On May 29, French oil and gas company, Total SA, agreed to pay $398 million to settle US civil and criminal allegations that it paid bribes to win oil and gas contracts in Iran in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Notably, the criminal penalty is the fourth-largest under the FCPA and the case marks the first coordinated action by French and US law enforcement agencies in a major foreign bribery case.
In a scheme that allegedly began nearly 20 years ago in 1995 and continued until 2004, Total allegedly paid approximately $60 million in bribes to induce an intermediary, designated by an Iranian government official, to help the company win contracts with National Iranian Oil Co. The contracts gave Total the right to develop three oil and gas fields and included a portion of South Parys, the world’s largest gas field. Total allegedly characterized the bribes as “business development expenses” in its books and records.
The DOJ filed a three-count criminal investigation charging Total with FCPA conspiracy and internal controls and books-and-records violations. Total agreed to resolve the FCPA charges by paying a $245.2 million criminal penalty, which was at the bottom of the $235.2 to $470.4 million range of fines available under the US Sentencing Guidelines. The company also settled a related civil case with the US Securities and Exchange Commission for $153 million in disgorgement of its profits in the scheme. The criminal case will be dismissed after three years if Total complies with the deferred prosecution agreement, which requires Total to (i) retain a corporate compliance monitor, who will conduct annual reviews; (ii) cooperate with authorities and (iii) implement an enhanced compliance program designed to prevent and detect FCPA violations. The compliance program requires, among other things, that Total’s Board of Directors and senior management “provide, strong, explicit and visible support and commitment” to the company’s anti-corruption policy and that they appoint a senior executive to oversee the program and report directly to an independent authority, such as internal audit, the Board or a committee thereof. Total’s problems, however, are not over. French prosecutors have recommended that the company and its chief executive officer be brought to trial on violations of French law, including France’s foreign bribery law.
U.S. v. Total SA, 13-cr-239 (E.D. VA. May 29, 2013).