U.S. Announces Settlement in Global Bribery Scandal

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Byline: Jerry Seper and Ben Conery, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A Swiss-based freight firm and five international oil service companies agreed Thursday to pay $156 million in criminal fines and give up $80 million in profits, interest and penalties for their roles in a global bribery scandal, the Justice Department said.

Panalpina World Transport Ltd. of Basel, Switzerland, and its U.S. subsidiary, Panalpina Inc., admitted in court documents to paying bribes to foreign officials on behalf of its customers in the oil and gas industry to circumvent local rules and regulations on the import of goods to foreign jurisdictions.

Panalpina admitted that between 2002 and 2007, it paid $27 million in bribes to foreign officials in Angola, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Russia and Turkmenistan. Its customers, including Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Co. Ltd., Transocean Inc. and Tidewater Marine International Inc., admitted approving or condoning the bribes and recording them as legitimate business expenses.

The agreement came in response to an investigation by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission into violations of the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

The settlement of these claims marks the closing of an extremely burdensome chapter in Panalpina's history and the end of a very demanding three-year effort to address and eliminate serious concerns, said Monika Ribar, Panalpina's chief executive officer, in a statement.

Ms. Ribar said the company's compliance systems had undergone significant enhancements.

Alexandra Wragge, president of the nonprofit TRACE, which works with multinational companies on anti-bribery compliance, said the short-term consequence of the settlement could be a cost increase passed along to consumers because compliance is expensive.

Ultimately, the cost should taper off because bribery is also expensive, she said. When they do figure out a way to do business without bribery, then costs do go down.

Justice said Panalpina violated U.S. anti-bribery laws, agreeing to resolve the charges by entering into a deferred prosecution deal - meaning if the company abides for three years by terms of a criminal information filed in the case, the government will drop the prosecution.

The Department of Justice's commitment to rooting out foreign bribery is unwavering, said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. …