Willbros settles corrupt payment allegations

Willbros Group Inc. and its Willbros International Inc. subsidiary agreed to pay a $22 million criminal penalty for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the US Department of Justice said on May 14.

Nick Snow
Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, May 16 -- Willbros Group Inc. and its Willbros International Inc. subsidiary agreed to pay a $22 million criminal penalty for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the US Department of Justice said on May 14.

DOJ filed criminal information alleging that the oil and gas engineering and construction company, which has its headquarters in Panama City and its administrative offices in Houston, made corrupt payments to Nigerian and Ecuadorian officials from late 2003 through March 2005.

In a related matter, Willbros Group agreed to pay $10.3 million in disgorgement of all profits and prejudgment interest under a settlement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Jason Steph, a former supervisory employee in Nigeria; Gerald Jansen, a former administrative supervisor in Nigeria; Lloyd Bigger, a former employee in Nigeria; and Carlos Galvez, a former accounting employee in Bolivia, also settled SEC charges.

DOJ's six-count criminal information cited Willbros Group and Willbros International, collectively identified as Willbros, with one count of conspiring to bribe Nigerian and Ecuadorian officials, two counts of violating the FCPA in connection with authorizing specific corrupt payments to individuals of the two countries, and three counts of violating the FCPA by falsifying books and records relating to corrupt payments and a tax fraud scheme.

It said that from late 2003 through March 2005, the three Willbros employees in Nigeria and a former executive officer who was not identified agreed to pay government officials in the African nation more than $6.3 million to obtain and retain a $387 million engineering, construction and procurement contract on a natural gas pipeline project, the Eastern Gas Gathering System.

Other Willbros employees and the former executive agreed to pay Ecuadorian government officials $300,000 to obtain a contract to rehabilitate 16 km of gas pipeline, the federal agencies said. They said that Willbros, through the actions of the same executive and Galvez, implemented a fraudulent tax avoidance scheme in Bolivia which resulted in material misstatements in the company's financial results.

DOJ agreed to defer prosecution of Willbros for 3 years in recognition of the company and its subsidiary's cooperation, implementation of FCPA compliance policies and procedures, and engagement of an independent monitor. It said it would dismiss the criminal information at the end of that period if Willbros abides by the agreement's terms.

The SEC also acknowledged Willbros Group and its subsidiary's cooperation in its investigation.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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