Stock slide slows as probe into NCR foreign business practices continues

The 10 percent hit that NCR's share price took Tuesday in the wake of a whistle-blower's allegations it had illegally been doing business in Syria and had bribed officials in Oman and China didn't recur Wednesday.

The company's stock was down less than 1 percent Wednesday.

But further fallout from the charges, if proven, could turn out to be financially significant, observers said.

The Duluth-based business technology company could face stiff penalties and also could see its ability to successfully conduct business in some areas of the world affected, they said.

NCR said Wednesday that it is looking into the matter but "does not comment on ongoing internal investigations."

However, it addressed the issue in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Tuesday, saying: "NCR has received anonymous allegations from a purported whistle-blower regarding certain aspects of the company's business practices in China, the Middle East and Africa, including allegations which, if true, might constitute violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

"NCR has certain concerns about the motivation of the purported whistle-blower and the accuracy of the allegations it received, some of which appear to be untrue.

"NCR takes all allegations of this sort seriously and promptly retained experienced outside counsel and began an internal investigation that is ongoing."

The company said "certain of the allegations related to NCR's business in Syria," and added that it had ceased operations in that country and informed the U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control of "potential apparent violations."

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, NCR received a tip in May that it had broken a federal trade embargo against doing business in Syria. The tipster showed the newspaper documents indicating the company had operated a directly controlled subsidiary in the troubled nation.

The documents provided also raise questions about the current nature of the business relationship and indicate an NCR subsidiary conducted business with two banks that the U.S. government prohibited American companies from working with.

U.S. companies were legally allowed to operate direct subsidiaries in Syria before August 2011. But as conditions there deteriorated, the U.S. government imposed economic sanctions. Now, foreign subsidiaries can't have an operational relationship with an American parent company.

The whistle-blower also provided the newspaper documents indicating officials in Oman were given gifts and taken on trips by NCR and that bank officials in China were sent on a trip to a ritzy spa, according to the report, which noted that it was unclear whether the U.S. is investigating.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act forbids companies from making certain payments to foreign officials to gain their business.

Douglas Greiner, an analyst with Compass Point Research & Trading, said that while the potential penalties are unclear, settlements in cases where there were violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act have run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Also, NCR might be put at a future competitive disadvantage against foreign competitors who are less scrutinized regarding their ways of doing business overseas.

In Other News