Former Oil and Gas CEOs Charged with Bribery Under FCPA

In early January 2014, federal prosecutors unsealed criminal complaints against two former CEOs of an oil and gas company for alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), 15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1 et seq. They also charged the company’s former general counsel with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. They filed the complaints in November 2013 and waited to unseal them until they had arrested all defendants. The government is accusing them of bribing an official at Colombia’s state-controlled oil company in order to get a lucrative contract.

The FCPA, first enacted in 1977, prohibits bribery of foreign officials. “Bribery” is defined as transfers of cash or other things of value with the intent to influence the foreign official in their duties, or with the knowledge that the thing of value will be used to gain influence. The law, as amended, applies to “persons” including U.S. citizens and nationals, U.S. businesses, foreign businesses trading securities in the U.S. and others. A person does not have to be physically present in the U.S. for the FCPA to apply, provided they use any “instrumentality of interstate commerce.”

Two of the defendants were co-chief executive officers of PetroTiger Ltd., an oil and gas services company based in the British Virgin Islands with offices in the U.S. The third defendant was general counsel. All three are United States citizens. In late 2010, they allegedly bribed an official of Ecopetrol S.A., Colombia’s state-owned oil company, by making three wire transfers totaling about $330,000 from a bank in New York to the official’s bank account in Colombia. They were allegedly in New Jersey when they ordered the transfers.

The defendants had allegedly first tried to channel the funds to the official’s wife, calling them payments for consulting services in order to conceal their purpose. The transfers failed, federal prosecutors claim, so they wired the money directly to the official’s account. In exchange, the official reportedly awarded a contract for oil-related services in Colombia worth $39.6 million to PetroTiger. Prosecutors also claim that the two former CEOs tried to secure kickbacks for themselves during negotiations for PetroTiger to acquire another company, then tried to conceal the payments in an account in the Philippines.

The government charged the three defendants as representatives of a “domestic concern,” the definition of which includes individual U.S. citizens. 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-2(h)(1). The complaints against the former CEOs include charges for conspiracy to commit wire fraud; conspiracy to violate the FCPA; three FCPA violations, one for each alleged payment to the Colombian official; and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Prosecutors filed an information against the former general counsel for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to violate the FCPA. He pleaded guilty to both counts in November 2013 and is awaiting sentencing.

Defendants in criminal cases should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney in order to ensure that their constitutional and procedural rights are recognized and protected. Michael J. Brown has worked in law enforcement and as a prosecutor, and he has fought for west Texas defendants for more than twenty years. Contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157 to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.

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