PEORIA — Two weeks after federal officials executed a search warrant on three Caterpillar Inc. facilities, the company has hired former U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr as outside counsel to bring "a fresh look" to the ongoing case.
Barr, who ran the Justice Department under George H.W. Bush from 1991-93, will be charged with "reviewing matters related to the search warrants executed at Caterpillar facilities on March 2, 2017, and assisting the company in appropriately addressing those matters," the company said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
Barr was tapped for the job by company CEO Jim Umpleby as someone "with an impeccable track record, well known for his integrity and direct, honest advice," Umpleby said in a statement.
"I have asked Bill — who has no prior connection with Caterpillar — to draw on his experience and that of his colleagues at Kirkland & Ellis and other advisers, to take a fresh look at Caterpillar's disputes with the government, get all the facts, and then help us bring these matters to proper resolution based on the merits."
A company spokeswoman would not expand upon what that work would include.
The controversy over the company's tax strategy dates back to last decade, before Umpleby assumed the CEO position and even before his predecessor Doug Oberhelman held the position, and has included investigation by a U.S. Senate committee earlier this decade into Caterpillar's dealings through its Swiss subsidiary, Caterpillar SARL.
A Senate subcommittee investigation in 2014 found that Caterpillar shifted profits to the Swiss entity to pay a lower negotiated tax rate, resulting in $2.4 billion in tax savings over 13 years. The IRS has since proposed more than $2 billion in tax payments and penalties, which Caterpillar continues to contest.
Barr faces that situation as well as other matters that may have resulted from the search warrants executed on March 2 and 3 as part of the criminal investigation taking place in the U.S. District Court in the Central District of Illinois. Agents conducting the search came from multiple agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the U.S. Department of Commerce export enforcement offices.
Copies of the search warrants executed at the Peoria headquarters as well as at facilities in East Peoria and Morton indicated agents sought evidence of failing to file or filing false export information and filing false and misleading financial reports and statements.
Barr brings to the task a history of working on complex matters, including in the corporate world. He worked as general counsel for one of the companies that merged to form Verizon, during which time he argued deregulation matters. Before taking the reins as attorney general, he ran day-to-day operations in the department as the No. 2 official there, and before that ran the office that served as legal adviser to the White House and executive agencies.
Barr's hiring also will allow officials at the company to shift focus back to their core goals, Umpleby said in his statement.
"I am committed to maintaining Caterpillar's long tradition of pursuing the highest ethical standards in conducting our business and, as we focus on restoring growth at Caterpillar, I am confident that Bill's assistance will help our leadership team achieve these goals," Umpleby said.
Chris Kaergard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.