In November 2008, Aibel Group Ltd., a United Kingdom company, pled guilty to a two-count criminal information (charging conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and a violation of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions) and agreed to pay a $4.2 million criminal fine.
Pursuant to a plea agreement, Aibel Group acknowledged that it participated in a scheme to authorize corrupt payments to employees of the Nigeria Customs Service (a Nigerian government agency) to induce the officials to provide preferential treatment in the customs clearance process and thereby secure an improper advantage with respect to the importation of its goods and equipment into Nigeria which were needed for a deepwater oil drilling operation. The plea agreement indicates that approximately $2.1 million in improper payments were made to the officials enabling Aibel Group to receive approximately $10.5 million in benefits. According to the plea agreement, Aibel Group utilized the services of an international freight forwarding and customs clearing agent in making the improper payments and Aibel Group employees continued to utilize the services of this agent despite having knowledge that the agent was making the improper payments to the officials.
The FCPA applied to Aibel Group because, as referenced in the plea agreement, it frequently used its affiliated U.S. entities and their personnel to effectuate the improper payment scheme.
This is not the first time Aibel Group or its affiliated entities have been the subject of an FCPA enforcement action. In 2004, an affiliated entity pled guilty to violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions in connection with improper payments to officials of a Nigerian government agency which evaluated and approved potential bidders for contract work on oil exploration projects. In 2007, entities affiliated with Aibel Group pled guilty to FCPA charges in connection with similar improper payments to Nigerian customs officials and agreed to pay criminal fines totaling $26 million. In connection with that matter, Aibel Group also entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ which required, among other things, that Aibel Group establish and effectively implement an FCPA compliance program. In the November 2008 plea agreement, Aibel Group acknowledged that it failed to meet its obligations under the deferred prosecution agreement and it further acknowledged that the failure of its compliance procedures and internal controls occurred notwithstanding commitments made to the DOJ in connection with FCPA Opinion Release 2004-02, in which Aibel Group entities represented that they would adopt compliance policies and procedures to detect and deter FCPA violations and other applicable anti-bribery laws.
Pursuant to the November 2008 plea agreement, Aibel Group agreed to cooperate with the DOJ and specifically agreed to submit an annual written report (for a two-year period) to the DOJ describing its efforts to put in place effective controls and systems to prevent future violations of the FCPA and other applicable anti-bribery laws. In resolving this matter, the DOJ acknowledged that the underlying conduct was voluntarily disclosed by Aibel Group and that it had agreed to take significant remedial action.