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Technip Joins the Bonny Island Bribery Club

A French company bribes Nigerian foreign officials with the end result being $338 million paid into the United States treasury.

Welcome to the sometimes wacky world of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement. Except in this case, the end result is not so wacky because the French company, Technip (see here) was a U.S. issuer, and thus subject to the FCPA, because, between August 2001 and November 2007, it had American Depository Shares registered with and listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In addition to being an Issuer subject to the FCPA, “Technip and other members of the joint venture [described below] routinely made use of the U.S. mails and of U.S. common carriers, and of other instrumentalities of U.S. interstate commerce” including improper payments “routed through banks in New York.”

The Technip FCPA enforcement action has been anticipated since February when the company (see here) foreshadowed the pending settlement.

Yesterday, the DOJ and SEC announced the settlement. It includes payment of a $240 criminal penalty pursuant to a DOJ deferred prosecution agreement and payment of $98 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest pursuant to a settled SEC civil complaint.

The below post summarizes the DOJ release (to my knowledge the DOJ deferred prosecution agreement and criminal information are not yet publicly available) and the SEC settled civil complaint.

DOJ

The DOJ release (here) states that Technip “has agreed to pay a $240 million criminal penalty to resolve charges related to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for its participation in a decade-long scheme to bribe Nigerian government officials to obtain engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contracts […] to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities on Bonny Island, Nigeria, [contracts that] were valued at more than $6 billion.”

According to the release, “Technip, Kellogg Brown & Root Inc. (KBR) (see here for the prior FCPA enforcement action), and two other companies were part of a four-company joint venture that was awarded four EPC contracts.”

The release further states that “Technip authorized the joint venture to hire two agents, Jeffrey Tesler (see here for the criminal indictment) and a Japanese trading company, to pay bribes to a range of Nigerian government officials, including top-level executive branch officials, to assist Technip and the joint venture in obtaining the EPC contracts. According to the release, “at crucial junctures preceding the award of EPC contracts, a senior executive of Technip, KBR’s former CEO, Albert “Jack” Stanley (see here and here for the prior FCPA enforcement action), and others met with successive holders of a top-level office in the executive branch of the Nigerian government to ask the office holders to designate a representative with whom the joint venture should negotiate bribes to Nigerian government officials.” According to the release, “the joint venture paid approximately $132 million to a Gibraltar corporation controlled by Tesler and more than $50 million to the Japanese trading company during the course of the bribery scheme” and that “Technip intended for these payments to be used, in part, for bribes to Nigerian government officials.”

As has become the norm in corporate FCPA prosecutions, Technip will not be required to plead guilty to anything as the criminal charges (one count of conspiracy and one count of violating the FCPA), while filed, will be deferred pursuant to two-year deferred prosecution agreement.

In a press release (see here) Technip Chairman and CEO, Thierry Pilenko said:

“The final agreement with the US authorities, completely in line with the road map that we laid out in February, puts this legacy story behind us and enables us to focus on continuing to develop Technip’s business. We stand by Technip’s commitment to carrying out its business activities ethically and according to both the spirit and letter of the law worldwide. The Board of Directors of Technip and its management are strongly committed to the continued enhancement of our internal compliance policies and processes.”

Technip’s release further states:

“The DOJ investigation of Technip was resolved through a deferred prosecution agreement, in which the Department of Justice agreed not to pursue a prosecution of Technip in return for Technip’s agreement to undertake a variety of steps during the next two years, including maintaining and enhancing its compliance program and cooperating with the DOJ. Technip agreed to pay USD 240 million to the DOJ in eight equal installments of USD 30 million over the next two years. Technip will retain a French national, approved by the Department of Justice, to serve as an independent corporate monitor, who will be chiefly responsible for reviewing Technip’s compliance initiatives and recommending improvements.”

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Criminal Division stated: “The resolutions announced today demonstrate once again the department’s commitment to aggressively investigate and prosecute international bribery by U.S. and foreign corporations alike.”

