Avon China Probe Concludes with $135 Million Settlement

The Department of Justice will defer criminal prosecution of Avon Products Inc. for three years, according to a bribery probe settlement disclosed Wednesday. A six-year federal investigation of the company has ended with Avon’s Chinese subsidiary pleading guilty and accruing $135 million in fines.

The investigation focused on the period from 2004 to late 2008. The SEC alleged that Avon China’s inaccurate and incomplete bookkeeping during that period conceals payments to government officials who ultimately awarded Avon the country’s first direct selling license.

According to the SEC’s Manhattan court filing, Avon violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by bankrolling $1.65 million in travel, meals and entertainment for Chinese officials. The company also provided $8 million in cash and gifts without properly recording the expenses. Additional payoffs went to state-owned media outlets to help the company avoid negative press.

The direct selling leader has spent about $300 million on an internal investigation launched in 2008. In the settlement, the DOJ recognized Avon’s cooperation and the “extensive remediation” it has undergone to improve compliance and internal controls.

Avon stated in May that it would settle the probe, which includes $68 million in fines to the DOJ and $67 million to the SEC. The agreement includes a corporate compliance monitor to oversee monitoring and reporting obligations for three years. With the company’s ongoing compliance, the charges will then be dropped.

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