Risk Management

Engineering Firm Settles Qatari Bribery Charge

Executive of Tampa, Fla.-based firm offered foreign officials bribes to get access to sealed-bid information on government contracts, says the SEC.
Matthew HellerJanuary 23, 2015
Engineering Firm Settles Qatari Bribery Charge

A Tampa, Fla., engineering firm has agreed to pay $3.4 million in penalties to settle U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charges that a former executive offered bribes to foreign officials to secure $60 million in Qatari government contracts.

The SEC accused the firm, PBSJ, of ignoring “multiple red flags” that Walid Hatoum, formerly director of marketing for its international division, was involved in a bribery scheme related to a light rail transit project in Qatar and a hotel resort development project in Morocco.

Hatoum “offered and authorized” nearly $1.4 million in bribes disguised as “agency fees” in return for an official’s assistance with winning bids on the projects, the SEC said.

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The official, who had previously been a business colleague of Hatoum, provided access to confidential sealed-bid information and pricing information on the contracts that “helped PBS&J International tender bids that had a greater likelihood of being awarded,” according to the SEC.

Both Hatoum and PBSJ were accused of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. PBSJ, now known as The Atkins North America Holdings Corp. and owned by a U.K. design firm, “ignored multiple red flags that should have enabled other officers and employees to uncover the bribery scheme at an earlier stage,” Kara Brockmeyer, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s FCPA unit, said in a news release.

Among other things, the SEC said, “Employees were aware that they were receiving confidential information in a sealed-bid process from a foreign official and that their bids were inflated to conceal payments” to a local company controlled by the official.

Hatoum also offered employment to a second official as the bribery scheme began to unravel and PBSJ lost the hotel resort contract, the SEC said.

As part of a deferred-prosecution agreement, PBSJ agreed to pay disgorgement and interest of $3.03 million and a penalty of $375,000. Hatoum reached a separate $50,000 settlement with the SEC.

“Even though the bribes themselves were not consummated before the scheme was uncovered by the company, PBSJ earned approximately $2.9 million in illicit profits because it continued work on the light rail project until a replacement company could be found,” the SEC noted.