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Financial Fraud Law

Alcoa World Alumina Pleads Guilty to Foreign Bribery and Will Pay $384 Million in Fines and Penalties

 Alcoa World Alumina LLC, a majority-owned and controlled global alumina sales company of Alcoa Inc., has agreed to plead guilty and to pay $223 million in criminal fines and forfeiture to resolve charges that it paid millions of dollars in bribes through an international middleman in London to officials of the Kingdom of Bahrain, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Alcoa World Alumina “admits to its involvement in a corrupt international underworld in which a middleman, secretly held offshore bank accounts, and shell companies were used to funnel bribes to government officials in order to secure business,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman.   

The case “shows that multinational corporations cannot get away with using middlemen to structure sham business arrangements that funnel kickbacks to government officials,” said U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton of the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Alcoa World Alumina agreed to plead guilty in the Western District of Pennsylvania to one count of violating the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA in connection with a 2004 corrupt transaction, to pay a criminal fine of $209 million, and to administratively forfeit $14 million.   As part of the plea agreement, Alcoa Inc. has agreed to maintain and implement an enhanced global anti-corruption compliance program.

In a parallel action, Alcoa settled with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and will pay an additional $161 million in disgorgement, bringing the total amount of U.S. criminal and regulatory penalties to be paid by Alcoa and Alcoa World Alumina to $384 million.

The court filings allege that Alcoa of Australia, another Alcoa-controlled entity, originally secured a long term alumina supply agreement with Aluminium Bahrain B.S.C. (Alba), an aluminium smelter controlled by the government of Bahrain.   The government alleges that, at the request of certain members of Bahrain’s Royal Family who controlled the tender process, Alcoa of Australia inserted a London-based middleman with close ties to certain Royal Family members as a sham sales agent and agreed to pay him a corrupt commission intended to conceal bribe payments, according to court papers.   Over time, Alcoa of Australia expanded the relationship with the middleman, identified as Consultant A in the court filings, to begin invoicing increasingly larger volumes of alumina sales through his shell companies, which permitted Consultant A to make larger bribe payments to certain government officials, according to the filings.

As admitted in the charging documents, in 2004, Alcoa World Alumina corruptly secured a long term alumina supply agreement with Alba by agreeing to purportedly sell over 1.5 million metric tons of alumina to Alba through offshore shell companies owned by Consultant A.   As alleged, the sham distributorship permitted Consultant A to mark up the price of alumina by approximately $188 million from 2005 to 2009, the duration of the corrupt supply agreement.   Court filings allege that Consultant A used the mark-up to pay tens of millions in corrupt kickbacks to Bahraini government officials, including senior members of Bahrain’s Royal Family.   To conceal the illicit payments, Consultant A and the government officials used various offshore bank accounts, including accounts held under aliases, at several major financial institutions around the world, including in Guernsey, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, according to the court filings.

In addition to the monetary penalty, Alcoa and Alcoa World Alumina agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department in its continuing investigation of individuals and institutions involved in these matters.

The plea agreement and related court filings acknowledge Alcoa’s current financial condition as a factor relevant to the size of the criminal fine, as well as Alcoa’s and Alcoa World Alumina’s extensive cooperation with the department, including conducting an extensive internal investigation, making proffers to the government, voluntarily making current and former employees available for interviews, and providing relevant documents to the department.  Court filings also acknowledge subsequent anti-corruption remedial efforts undertaken by Alcoa.

 Contact the author at smeyerow@optonline.net

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