Mining giant BHP Billiton has agreed to pay $25 million to settle charges that it failed to properly monitor a program that paid for dozens of foreign government officials to attend the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Announcing the fine, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said Wednesday that BHP violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by improperly sponsoring three- and four-day hospitality packages valued from $12,000 to $16,000 that included event tickets, luxury hotel accommodations, and sightseeing excursions.
While the SEC’s administrative order did not accuse BHP of bribery, it noted that the majority of the hospitality invitations “were extended to government officials from countries in Africa and Asia that had well-known histories of corruption.”
“BHP Billiton footed the bill for foreign government officials to attend the Olympics while they were in a position to help the company with its business or regulatory endeavors,” Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, said in a news release.
“BHP Billiton recognized that inviting government officials to the Olympics created a heightened risk of violating anti-corruption laws, yet the company failed to implement sufficient internal controls to address that heightened risk,” he added.
Among BHP’s guests at the Olympics was the Burundi Minister of Mines and his wife. BHP had been in negotiations with the African country to extend and modify a nickel exploration permit.
BHP required business managers to complete a hospitality application form for any individuals they wished to invite to the Olympics. The form, among other things, asked whether the invitee was “in a position to influence the outcome” of a business negotiation.
But the SEC faulted BHP for a “‘check the box’ compliance approach of forms over substance,” saying the company failed to train employees on how to evaluate the bribery risks of the invitations. At the time, BHP did not have an independent compliance function.
“BHP Billiton … recognizes that the highest standards of business conduct are an essential part of our operations,” CEO Andrew Mackenzie said in a news release. “Our company has learned from this experience and is better and stronger as a result.”