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WPP to pay $19 million in settlement with SEC


(Reuters) — The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said Friday that Britain's WPP had agreed to pay more than $19 million to resolve charges that it violated the anti-bribery, books and records, and internal accounting controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The world's largest advertising company did not admit or deny the SEC's charges but agreed to pay the fine, the SEC said.

WPP implemented an aggressive business growth strategy that included acquiring majority interests in many localized advertising agencies in high-risk markets, the agency said.

Its order found that WPP failed to ensure that these subsidiaries implemented its internal accounting controls and compliance policies, the SEC said, noting issues in India, China, Brazil and Peru.

It added that because of structural deficiencies, WPP failed to “promptly or adequately respond to repeated warning signs of corruption or control failures at certain subsidiaries.”

The issues relate to a period between 2013 and 2018.

“A company cannot allow a focus on profitability or market share to come at the expense of appropriate controls,” said Charles Cain, the SEC's FCPA unit chief.

“Further, it is essential for companies to identify the root cause of problems when red flags emerge to prevent a pattern of corrupt behavior from taking hold.”

Friday's move comes as the nation's top securities watchdog seeks to stamp out abuses in U.S. markets due to a lack of required controls by companies.

WPP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.