Two U.K. citizens who allegedly helped Houston-based Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) bribe Nigerian officials have been indicted for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Jeffrey Tesler, 60, of London, England, and Wojciech Chodan, 71, of Maidenhead, England, were indicted on Feb. 17, 2009 by a federal grand jury sitting in Houston. The Justice Department didn’t unseal the indictments until after yesterday’s arrest of Tesler by British police, who acted at the request of U.S. authorities. Chodan hasn’t been arrested but faces an outstanding U.S. warrant. The DOJ said it will try to extradite Tesler and Chodan from the U.K. to stand trial in the U.S.
Tesler, a lawyer in London, and Chodan, a former employee and consultant of KBR’s U.K subsidiary, were charged with one count of conspiracy to violate and ten counts of violating the FCPA. They face up to 55 years in prison if convicted on all counts. The indictment also seeks forfeiture from them of more than $132 million.
The indictment says a joint venture that included KBR entered into consulting contracts with a Gibraltar corporation allegedly controlled by Tesler called Tri-Star Investments. The joint venture paid Tri-Star about $132 million to be used to bribe Nigerian government officials. The bribes were intended to secure contracts worth more than $6 billion to build liquefied natural gas facilities on Bonny Island, Nigeria. The joint venture, known as TSKJ, was equally owned by KBR, Technip, SA of France, Snamprogetti Netherlands B.V. (a subsidiary of Saipem SpA of Italy) and JGC of Japan. Chodan allegedly participated in meetings where the bribery was discussed and he wired $50 million from KBR-controlled accounts to a Japanese trading company to be used to bribe Nigerian officials.
Among the details in the indictment: In August 2002, a KBR representative, using money KBR provided to Tesler, “delivered a pilot’s briefcase containing one million U.S. dollars in one-hundred dollar bills to the [Nigerian] Official at a hotel in Abuja, Nigeria, for the benefit of a political party in Nigeria.” And in April 2003, a KBR representative “delivered a vehicle containing Nigerian currency valued at approximately $500,000 to the hotel of the [Nigerian] Official in Abuja, Nigeria, for the benefit of a political party in Nigeria, leaving the vehicle in the hotel parking lot until the . . . Official caused the money to be removed.”
Last month, KBR pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It agreed with the DOJ to pay a $402 million fine. KBR and its former parent company, Halliburton Company, also agreed to pay $177 million in disgorgement to the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle the FCPA offenses. KBR’s former CEO, Albert “Jack” Stanley, pleaded guilty in September 2008 to conspiring to violate the FCPA and to mail and wire fraud charges. He has been cooperating with prosecutors. His sentencing is now scheduled for Aug. 27, 2009.
The DOJ said it had help in the case from “authorities in France, Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, including in particular the Serious Fraud Office’s Anti-Corruption Unit, the London Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police.”
The indictment against Tesler and Chodan contains only FCPA charges. Usually the DOJ adds other criminal counts, such as money-laundering, mail and wire fraud. Relying strictly on alleged antibribery offenses will test the jurisdictional reach of the FCPA over foreign citizens who apparently were not in the U.S. at any times relevant to the charged conduct.
The FCPA asserts jurisdiction over foreign companies and nationals that take any act in furtherance of a corrupt payment while within the territory of the United States. See §78dd-3(a), (f)(1). This part of the FCPA is untested in court, but the DOJ interprets it expansively as conferring jurisdiction whenever a foreign company or national acting as an agent of an issuer or domestic concern causes an act to be done within the territory of the United States. (See the United States Attorneys’ Manual, Title 9, Criminal Resource Manual §1018 “Prohibited Foreign Corrupt Practices” here.) The indictment says Tesler and Chodan were agents of KBR and sent some of the bribe money through U.S. bank accounts.
Another unusual aspect of the indictment is the use of the forfeiture remedy against Tesler and Chodan. (See 28 USC Section 2461, and Title 18 USC Section 981 (a)(l )(C), “all property, real and personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the violations.”) The U.S. government says it wants the entire $132 million that KBR transferred to Tesler’s Gibraltar company or the property derived from it. The DOJ apparently isn’t distinguishing the KBR money Tesler allegedly paid out in bribes from amounts he may have kept.
Jeffrey Tesler was identified in KBR’s 2007 annual report. British and French authorities investigated him two years ago but didn’t file any charges. In 2007, British authorities searched his London office at the request of U.S. officials. He is listed as a consultant to a small North London law firm called Kaye Tesler & Co. Among other things, the firm offers anti-money laundering training.
As the Justice Department says: Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.
The DOJ’s March 5, 2009 release can be downloaded here.
The federal grand jury’s February 17, 2009 indictment of Jeffrey Tesler and Wojciech Chodan can be downloaded here.