In late March 2015, Schlumberger Oilfield Holdings Ltd. (SOHL), incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, agreed to plead guilty and pay a US$232.7 million penalty to the U.S. government for conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by facilitating transactions in Iran and Sudan and exporting technical services involving these sanctioned countries. The penalty includes a US$155.1 million criminal fine, the largest IEEPA-related fine ever, as well as a US$77.6 million criminal forfeiture. The terms of the plea agreement also impose on SOHL a three-year period of corporate probation.
According to court filings, from 2004 to 2010, SOHL’s Drilling & Measurements (D&M) business segment, a U.S.-based oilfield services provider, facilitated trade with Iran and Sudan from D&M’s Texas office, and D&M employees in the United States made and implemented decisions directly affecting D&M’s Iran and Sudan operations. The court filings also indicate that D&M maintained an illegal process for approving capital expenditure requests for Iran and Sudan. Under this process, D&M personnel operating outside the United States apparently referred to Iran as “Northern Gulf” and Sudan as “Southern Egypt” or “South Egypt” in email communications with D&M personnel in the United States or used incorrect country codes that referred to non-embargoed countries. A U.S. manager then reportedly approved the disguised Iran- and Sudan-related requests.
In addition, D&M’s Texas office also apparently illegally exported services to Iran and Sudan, according to the court filings. This reportedly occurred when D&M oilfield technicians located in Iran and Sudan experienced technical problems; the technicians queried a computer system that automatically routed questions to a local technical expert. Sometimes, however, the queries were automatically routed to D&M personnel located in the United States, resulting in prohibited technical services being provided to Iran or Sudan.
Though SOHL had a U.S. sanctions compliance program, it reportedly failed to adequately train D&M personnel to comply with the program.
As part of the plea agreement, Schlumberger Ltd., SOHL’s parent company, with principal offices in Paris, Houston and The Hague, has agreed to cooperate with U.S. authorities during SOHL’s three-year probation. It has also agreed to hire a consultant who will review the parent company’s internal sanctions policies, procedures and company-generated sanctions audit reports. In addition, the parent company guaranteed and secured payment of the US$232.7 million penalty by its subsidiaries.
Press reports regarding this plea agreement include a statement from Schlumberger that “[t]his plea fully resolves the investigation of the Company, and we understand there is no ongoing investigation of Company personnel. The Company cooperated with the investigation, and we are satisfied that this matter is finally resolved.”
The plea agreement is contingent on court approval in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.