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HP Under Investigation in Germany & Russia for Bribery

HP's Russian headquarters in Moscow were tossed Wednesday by the investigative arm of the Prosecutor General's Office

HP's Russian headquarters in Moscow were tossed Wednesday by the investigative arm of the Prosecutor General's Office at the request of German authorities according to reports by both Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.

It appears from the story the Journal has managed to piece together that German prosecutors in Dresden are investigating whether HP officials paid about €8 million ($10.9 million) in bribes to win a €35 million contract back in 2003, the Carly Fiorina era already infamous for the way it went about trying to stop boardroom leaks to the press, a case that brought down HP chairman Patricia Dunn and led to a Congressional investigation.

Ironically the deal was with the very Prosecutor General's Office in Russia that searched its offices. And equally ironically the Russian Prosecutor General's Office is charged with criminal prosecutions, including many corruption cases, the Journal says.

Germany reportedly comes into it because the state-of-the-art computer system sold to the Russians moved through a German subsidiary of HP's.

The system was reportedly designed to provide secure communications for prosecutors throughout Russia and included notebooks, workstations and servers.

From what the Journal has managed to find out, the Germans have been investigating for months and following the dollars through what the paper - reading documents submitted to a German court - calls "a network of shell companies and accounts in places including Britain, Austria, Switzerland, the British Virgin Islands, Belize, New Zealand, the Baltic nations of Latvia and Lithuania, and the US states of Delaware and Wyoming."

The Germans are reportedly investigating "allegations of breach of trust, tax evasion and money-laundering and whether money was funneled out of HP accounts to create a slush fund," the Journal says.

The investigators have reportedly yet to figure out who was allegedly bribed. They can't even read the Russian signature on the contract. That's why they're rooting through a reported "3,000 e-mails and thousands of pages of additional evidence" looking for who benefits on either sides of the deal.

The paper notes that the SEC could start a parallel investigation since the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act prohibits US companies from bribing foreign officials.

Or it could if it was informed about what was going on but the news has yet to wend its way into an HP filing with the SEC although, according to what the paper heard from "two people familiar with the investigation," HP has known about the investigation since at least December when it was served with search warrants in both Germany and Switzerland "detailing allegations against 10 [unidentified] suspects."

HP seems to have hinted however. The Journal says its last SEC filing on March 11 "gave a non-specific warning to its investors that ‘in many foreign countries' illegal business practices are ‘common.' Such actions, undertaken ‘in violation of our policies...could have a material adverse effect on our business and reputation.'"

In Germany a company can't face criminal charges, but it can be made to disgorge illicit profits if it benefits from a crime. Bribes used to be tax-deductible in Germany.

HP is giving everybody the same statement: "This is an investigation of alleged conduct that occurred almost seven years ago, largely by employees no longer with HP. We are co-operating fully with the German and Russian authorities and will continue to conduct our own internal investigation."

Coming in on the Journal's tail, the Financial Times said early Thursday that after the December raids in Germany three HP managers were arrested but released on bail. At least two of them have left the company and the six others under investigation are managing directors of the shell companies believed to have funneled the money. It claims nine people are implicated.

The FT says the investigation started when a garden-variety audit of a small firm in Leipzig uncovered suspicious payments.

German tax authorities, on the trail of undeclared income, brought down the CEO of Deutsche Post two years ago for tax evasion.

Editor - We received the following statement from HP on April 15, 9:21 am regarding this subject

HP Statement (attributed to an HP spokesperson):

"This is an investigation of alleged conduct that occurred almost seven years ago, largely by employees no longer with HP.   We are cooperating fully with the German and Russian authorities and will continue to conduct our own internal investigation."

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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