By Kanishka Singh and Chris Prentice
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said on Thursday that advertising company Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings agreed to pay more than $26 million to resolve charges it bribed Chinese government officials to obtain outdoor ad contracts in violation of U.S. law.
The SEC complaint alleged the company violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act through the actions of its agent, Clear Media Limited, which at the time was a Clear Channel majority-owned subsidiary in China.
The SEC said from at least 2012 through 2017, Clear Media bribed Chinese government officials to obtain contracts required to sell advertising services to public and private sector clients for display on public bus shelters and other outdoor displays.
The regulator also said that from at least 2012 through 2019, Clear Channel failed to ensure sufficient internal accounting controls were in place at Clear Media.
“Clear Media bribed Chinese officials with expensive gifts and entertainment and used off-book consultants to obtain contracts from Chinese authorities,” Charles Cain, a senior SEC official, said in a statement.
The company confirmed the settlement and said it cooperated with the SEC, adding it has since sold its entire interest in Clear Media while also improving its internal controls.
Without admitting or denying the SEC findings, Clear Channel agreed to cease and desist from committing or causing future violations, pay disgorgement plus prejudgment interest totaling about $20.1 million, and pay a $6 million civil penalty, according to the settlement.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh and Chris Prentice; Editing by Richard Chang and Chris Reese)