SEC

In a settled civil complaint (see here) charging FCPA anti-bribery violations and FCPA books and records and internal violations, the SEC alleged that “between at least 1995 and 2004, senior executives at Technip, among others, devised and implemented a scheme to bribe Nigerian government officials to assist in obtaining multiple contracts worth over $6 billion to build liquefied natural gas (“LNG”) production facilities on Bonny Island, Nigeria.” According to the SEC, “to conceal the illicit payments, Technip and others, through the joint venture, entered into sham ‘consulting’ or ‘services’ agreements with intermediaries who would then funnel their purportedly legitimate fees to Nigerian officials.” Specifically, the SEC alleged that “Technip, through the joint venture, implemented this scheme by using a Gibraltar shell company controlled by a solicitor based in the United Kingdom (“the UK Agent” [Tesler]) and a Japanese trading company (“the Japanese Agent”) as conduits for the bribes” and that “as a result of the scheme, numerous books and records of Technip contained false information relating to, among other things, the UK Agent and the Japanese Agent, and the payments made to them.”

As to Technip’s internal controls violations, the SEC alleges as follows:

“Technip conducted due diligence on the UK Agent that was not adequate to detect, deter or prevent the UK Agent from paying bribes, and Technip conducted no due diligence on the Japanese Agent.”

“Although the executives of Technip who participated in the joint venture were aware of [the FCPA’s] prohibitions, Technip did not implement adequate controls to ensure compliance with the Act. For example, Technip did not adopt due diligence procedures as to agents that were adequate to detect, deter or prevent the payment of bribes by agents. The due diligence procedures adopted by Technip only required that potential agents respond to a written questionnaire, seeking minimal background information about the agent. No additional due diligence was required, such as an interview of the agent, or a background check, or obtaining information beyond that provided by the answers to the questionnaire. A senior executive of Technip admitted that the due diligence procedures adopted by Technip were a perfunctory exercise, conducted so that Technip would have some documentation in its files of purported due diligence. In fact, Technip executives knew that the purpose of the agreements with the UK Agent was to funnel bribes to Nigerian officials, and therefore certain answers by the UK Agent to the questionnaire were false.”

According to the SEC release (see here) “without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Technip has consented to the entry of a court order permanently enjoining it from” future FCPA violations “and ordering Technip to disgorge $98 million in ill-gotten profits derived from the scheme and prejudgment interest.”

Other members of the TSKJ joint venture that also potentially face FCPA exposure include Snamprogetti Netherlands B.V. (see below information regarding Eni SpA), and JGC of Japan (see here).

In March 2010, Eni SpA of Italy disclosed (here) as follows:

“Snamprogetti SpA, the holding company of Snamprogetti Netherlands BV, was a wholly owned subsidiary of Eni until February 2006, when an agreement was entered into for the sale of Snamprogetti to Saipem SpA and Snamprogetti was merged into Saipem as of October 1, 2008. Eni holds a 43% participation in Saipem. In connection with the sale of Snamprogetti to Saipem, Eni agreed to indemnify Saipem for a variety of matters, including potential losses and charges resulting from the investigations into the TSKJ matter referred […}, even in relation to Snamprogetti subsidiaries.”

The disclosure further stated:

“As to Eni, the contacts with the US authorities have been intensified recently. Based on the ongoing status of the discussions, the Company has been able to estimate the cost of a global resolution of all potential claims arising from the investigation with the US authorities, similarly to Technip. As a result of this, a provision in the amount of €250 million has been accrued, also considering the contractual obligations assumed by Eni to indemnify Saipem as part of the divestment of Snamprogetti. Discussions with the US authorities are underway.”

Stay tuned for additional analysis of the Technip DPA, criminal information, and other issues raised by the Technip enforcement action.

A Bribery Scheme Hatched at the “Eggs Benedict Place”

The DOJ announced today (see here) that John Joseph O’Shea was recently arrested for his alleged role in a conspiracy to bribe Mexican foreign officials to secure contracts with the Comision Federal de Electridad (“CFE”), an apparent Mexican state-owned utility company (see here). In addition to charging conspiracy to violate the FCPA, the indictment contains twelve substantive FCPA charges (among other charges).

According to the unsealed indictment (see here), O’Shea was the General Manager of Texas Business A, a business that provides products and services to electrical utilities in a number of foreign markets. According to the indictment, one of O’Shea’s responsibilities was approving payments to sales representatives.

According to the indictment, Texas Business A is a business unit of Subsidiary A (a company with its principal place of business in Sugar Land, Texas) and Subsidiary A, in turn, is a subsidiary of Corporation A (a company headquartered and incorporated in Switzerland with publicly-traded American Depositary Shares on the NYSE).

