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Corporate Cooperation in Bribery Cases: Lessons from SAP SE’s $220 Million Settlement

COFFYLAW, LLC > Publications  > Corporate Cooperation in Bribery Cases: Lessons from SAP SE’s $220 Million Settlement

Corporate Cooperation in Bribery Cases: Lessons from SAP SE’s $220 Million Settlement

Introduction: The recent $220 million settlement by SAP SE with the U.S. Justice Department, addressing allegations of bribing foreign officials, underscores a critical aspect of corporate compliance and ethics in international business. This case highlights how even companies with prior offenses can benefit from active cooperation with legal authorities.

Background on SAP (Systems, Applications & Products in Data Processing) SE Case

 Nature of the Allegation: SAP SE, a global software giant based in Germany, was accused of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by bribing foreign officials to secure business contracts. The company entered into a three-year deferred-prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) after it was charged with two counts of conspiracy to violate the FCPA. According to Bloomberg Law, SAP and co-conspirators paid bribes in cash, political contributions and luxury goods to win business in South Africa from 2013 through 2017 and in Indonesia from 2015 through 2018, and falsified records to make the payoffs look like business expenses. Under the agreement, the US won’t pursue a prosecution as long as the company meets certain conditions, including assisting in related ongoing or future criminal investigations.

The Settlement: The company agreed to pay $220 million to the Justice Department as part of the settlement. This outcome was significantly influenced by SAP SE’s cooperation during the investigation. In the new settlement, SAP received a 40% penalty discount, avoided an independent compliance monitor, and will escape indictment if it complies with the terms of the three-year deal.

Importance of Cooperation in Legal Cases

Reduced Penalties: Companies that actively cooperate with investigations often benefit from reduced penalties or fines.

Enhanced Reputation: By cooperating, companies can mitigate reputational damage, showing commitment to legal compliance and ethical business practices.

Preventive Measures: Cooperation often involves implementing or enhancing compliance programs, which can prevent future violations.

Comparison with Similar Cases

  • Siemens AG (2008)

Allegation: Siemens, the European engineering conglomerate, faced bribery charges in several countries. The Securities and Exchange Commission files settled Foreign Corrupt Practices Act charges against Siemens AG for engaging in Worldwide Bribery with Total Disgorgement and Criminal Fines. Securities and Exchange Commission v. Siemens Aktiengesellscraft, Civil Action No. 08-CV-02167 (D.D.C.)

Outcome: Siemens paid approximately $1.6 billion in fines after cooperating with authorities. The case set a precedent for international cooperation in corporate corruption cases.

  • VimpelCom Ltd. (2016)

Allegation: This telecom company was accused of bribing officials in Uzbekistan.

Settlement: VimpelCom (now VEON Ltd.) paid $795 million in penalties. Their proactive cooperation was a key factor in the settlement negotiation.

  • Odebrecht S.A. (2016)

Allegation: The Brazilian conglomerate was involved in a massive bribery scandal, part of the Operation Car Wash investigation.

Outcome: Odebrecht paid billions in fines and cooperated extensively, leading to significant legal and corporate reforms.

Implications for Corporate Governance

Corporate Responsibility: These cases emphasize the importance of ethical business practices and the high cost of non-compliance.

Global Compliance Standards: Multinational companies must adhere to global compliance standards like the FCPA, regardless of local business customs.

Role of Compliance Programs: Effective compliance programs are essential in preventing, detecting, and responding to corrupt practices.

Impact on SAP SE’s Image and Goodwill

  • Damage to Reputation

SAP SE’s involvement in bribery: The allegations of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) negatively impacted SAP’s reputation, especially given its status as a global leader in enterprise software.

  • Public Perception: The incident might raise questions among SAP’s stakeholders about the company’s ethical practices and commitment to lawful conduct.

Mitigation through Cooperation

  • Settlement and Cooperation: SAP SE’s decision to cooperate with the investigation and the subsequent settlement can be seen as a move to mitigate damage and rebuild trust. This approach can reflect positively on their commitment to rectifying the issue and improving their practices.

Parallel with Johnson & Johnson

  • Similarities in Corporate Crisis

Both J&J and SAP SE faced situations that threatened their public image and trust. J&J’s case with talc-based baby powder and SAP’s bribery allegations posed significant risks to their brand reputations.

In both instances, the companies’ responses to the crises, including legal settlements and cooperation, were crucial in managing public perception and preserving goodwill.

  • Differences in Nature and Scope

Nature of Allegations: While J&J’s case involved product safety and health concerns, SAP’s case centered around corporate ethics and legal compliance.

Scope of Impact: J&J’s case potentially affected a broader consumer base, given the widespread use of their products. SAP’s case, on the other hand, might have more direct implications on its corporate clients and stakeholders.

Managing Brand Image Post-Crisis

  • J&J and SAP SE’s Strategies

Both companies needed to engage in strategic communication and rebranding efforts to restore their images. This involves transparently addressing the issues and outlining steps taken to prevent future occurrences.

Implementing and highlighting robust compliance and ethical practices is vital for rebuilding trust among customers, investors, and the public.

  • Long-Term Brand Recovery

The path to recovering brand image and goodwill requires consistent effort and demonstration of ethical conduct over time. Both J&J and SAP SE must continually prove their commitment to high ethical standards and consumer safety.


The SAP SE case, along with similar high-profile corporate bribery cases, illustrates the dual role of enforcement and cooperation in shaping ethical business practices globally. It highlights the necessity for multinational corporations to maintain robust compliance mechanisms and the potential benefits of cooperation in legal proceedings. These cases serve as a cautionary tale and a roadmap for companies navigating the complex terrain of international business ethics and legal compliance.

The cases of SAP SE and Johnson & Johnson illustrate how legal challenges can significantly impact a corporation’s image and goodwill. The way these companies respond to such crises, including their willingness to cooperate with authorities and make necessary changes, plays a critical role in shaping public perception and preserving their brand value. While the nature of their legal issues differs, the underlying principle of maintaining ethical integrity and public trust remains a common thread in managing and recovering their respective brand images.


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