An ex-agent of the US branch of Singapore’s Keppel Offshore & Marine has pleaded guilty in a massive US$55 million bribery scheme involving Brazillian officials and Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras) spanning over a decade.
Zwi Skornicki admitted in US court on Tuesday that he was part of a plot to bribe Brazillian authorise and officials in Petrobras to secure contracts for Keppel between 2001 and 2014. Bloomberg reported that Skornicki had admitted to agreeing to pay those bribes to Petrobras and that he “acted on behalf of KOM”.
It is alleged that Skornicki and several others had agreed to pay as much as US$55 million in bribes tied to 13 projects in Petrobras tenders in Brazil in order to “secure improper advantages and influence” with Brazillian officials as well as to obtain and retain business in Brazil for Keppel.
Bribery spanning decades
Back in December 2017, a US probe into illegal payments made by Keppel to Petrobras officials and the then-governing political party led to the company agreeing to pay US$422 million to end the probe. Prosecutors said that the payments were disguised as consulting agreements.
“The defendants used the global financial system –- including the United States banking system –- to disguise the source and disbursement of the bribe payments by passing funds through a series of shell companies,” Bridget Rohde, acting US Attorney in Brooklyn, said in a statement at that time.
The scheme, which ran for over a decade, violated a US anti-bribery law, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Keppel USA pleaded guilty while its parent, the Singapore-based Keppel Offshore & Marine, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the government.
Skornicki faces a prison term of up to 5 years for conspiracy to violate the act. The Brazilian national has already been convicted in his home country and has paid US$25 million in fines. Assistant US Attorney Alixandra Smith said in court on Tuesday that the US will not seek additional penalties from him nor would they oppose his request for probation. He id set to be sentenced on 23 September.
In a related case, the US said that Skornicki also provided consultancy services for TechnipFMC, a global oil and gas service provider. TechnipFMC and its subsidiary has also agreed to pay US$296 million in global fines to resolve criminal bribery investigations brought against them by Brazil and the US.
The company admitted that between 2003 and 2013 it has conspired with others, including Keppel, to violent the anti-bribery act by dishing out more than US$69 million in shady payments to companies associated with Skornicki who used the funds to bribe Petrobras officials in order to secure lucrative contracts.
Starting 2008 until 2013, TechnipFMC had also conspired to violate anti-bribery laws by sending payments to at least seven Iraqi government officials, including the Minister of Oil, and two Iraqi-owned oil companies through a Monoc-based intermediary company, said prosecutors. The payments were made to win lucrative projects in Iraq.
The Petrobras scandal
The Petrobras corruption scandal, biggest in South America, goes back more than five years and has involved banks, shipyards, construction companies and politicians. Dubbed Operation Carwash, a probe was launched to look into companies that paid officials of the company in order to win business.
In September 2018, Petrobras paid US$853.2 million to settle claims in Brazil and the US stemming from allegations that the companies top brass facilitated bribes to politicians and then masked those payments from investors.