Yesterday the DOJ announced FCPA and related charges against former executives of PetroTiger Ltd., a British Virgin Islands oil and gas company with operations in Colombia and offices in New Jersey, “for their alleged participation in a scheme to pay bribes to foreign government officials in violation of the FCPA, to defraud PetroTiger, and to launder proceeds of those crimes.”
The individuals charged were former co-CEOs of PetroTiger Joseph Sigelman and Knut Hammarskjold and former general counsel Gregory Weisman.
According to the DOJ release, Sigelman and Hammarskjold “were charged by sealed complaints filed in the District of New Jersey on Nov. 8, 2013” and “Hammarskjold was arrested Nov. 20, 2013, at Newark Liberty International Airport” and “Sigelman was arrested on Jan. 3, 2014, in the Philippines and appeared [yesterday] in Guam before a U.S. Magistrate Judge” and “will have an initial appearance in New Jersey federal court on a date to be determined.” According to the release, Weisman “pleaded guilty on Nov. 8, 2013, to a criminal information charging one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and to commit wire fraud.”
This criminal complaint, charges Sigelman with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions as well as three substantive FCPA charges. The FCPA charges are based on allegations that Sigelman and others made at least four transfers of money in the approximate amount of $333,500 to an account in Colombia of a “foreign government official in Colombia.”
Elsewhere, the complaint identifies the foreign official as “an official at Ecopetrol [who] had influence over the approval and award of contracts by Ecopetrol, including the Mansarovar Contract.” Ecopetrol is alleged to be “the state-owned and state-controlled petroleum company in Colombia” and the complaint states as follows.
“Ecopetrol was created by national law, and it was required by law that Colombia conserve, at a minimum, eighty percent of the shares in circulation, with voting rights. During the relevant time period, Colombia controlled 89.9% of Ecopetrol’s outstanding capital stock, and held the right to elect the majority of the members of the company’s board of directors. Ecopetrol’s board of directors included the Minister of Mines and Energy, the Minister of Finance, and the Director of the National Planning Agency of Colombia. Ecopetrol was responsible for approving contracts to drill or perform services on oil fields in Colombia, including the Mansarovar Contract.”
The complaint also refers to the official’s wife and states that “the Official’s Wife purportedly provided finance and management related consulting services for PetroTiger [when] in reality, the Official’s Wife served as a conduit for bribe payments to the Official.”
Under the heading “Bribery Scheme,” the complaint alleges that Sigelman and other PetroTiger executives [Hammarskjold and Weisman] “attempted to secure the Mansarovar Contract” and “because Ecopetrol had ultimate authority for approving projects and contracts to perform oil-related services in Colombia, Sigelman [and the other executives] were required to obtain approval from Ecopetrol for the Mansarovar Contract.”
According to the complaint, Sigelman and others “in order to secure Ecopetrol’s approval for the Mansarovar Contract,” “paid bribes to the Official, who had the ability to influence the approval process.”
The complaint states that Sigelman and others “attempted to conceal the bribes by funneling the payments through the Official’s Wife and by falsely claiming in documents that the payments were for finance and management consulting services that the Official’s Wife purportedly performed for PetroTiger.” The complaint further states that “when transfers to the bank account in the name of the Official’s Wife failed as a result of incorrect account information,” Sigelman and others “transferred the money directly to a bank account in the name of the Official.”
According to the complaint, PetroTiger was successful in “obtaining Ecopetrol’s approval, and secured the Mansarovar Contract” which was valued “at approximately $39.6 million, and has resulted in a gross profit to date, of approximately $3.5 million.”
The Sigelman complaint also charges one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. These charges are based, in pertinent part, on allegations that an owner of a company “being acquired by Sigelman and others” transferred approximately $262,000 “as part of an illegal kickback scheme” to Sigelman’s bank account and that Sigelman then “divided up the money and transferred portions of the money” to other PetroTiger executives. According to the complaint, Sigelman and the others “did not disclose to their investing partners that they were receiving a kickback in exchange for the additional money that the investing partners would be paying in connection with the acquisition of the Target Company. As a result, the investing partners were deprived of money and property and the honest services of” Sigelman and others. According to the complaint, this “Target Company” was “an oil services company with operations in Colombia” that PetroTiger acquired in 2009 for approximately $53 million.
This criminal complaint also charges Hammarskjold with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions as well as three substantive FCPA charges based on the same conduct alleged in the Sigelman complaint.
The Hammarskjold complaint also charges one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud based on the same kickback scheme alleged in the Sigelman complaint.
This criminal information alleges the same bribery scheme and kickback scheme as the Sigelman and Hammarskjold complaints. However, the information only charges one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and to commit wire fraud.
The Weisman information further states as follows.
“On or about September 28, 2010, at board meeting of PetroTiger, Executive A [Sigelman] stated that he and others were dealing with non-transparent commercial practices in Colombia. On or about September 28, 2010, at the board meeting … in response to a question about whether Executive A was upholding PetroTiger’s Code of Business Principles, which included a prohibition on bribery, Executive A stated that he was.”
The Weisman information also contains a forfeiture allegation seeking forfeiture of approximately $52,000 (the amount of the alleged kickback Weisman received).
In the DOJ’s release, Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman stated:
“We have said – repeatedly and emphatically – that foreign corruption, whether committed by companies or by the individuals entrusted to run those companies, will not be tolerated. And, our track record in vigorously enforcing the FCPA has shown that message to be undeniably true. The charges unsealed today against two former CEOs of PetroTiger and the guilty plea announced today of the former General Counsel reaffirm our clear message that we will prosecute corruption and fraud wherever we find it. Bribery distorts what should be a level playing field and deprives corporations and governments of funds that should instead be used to strengthen those institutions. Today’s announcement should be a reminder to CEOs and other executives who seek to corrupt the system at the expense of honest businesses: we are not going away.”
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman of the District of New Jersey stated:
“Bribery of public officials, whether at home or abroad, corrupts business opportunity and undermines trust in government. The under-the-table deals alleged in today’s charges are not an acceptable way of doing business.”
Special Agent in Charge Aaron Ford of the FBI’s Newark Division stated:
“The FBI is committed to pursuing those who disrupt the level playing field to which companies in the U.S. and around the world are entitled. We will continue to investigate these matters by working with law enforcement agencies, both foreign and domestic, to ensure that both corporations and executives who bribe foreign officials for lucrative contracts are punished.”
The DOJ’s release further states:
“The department has worked closely with and has received significant assistance from its law enforcement counterparts in the Republic of Colombia and greatly appreciates their assistance in this matter. The department also thanks the Republic of the Philippines, including the Bureau of Immigration, for its assistance in this matter. Significant assistance was also provided by the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs.”