The Reach of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act: German Engineering Firm to Pay $32 Million Criminal Penalty

The Reach of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act: German Engineering Firm to Pay $32 Million Criminal Penalty

 Bilfinger SE, an international engineering and services company based in Mannheim, Germany, has agreed to pay a $32 million penalty to resolve charges that it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by bribing government officials of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to obtain and retain contracts related to the Eastern Gas Gathering System (EGGS) project, which was valued at approximately $387 million.

As part of the agreed resolution, the Justice Department filed a three-count criminal information in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas charging Bilfinger with violating and conspiring to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions. The department and Bilfinger agreed to resolve the charges by entering into a deferred prosecution agreement for a term of three years. In addition to the monetary penalty, Bilfinger agreed to implement rigorous internal controls, continue cooperating fully with the department, and retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for at least 18 months. The agreement acknowledges Bilfinger’s cooperation with the Justice Department and its remediation efforts.

According to the government, from late 2003 through June 2005, Bilfinger conspired with Willbros Group Inc. and others to make corrupt payments totaling more than $6 million to Nigerian government officials to assist in obtaining and retaining contracts related to the EGGS project. Bilfinger and Willbros allegedly formed a joint venture to bid on the EGGS project and inflated the price of the joint venture’s bid by three percent to cover the cost of paying bribes to Nigerian officials. According to the charges, as part of the conspiracy, Bilfinger employees bribed Nigerian officials with cash that Bilfinger employees sent from Germany to Nigeria. At another point in the conspiracy, when Willbros employees encountered difficulty obtaining enough money to make their share of the bribe payments, Bilfinger loaned them $1 million, with the express purpose of paying bribes to the Nigerian officials, the government asserted.

Including this action, the Justice Department has filed criminal charges in the Southern District of Texas against three institutions and four executives and consultants in connection with the EGGS bribery scheme:

-          On September 14, 2006, Jim Bob Brown, a former Willbros executive, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA in connection with his role in making corrupt payments to Nigerian government officials to obtain and retain the EGGS contract and in connection with his role in making corrupt payments in Ecuador. Brown was sentenced on January 28, 2010, to serve 12 months and one day in prison, to be followed by two years of supervised release, and was ordered to pay a $17,500 fine.

-          On November 5, 2007, Jason Steph, also a former Willbros executive, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA in connection with his role in making corrupt payments to Nigerian government officials to obtain and retain the EGGS contract. Steph was sentenced on January 28, 2010, to serve 15 months in prison, to be followed by two years of supervised release, and was ordered to pay a $2,000 fine.

-          On May 14, 2008, Willbros Group Inc. and Willbros International Inc. entered into a deferred prosecution agreement and agreed to pay a $22 million criminal penalty in connection with the company’s payment of bribes to government officials in Nigeria and Ecuador. On March 30, 2012, the government moved to dismiss the charges against Willbros on the grounds that Willbros had satisfied its obligations under the deferred prosecution agreement, and on April 2, 2012, the court granted the United States’ motion.

-          On December 19, 2008, Kenneth Tillery, a former Willbros executive, was charged with conspiring to make and making bribe payments to Nigerian and Ecuadoran officials in connection with the EGGS project and pipeline projects in Ecuador and conspiring to launder the bribe payments. Tillery remains a fugitive. 

-          On November 12, 2009, Paul Grayson Novak, a former Willbros consultant, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one substantive count of violating the FCPA in connection with his role in making corrupt payments to Nigerian government officials to obtain and retain the EGGS contract. Novak was sentenced on May 3, 2013, to serve 15 months in prison, to be followed by two years of supervised release, and was ordered to pay a $1 million fine. 

 Contact the author at smeyerow@optonline.net

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