(Reuters) – The US Securities and Exchange Commission announced on Thursday that it had fined World Acceptance Corp., a consumer lending company, $ 21.7 million for paying bribes in Mexico.
The SEC said in a statement that the company's Mexican subsidiary paid over $ 4 million in bribes to Mexican governments and union officials in exchange for business lending to government employees.
The South Carolina-based company agreed to the penalty without acknowledging or denying guilt. The company agreed to audit its internal operations, as well as to pay $ 17.8 million in disgorgement, nearly $ 2 million in interest and a $ 2 million penalty.
“This long-term bribery program did not occur in a vacuum. Due to the lack of adequate internal accounting controls and a culture that undermined its internal audit and compliance functions, World Acceptance Corporation created the perfect environment for illegal activities that would occur in nearly a decade, said Charles Cain, a senior SEC executive, in a statement.
The SEC said that the company's Mexican subsidiary would deposit money in bank accounts linked to officials or hand out bags of cash. The expenses were then recorded as legitimate business expenses.
The SEC accused that the company's internal controls were insufficient to detect the business, and management "lacked the appropriate tone" on compliance.
A defense attorney for the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.