Freight Forwarder and Oil Service Companies Pay Huge Fines For Violating The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

Nov 18, 2010   

In another example of the recent enhancement in enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, (FCPA) a global freight forwarder and five oil and gas service companies resolved FCPA investigations conducted by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission by agreeing to pay $156,565,000 in criminal penalties and civil disgorgement, interest and penalties in the sum of $80,000,000.

A criminal information was filed on November 4 charging Panalpina World Transport (Holdings) Ltd., the global freight forwarding company based in Switzerland , (“Panalpina”)with conspiring to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. In a deferred prosecution agreement and a plea agreement filed in federal court in the Southern District of Texas, Panalpina, and its U.S. subsidiary Panalpina, Inc., admitted that they engaged in a scheme to pay bribes to numerous foreign government officials on behalf of their many customers in the oil and gas industry. These bribes allowed them to circumvent local rules and customs regulations governing the importation of cargo into numerous foreign countries. Panalpina admitted paying bribes totaling $27,000,000 to foreign officials in Angola, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Russia and Turkmenistan.

Panalpinas customers, Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Ltd., Transocean Inc. and Tidewater Marine International, Inc. admitted in deferred prosecution agreements that they knew of and condoned the bribes paid on their behalf. These companies recorded the bribes as legitimate business expenses in their corporate books and records. These companies agreed to pay criminal fines in excess of $50,000,000 . Under the terms of the deferred prosecution agreements, Panalpina and its customers are required to cooperate fully with U.S. and foreign authorities in any ongoing investigations of the companies corrupt payments. Each company is also required to implement and adhere to a set of enhanced corporate compliance and reporting obligations.

In recent years, the Department of Justice has made FCPA prosecutions a priority, allocating substantial resources to a team of FBI agents and prosecutors dedicated solely to bringing FCPA cases against companies and their executives. Compliance with the FCPA, along with expanded due diligence, anti-bribery prevention programs and regular auditing of foreign payments are now essential for businesses with international operations and sales. As shown in this case, failure to abide by the FCPA can have catastrophic consequences and is at a companys (and its executives) peril.