Aziz Rahman considers the corruption problems energy and
resources companies have encountered and assesses how they can be minimised.
Oil field services company Halliburton is to pay nearly $30
million to resolve allegations of bribery in Angola.
Former Halliburton vice president Jeannot Lorenz also agreed
to pay a $75,000 fine for falsifying the company's books and circumventing
internal controls, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has
Lorenz directed $13 million in contracts to a company owned
by a former Halliburton employee who was linked to an official at the Angolan
state oil company, Sonangol. The official then approved lucrative contracts for
Halliburton, bringing in profits of $14 million for the Houston-based company, according
to the SEC.
Halliburton said the investigation began in late 2010 when
the company received information anonymously. It said, in a statement, that it
reported the allegation to the US Department of Justice (DOJ), conducted a
thorough internal investigation and cooperated with investigations by the
Securities and Exchange Commission and the DOJ
Halliburton has agreed to hire an outside consultant to
oversee the company's anti-corruption practices in Africa.
The case indicates both the dangers of bribery and the need
to prevent it.
Companies that trade in parts of the world that have been
publicised as high-risk when it comes to bribery need to be extra vigilant
regarding all aspects of their business.
The fact that Halliburton only became aware of the problem
due to an anonymous tip off indicates shortcomings in its efforts to prevent
bribery. Such efforts have to be tighter in areas where there is a recognised
risk of corruption.
Angola is 164th out of 176 nations in Transparency International’s
(TI) 2016 Corruption Index. On the Index, the most corruption-free nation is
first and the worst is 176th. Halliburton can have little excuse for being
unaware of – or not taking precautions against – the bribery dangers in Angola.
It is a country, like many in Africa, which is wrestling
with the problem of corruption. There are no African countries in the top 30 of
the Transparency International Index. A number of the major African countries,
including South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya, have failed to improve
their scores on the Index.
It would be wrong, however, to restrict any warnings to
Africa. But what those looking to do business in the energy and resources
sector must do is take well-researched precautions to make sure they do not
find themselves facing corruption allegations.
Recently, we have seen the oil corporations Unaoil and
Petrofac investigated over allegations of, among other things, bribery in Kazakhstan;
which is 131st on the TI Index. Unaoil is also under investigation
for similar activities in Iraq (166th) and Kuwait (75th).
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is probing mining group Rio
Tinto over bribery allegations in Guinea (142nd) while mining giant
ENRC is under investigation for its Kazakhstan activities, as well as for
corruption in sub-Saharan Africa.
None of the countries where the alleged corruption took
place are in the top half of the TI Index. This not only indicates the source
of the problems – it also highlights the lack of effort from the companies
involved to reduce the scope for such corrupt behaviour.
It may be that those at the top believe it is a risk worth
taking; even a necessary bit of naughtiness to clinch the business. But with
many of the aforementioned companies having suffered plunging share prices, the
arrest, suspension and investigation of senior figures and the threat of legal
action by investors, such an approach seems reckless.
Once such allegations are identified, the damage to a firm’s
finances, reputation and ability to keep fully functioning can be irreparable.
In the UK, a conviction under the Bribery Act, for bribery anywhere in the
world, can lead to unlimited fines, up to ten years in prison and assets being
For this reason alone, bribery has to be seen as a practice
that must be prevented instead of encouraged or ignored.
The energy and resources sector is, as we have said, the
subject of a number of major corruption investigations. But it does not matter
what line of business a company is in or where it does that business – it will
still need a properly researched and enforced compliance programme to reduce
the chances of bribery (or any other white-collar crimes) being committed in its
It must be a set of measures that helps a company identify
the potential for, and prevent, wrongdoing. Wrongdoing may still be carried
out. But the authorities will treat a company more leniently if it can show
that it took genuine steps to be legally compliant; especially if it identifies
the wrongdoing itself and reports it.
A weak attempt at compliance for appearance’s sake will be
of little or no use. The investigating authorities will be looking for genuine
effort to prevent crime: an awareness of
the corruption risks in the countries where the company trades, proactive
measures to check on those who work for or with it and whistle blowing
procedures that ensure all suspicions are reported and properly investigated.
The punishments for bribery can be heavy. But there is scope
for leniency. A lenient approach may be
taken by the authorities if – as we mentioned earlier – they are convinced that
a company had done all it could to prevent bribery.
But companies can also increase their chances of receiving
less harsh treatment by taking the right action if they suspect they have
become involved in bribery.
Conducting a thorough internal investigation into any
suspicions not only helps a company identify what, if any, illegal behaviour has
gone on. Reporting any findings of wrongdoing to the authorities before they
are aware of them is likely to lead to a less severe punishment than if the
powers that be find them without any assistance from the company.
The introduction of deferred prosecution agreements (DPA’s)
has given the authorities the opportunity to impose conditions on a firm rather
than prosecute it. But a DPA is less likely to be offered to a company that has
shown no effort to either report or put right the wrongs that have come to
The UK has so far only seen a small
trickle of DPA’s because they only became an option under the Crime and Courts
Act 2013. At Rahman Ravelli, we have been heavily involved in that first
trickle – and look set to be involved in more. Having been involved in
securing a DPA for clients, we would emphasise the need to negotiate shrewdly
with the SFO. Reporting the wrongs and / or putting them right is no guarantee
of a DPA. Obtaining one – and avoiding the cost and trouble of a prosecution – requires
cooperation backed with a tactical approach.
As a high-profile example, let us look at the DPA obtained
by Rolls-Royce. The aircraft giant agreed to pay £671M to settle bribery
allegations against it and even managed to obtain a discount on the penalties
included in the DPA.
So how did Rolls-Royce manage this? Especially as it did not
even self-report its wrongdoing? There are a number of reasons:
* The Rolls-Royce settlement makes it clear that the company
was granted a DPA because of the “extraordinary cooperation’’ it had
volunteered. This cooperation helped obtain the 50% discount on the financial
penalty that Rolls-Royce was ordered to pay.
* After the bribery came to light, Rolls-Royce introduced
crime prevention procedures that, according to the settlement, meant that it
was “no longer the company that once it was’’. It appointed Lord Gold to review
its compliance policies, improved compliance training and reviewed its due
diligence and risk assessment measures.
* Rolls-Royce emphasised in negotiations with the SFO that
is employed 50,000 people, was “of central importance to the United Kingdom’’
and prosecuting it would damage the UK defence industry, harm businesses in its
supply chain, distort market competition and cause redundancies and falling
It was a shrewd and well thought-out combination of
cooperation, actions in response to the allegations and negotiation that
convinced the SFO that Rolls-Royce was serious about putting right the wrongs.
Anyone facing bribery allegations that wants to achieve a
similar, favourable outcome must be able to plan and execute an equally
It requires the assistance of a legal team that can boast
experience of dealing with the SFO, the rarer experience of having obtained a
DPA for clients and unrivalled expertise in the field of bribery.