WASHINGTON ― Rolls-Royce will pay $800 million in penalties for using intermediaries, including Unaoil, a Monaco-based oil services firm, to bribe people in at least six countries, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.
The settlement was part of a joint agreement between the engine maker and law enforcement agencies in the U.S., U.K. and Brazil. It is the first official confirmation that, as Australia’s Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post first reported jointly last year, Unaoil operated as a bribe-paying middleman for major corporations — including Rolls-Royce. The British manufacturing giant admitted paying Unaoil — identified as “Intermediary 1” in federal court filings — to bribe people on its behalf in Angola, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kazakhstan “and elsewhere,” the U.S. Justice Department charged.
Dozens of other companies that worked with Unaoil — including Samsung, defense contractor KBR and engineering powerhouse Honeywell, which all hired the firm, and the giant banks HSBC and CitiGroup, which handled its finances — have yet to face any consequences for their ties to the company. Several companies that worked with Unaoil, including FMC Technologies, KBR and Core Laboratories, said last year that they are cooperating with the Justice Department’s inquiry into Unaoil. Rolls-Royce is the only Unaoil partner that has admitted wrongdoing.
Unaoil had no comment on the agreement, according to Salamander Davoudi, cofounder of Tancredi Group, a PR firm that represents Unaoil.
Unaoil is not mentioned by name in the Justice Department’s filings, but separate court filings by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office indicate that “the American agreement … addresses conduct relating to Rolls-Royce ... arising from an investigation into its use of an intermediary called Unaoil” and confirms that investigations into Unaoil itself are ongoing. Investigators are “unconvinced that Unaoil conducts any lawful business,” the SFO said in court documents last year.
Unaoil — described as “a Monaco-incorporated and based oil and gas services intermediary” in the Justice Department’s filings — “regularly bribed foreign officials and others in order to secure work for Rolls-Royce” and its U.S. subsidiary on “at least seven projects” from 2000 to 2012, federal prosecutors wrote. Rolls-Royce admitted to those and dozens of other charges listed in a 53-page document detailing U.S. government claims.
In Azerbaijan, Rolls-Royce made over $7.8 million in “corrupt commission payments” to Unaoil between 2000 and 2009, with the understanding that it would help secure contracts with Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company. Ultimately, federal prosecutors charged, Rolls-Royce won a contract to supply approximately 45 turbines, reaping over $50 million in profit.
In Iraq, Rolls-Royce hired Unaoil to help it win a contract to supply gas generators to Iraq’s South Oil Co. Rolls-Royce made over $1.5 million on that deal as a result of the bribes paid by Unaoil, the Justice Department found.
As part of the deal with U.S. and British authorities, Rolls-Royce admitted that it paid Unaoil and at least four other intermediaries to bribe government officials and others to secure contracts. Rolls-Royce has also fired six employees and accepted resignations from 11 others who were involved in the bribery scheme, has cut ties with Unaoil and the other intermediaries implicated, and has implemented new internal policies to mitigate corruption risks.
“This resolution will stand as a warning to big and small companies all across the world that the FBI will not tolerate the foreign corruption that threatens our fair and competitive markets,” Stephen Richardson, the assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigative division, said in a news release.
Last year, The Huffington Post and Fairfax Media collaborated on a series of stories detailing Unaoil’s international machinations. The family-run firm partnered with multinational corporations, helping them win lucrative energy contracts in corruption-prone countries, including Iraq, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Libya, Syria and Tunisia. Internal company emails, obtained by Fairfax Media/HuffPost, revealed that Unaoil often secured these contracts by bribing government officials.
Following Fairfax Media/HuffPost’s reports, which first appeared last March, law enforcement agencies in multiple countries launched probes into Unaoil. Monaco police also raided Unaoil’s headquarters and the homes of the firm’s executives.
Rolls-Royce’s settlement with the Justice Department is a criminal penalty, not a civil one. “A number of factors contributed to the department’s criminal resolution with the company, including that Rolls-Royce did not disclose the criminal conduct to the department until after the media began reporting allegations of corruption and after the SFO had initiated an inquiry into the allegations and that the conduct was extensive and spanned 12 countries,” Justice Department officials said in a statement Tuesday.
Of the $800 million settlement, Rolls-Royce will pay nearly $170 million to the U.S. Treasury. About $600 million will go to the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office and $25 million to the Brazilian Ministério Público Federal.
The collaboration among the three countries indicates an effort by the U.S. to boost its foreign partners’ capacity to enforce their own anti-bribery laws. “Although the United States has been the undisputed leader in foreign bribery enforcement, it actually has been somewhat uncomfortable in that role and has wanted to encourage other countries to follow its lead ― to join in the crusade,” said Andy Spalding, who teaches anti-corruption law at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia.
In this case, it appears to have worked. The $600 million that Rolls-Royce will pay to the British law enforcement agency is a huge settlement ― even by U.S. standards. The SFO’s assertive role in prosecuting Rolls-Royce could also signal that it eventually plans to go after Unaoil, Spalding added. Because Unaoil, which is based in Monaco, is also incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, the U.K. authorities could have more power to prosecute Unaoil than would their U.S. counterparts.
Read the Justice Department filings here: