US Company Pays Hundreds of Millions After Alleged Bribery in Asia

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WASHINGTON — American chemical manufacturer Albemarle Corporation has agreed to pay more than $218 million to settle allegations of bribing officials at state oil refineries in three Asian countries, the U.S. Justice Department announced Friday.

The North Carolina company admitted to using “third-party sales agents” and foreign employees to bribe officials to win contracts with state refineries in India, Indonesia and Vietnam, the department said.

The department said Albemarle received nearly $100 million in profits from the corrupt scheme.

Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the United States, it is illegal to bribe any foreign official in exchange for obtaining or retaining business. The FCPA is the main tool enforcement agencies use to police foreign bribery.

Both the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, the financial oversight body, were investigating the company for FCPA violations in connection with the bribery scheme.

“Corruption has no borders, but neither does justice,” Dena J. King, U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, said in a statement. “Companies are expected to adhere to the same ethical and legal standards whether they are doing business on U.S. soil or overseas.”

The Justice Department said it entered into a three-year nonprosecution agreement with Albemarle after the company voluntarily disclosed the alleged bribery to U.S. prosecutors.

Under a nonprosecution agreement, the Justice Department agrees not to prosecute a company in exchange for cooperation, payment of a fine and compliance with other requirements.

A spokesperson for Albemarle did not immediately return a request for comment.

According to the company’s admissions in connection with the settlement, the alleged bribery took place between 2009 and 2017, the Justice Department said.

In India, Albemarle used a third-party intermediary to do business with the country’s state-owned oil company by avoiding a blacklisting.

In Indonesia, the company enlisted another intermediary to do business with the state refinery even after being told Indonesian officials would have to be paid bribes.

And in Vietnam, Albemarle obtained contracts at two state-owned oil refineries through an intermediary sales agent, who requested increased commissions to pay bribes to officials.

As part of the nonprosecution agreement with the Justice Department, Albemarle agreed to pay a penalty of about $98 million and administrative forfeiture of about $99 million. The Justice Department said it would credit about $82 million of the forfeiture to the SEC.

King said the agreement with Albemarle “underscores our commitment to fight corruption affecting the United States no matter where it occurs.”

Under the Biden administration, the Justice Department has prioritized fighting corporate corruption, announcing several major changes to beef up enforcement policies and practices.

Source: VOA