In other words, both Subsidiary A and Corporation A are subject to the FCPA and may be the focus of a forthcoming enforcement action. Also of note is that Mexican Company X, Intermediary Company O (a company incorporated in and headquartered in Mexico) and Intermediary Company S (a company incorporated in Panama and headquartered in Mexico) are all alleged to be “an agent of a domestic concern” under 78dd-2(h)(1). DOJ recently noted (see here) that it is willing to go after agents and intermediaries which facilitate bribe payments and the “agent of a domestic concern” designation would seem to be setting the table for a possible enforcement action against such companies as well.

According to the indictment, one customer Texas Business A did business with is CFE and officials N,J,C and G at CFE had influence over decisions concerning Texas Business A’s contracts with CFE

(Sorry for the alphabet soup, but this is how the indictment reads).

According to the indictment, Texas Business A obtained multiple contracts with CFE while using Mexican Company X (including its principal, Fernando Maya Basurto) as its sales representative under several commission-based agreements.

The indictment alleges that O’Shea conspired and agreed with Basurto, Subsidiary A, Texas Business A, and the intermediary companies and others to make improper payments to Mexican “foreign officials” to obtain or retain business for Subsidiary A and Texas Business A in violation of the FCPA and that O’Shea did indeed offer, authorize, or make the improper payments indirectly through others to the CFE officials in violation of the FCPA.

According to the indictment, the payments assisted Texas Business A secure two contracts with CFE worth approximately $81 million in revenue.

According to the indictment, the improper payments were concealed through a series of financial transactions, first to U.S. bank accounts in the name of Basurto and certain of his family members, then through false invoices received from Basurto in the names of the intermediary companies, and then to the “foreign officials.”

According to the indictment, after O’Shea was terminated from Texas Business A, he, Basurto, and others tried to cover up their conduct after learning that Corporation A had disclosed the suspected payments to the DOJ, SEC and Mexican authorities.

In describing O’Shea’s cover up, the indictment states, “On or about April 27, 2005, O’Shea sent Basurto an e-mail that read, in part, “It seems my lawyer thinks it is OK to use a private e-mail such as yahoo, as it would seem much more difficult for anyone to get the exchanges – if it is a company email it belongs to them. I believe [sic] we should alter opur [sic] normal routine; meaning not meet at the ‘eggs benedict’ place.”

Consistent with DOJ’s recent statements on this issue, the indictment seeks from O’Shea forfeiture of approximately $3 million in proceeds derived from his improper conduct.

As noted in the DOJ’s release, Basurto recently pleaded guilty to a one-count criminal information (see here) charging him with conspiracy to violate the FCPA. The DOJ news release also notes that a Mexican citizen had pleaded guilty for his role in the bribery scheme.

An FCPA Triangle

First it was the company – Willsbros Group Inc. (see here).

Then, it was the company’s employees – Jim Bob Brown (see here) and Jason Steph (see here).

Finally, it is the company’s consultant – Paul Novak (see here).

An FCPA triangle of sorts.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for an FCPA square because, as has been noted in previous posts, the final piece of the puzzle … the “foreign official” will not be happening anytime soon as the FCPA only applies to the “briber-giver” not the “bribe-taker.”

As noted in the DOJ release, Novak (a former consultant for Willbros International Inc. – a subsidiary of Willbros Group Inc.) pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one substantive count of violating the FCPA in connection with payments to Nigerian “foreign officials.”

Assistant Attorney General Breuer (the blog’s “person of the week” given his frequent mention here in the last few days) had this to say:

“The use of intermediaries to pay bribes will not escape prosecution under the FCPA. The Department will continue to hold accountable all the players in an FCPA scheme – from the companies and their executives who hatch the scheme, to the consultant they retain to carry it out.”

Of course, there still must be jurisdiction over the consultant, but this was not a problem in the Novak matter as he is a U.S. citizen and thus subject both to territorial jurisdiction (i.e. U.S. nexus – see 78dd-2(a)) or nationality jurisdiction (see 78dd-2(i)).

This isn’t the first time the DOJ has gone after consultants or agents. In March 2009, the DOJ unsealed indictments against U.K. citizens Jeffrey Tesler and Wojciech Chodan for their alleged roles in the KBR/Halliburton Nigeria bribery scheme. (see here for the DOJ release, here for the indictment).

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