On the eve of a trial which was scheduled to begin this week, the Securities and Exchange Commission settled a civil Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) case it brought against two former oil services executives. The case was an outgrowth of an industry-wide investigation the SEC had initially commenced beginning in 2010.
In February 2012, the SEC filed a complaint against Mark A. Jackson, who was the former CEO and CFO of Noble Corporation, and James J. Ruehlen, former Director and Division Manager of Noble’s Nigerian subsidiary, alleging that they authorized the payment of bribes to customs officials to process false paperwork that purported to show the export and re-import of oil rigs, which was necessary under the requirements of Nigerian law. In fact, the rigs had never been moved. The SEC alleged that the scheme was part of a design to save Noble from losing business and incurring costs associated with exporting rigs from Nigeria and re-importing them under new permits. The complaint asserted violations of the anti-bribery and books and records provisions of the FCPA. The complaint also detailed the fact that Jackson had refused to cooperate during Noble’s internal investigation of the matter and had asserted his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to testify during the SEC investigation.
The settlement with Jackson and Ruehlen was the last in a lengthy saga of FCPA actions against Noble and its former employees. Noble was initially charged with FCPA violations in a civil action in 2010. The company settled, agreeing to pay more than $8 million in fees. The SEC filed charges against Jackson and Ruehlen in 2012 following the corporate settlement and also filed charges against Thomas F. O’Rourke, the former controller and head of internal audit at Noble. O’Rourke quickly settled and agreed to pay a penalty.
Despite pursuing the action for more than two years and alleging serious wrongdoing by the defendants, including responsibility for an extensive bribery scheme, the SEC agreed to settle with Jackson and Ruehlen just two days before their trial was to commence with an injunction against violating the books and records provision of the FCPA. Although Noble had settled its own case for a hefty penalty, neither Jackson nor Ruehlen were required to pay a fine, concede a violation of the bribery provisions of the FCPA nor agree to restrictions on employment.
SEC v. Jackson et al., No. 4:12-c-00563 (S.D. Tex. Jul. 7, 2014).