Risk Management

Former Willbros Boss Admits Bribery

The ex-supervisor pleads guilty to Foreign Corrupt Practices Act charges involving the bribery of government officials in Nigeria and Ecuador.
Stephen TaubSeptember 15, 2006

A former employee of Willbros Group, an energy-services company, has reportedly pleaded guilty to violating antibribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and has agreed to settle charges against him by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

On Thursday, the Department of Justice said Jim Bob Brown pleaded guilty to violating the FCPA by conspiring to bribe government officials in Nigeria and Ecuador, according to MarketWatch.com.

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Brown, a former supervisory employee in the Nigerian and Latin American operations of Willbros, has agreed to settle the charges, according to the commission.

The SEC charged Brown with taking part in three separate schemes to bribe foreign officials. According to one of the allegations, Brown obtained $1 million on behalf of a Willbros affiliate in February and March 2005. He then allegedly delivered the money to Nigerian government officials in exchange for previous commitments, as well as to employees of the operator of a joint venture that was majority owned by a unit of the Nigerian government. Brown also aided in the payment of an added $550,000 that was used to satisfy the earlier commitments, according to the complaint.

The SEC also asserted that in return for the granting of a $3 million contract to Willbros, Brown knowingly aided a scheme to pay a $300,000 bribe to officials of an oil and gas company owned by the government of Ecuador and its subsidiary.

Further, the commission alleged that Brown knowingly assisted a long-running scheme in which employees of Willbros affiliates used fabricated invoices to obtain cash that was used to bribe Nigerian tax and court officials from the company’s administrative home office in Houston.

A court will rule at a later date whether to order Brown to pay a civil penalty, and will decide on the amount of the penalty, the commission said.

Last month, Willbros agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit accusing the company and three present and former officers and directors of making false and misleading statements and of a “scheme to defraud.” The charges of misrepresentation and fraudulent activity were leveled at James Tillery, the former president of the company’s international units in Nigeria and Bolivia. Certain alleged accounting errors, the restatement of past financial results, and alleged FCPA violations were cited in the suit.

The other two individuals being sued were CFO Warren Williams and CEO Michael Curran. In a separate press release, the company announced that Williams had resigned as finance chief and would provide consulting services until the end of this year.