May 14, 2008 / 8:02 PM / 12 years ago

Willbros pays $32.3 mln in bribe settlements - gov't

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Energy contractor Willbros Group Inc WG.N agreed to pay $32.3 million to settle investigations into undisclosed bribes to officials in Nigeria and Ecuador, U.S. law enforcement authorities said on Wednesday.

Willbros, which is based in Houston, settled cases with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department involving violations of the U.S. anti-bribery law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The SEC alleged that the company and four former employees paid more than $6 million in bribes to obtain significant contracts. In settling with the Justice Department, Willbros entered into an agreement to avoid prosecution.

Willbros agreed to pay $22 million to settle the Justice Department’s criminal case and $10.3 million to close the SEC’s civil lawsuit, which also included allegations employees schemed to pay $300,000 to officials of an Ecuadorean state-owned oil and gas company and to avoid paying taxes in Bolivia.

The SEC alleged that the Nigerian payments resulted in net profits of nearly $9 million for the company, the agency said. Houston-based Willbros provides engineering, maintenance and other services to the oil, gas and refining industries.

The SEC’s complaint named Jason Steph, a former supervisory employee in Nigeria; Gerald Jansen, a former administrative supervisor in Nigeria; Lloyd Biggers, a former employee in Nigeria; and Carlos Galvez, a former accounting employee in Bolivia.

The company and the four men settled the SEC case without admitting or denying any wrongdoing.

Steph’s attorney, Matt Hennessy, said his client pleaded guilty in November in a federal court in Houston to related criminal charges and is awaiting sentencing. “Jason looks forward to putting this matter behind him,” Hennessy said.

Attorneys for Willbros, Biggers and Galvez could not be reached for comment. Jansen’s attorney did not have an immediate comment.

Under the deferred prosecution agreement, Willbros and a subsidiary, Willbros International Inc, will have three years to fix their overseas business practices with an independent compliance monitor.

Reporting by John Poirier and Julie Vorman; Editing by Gary Hill

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