By Suzanne Barlyn
(Reuters) - (Story corrects name of joint venture in paragraph 3 to InBev India International Private Limited, not Crown Beers India Private Limited. Story clarifies in paragraph 5 that joint venture managed Crown Beer distribution. Story corrects "Anheuser-Busch" to "AB InBev" throughout.)
Anheuser-Busch InBev S.A., the world's largest brewer, has agreed to pay $6 million to settle charges that it had violated U.S. foreign bribery laws and "chilled a whistleblower," the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said on Wednesday.
An SEC investigation found that a minority-owned joint venture of the Belgium-based company used third-party sales promoters from 2009 to 2012 to make improper payments to officials in India to boost sales and production in that country, the agency said in a statement.
Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) owned 49 percent of the joint venture, InBev India International Private Limited, at the time.
The SEC said AB InBev violated the accounting provisions of U.S. foreign bribery laws by having inadequate internal controls to detect and prevent the improper payments, despite repeated complaints from employees. The company also failed to ensure that transactions involving the promoters were recorded properly in its books and records, the agency added.
The India joint venture managed distribution of Crown beer, made by AB InBev's subsidiary, Crown Beers India Private Limited. The joint venture used outside promoters to make improper payments to Indian government officials to increase Crown's brewery hours and obtain beer orders.
AB InBev has improved its compliance procedures and policies, and boosted training in India, company spokeswoman Karen Couck said in a statement. The settlement involves previous conduct, she noted.
The company did not admit or deny the SEC's findings, according to the settlement.
The SEC also said AB InBev had entered into an agreement with a former Crown employee prohibiting the person from communicating with the agency about potential anti-bribery violations. AB InBev had used the same language in other agreements with departing employees, the SEC said.
The SEC is cracking down on companies that insert language into their severance agreements that prevent outgoing employees from reporting conduct that could lead to monetary whistleblower awards from the agency.
Couck said the U.S. Department of Justice had closed its parallel investigation into the company without taking enforcement action.
A Department of Justice spokesman declined to comment.
AB InBev, as part of the settlement, must report its foreign bribery law compliance efforts to the SEC and try to notify certain former employees that it does not prohibit them from reporting possible legal violations to the SEC, the agency said.
(Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn; Editing by Alistair Bell and Richard Chang)