused of wrongdoing - ranging from foreign bribery to environmental violations - comply with government settlement deals are secret, but transparency advocates say more information about them should be open to public scrutiny.
In 2008, Siemens agreed to install Theo Waigel, a former German Finance Minister, as an outside corporate monitor for up to four years. The company also paid $1.6 billion in fines and penalties to U.S. and German authorities.
100Reporters argued that the public should be allowed to know what Siemens and Waigel did to comply with the plea agreement to ensure the monitorship was effective.
But the DOJ countered that the monitor’s reports and communications contained sensitive commercial information that would harm Siemens’ business if it were released.
Siemens and Waigel joined the Justice Department in its motion to dismiss the case on Tuesday. A brief submitted by Waigel’s attorneys said the monitor’s communications were always intended to be kept confidential. Siemens declined to comment.
A similar debate arose earlier this year after a federal judge ordered the release of a report by the monitor overseeing HSBC Holdings Plc’s (HSBA.L) compliance program to improve anti-money laundering controls as part of a settlement deal. The bank and the Justice Department have opposed the ruling.
The case is 100Reporters LLC v. United States Department of Justice, U.S. District Court District of Columbia, Washington D.C., No. 1:14-cv-01264.
Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; editing by Noeleen Walder, G Crosse