Friday, October 30, 2020

U.S. asphalt company to pay $16 million to resolve Latin American bribery conspiracy

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A Florida asphalt company pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $16.6 million to resolve charges stemming from a foreign bribery probe spanning three South American countries.

Sargeant Marine Inc., which specializes in selling and transporting asphalt, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate antibribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday.

The Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based company was alleged to have paid millions of dollars in bribes to government officials in Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador to win contracts from state-controlled oil companies in those countries, prosecutors said. The illicit payments helped Sargeant Marine and affiliated companies earn profits of about $38 million between about 2010 and 2018, according to the Justice Department.

Sargeant Marine didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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In Brazil, Sargeant Marine and related companies bribed executives and high-ranking government officials to win contracts to sell asphalt to Petróleo Brasileiro SA from about 2010 to 2015, resulting in about $26.5 million in profits, according to prosecutors.

Employees and agents sought to conceal payments by creating fake consulting contracts and phony invoices, prosecutors said. They

wired millions of dollars from the U.S. to offshore accounts held by shell companies of middlemen, prosecutors said.

Petrobras said a spokesperson wasn’t available to comment on the case.

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Sargeant Marine ran a similar scheme in Venezuela between about 2012 and 2018 to purchase asphalt from Petróleos de Venezuela SA, prosecutors said, earning Sargeant Marine about $8.2 million in profits. Earlier this month, a criminal complaint was unsealed charging a former PdVSA official with conspiracy to commit money laundering in part for an alleged role in the Venezuela scheme, prosecutors said.

The company also paid bribes through an intermediary to an official working for EP Petroecuador to steer a contract with the state-controlled oil company in Ecuador, which resulted in profits of $3.2 million, prosecutors said.

PdVSA and Petroecuador didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

At least six individuals—including an executive and traders of Sargeant Marine, plus middlemen involved in the schemes and a Venezuelan official—also have pleaded guilty to charges related to the investigations, prosecutors said.

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