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Ralph Lauren to pay $1.6 million to resolve Argentine bribery case

By Aruna Viswanatha

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Clothing retailer Ralph Lauren Corp will pay more than $1.6 million to settle a criminal and civil investigation of allegations that one of its subsidiaries bribed government officials in Argentina.

U.S. authorities agreed not to prosecute the company after allegations surfaced that it bribed Argentinian customs officials in order to clear merchandise, some of it prohibited, the U.S. Justice Department said.

The company received the lenient treatment because of its "extensive" cooperation in the inquiry and new anti-bribery training for its employees, a world-wide risk assessment it conducted and other remedial measures.

The company will pay an $882,000 penalty to the DOJ and disgorge more than $730,000 in illicit profits and interest to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the two agencies said.

Ralph Lauren did not have an anti-corruption program or provide training to employees at its subsidiary in Argentina in the five-year period over which the bribes occurred, prosecutors said.

A lawyer for the company, Thomas Hanusik, said Ralph Lauren investigated the allegations, reported them to authorities and cooperated in the government probes.

The agreement with the SEC is the first non-prosecution agreement the agency has entered in the foreign bribery context.

In recent years both agencies have stepped up efforts to enforce the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a 1970s-era law that bars bribes to officials of foreign governments.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Aruna Viswanatha; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Dan Grebler)

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