A former consultant for a subsidiary of Houston-based Willbros Group Inc. pleaded guilty on November 12 to paying $6 million in bribes to officials who worked in the Nigerian government, in government-owned companies, and in a political party there. Paul G. Novak, 43, pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and one substantive count of violating the FCPA. He’s scheduled to be sentenced on February 19, 2010.
The bribes were intended to help Willbros win and keep contracts for the Eastern Gas Gathering System (EGGS) Project, worth about $387 million. The project was a natural gas pipeline system in the Niger Delta.
Novak, along with alleged co-conspirators James Kenneth Tillery, Jason Steph, Jim Bob Brown and three employees from a German construction company based in Mannheim, Germany, agreed to make the corrupt payments to, among others, government officials from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the National Petroleum Investment Management Services, a senior official in the executive branch of the federal government of Nigeria, members of a Nigerian political party and officials from the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd.
To fund the bribes, Steph and others used a Willbros’ subsidiary, Willbros West Africa Inc. (WWA), to enter into agreements with two consulting companies Novak represented. Without providing any services, the consulting companies would invoice WWA and be paid from Willbros’ bank account in Houston to accounts in Lebanon. Novak then used money from the Lebanese accounts to bribe the Nigerian officials.
In addition to Novak, two Willbros employees have pleaded guilty in the case and Willbros has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement:
On September 14, 2006, Jim Bob Brown, a former Willbros executive, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA, for his role in making corrupt payments to Nigerian government officials to obtain and retain the EGGS contract and for making corrupt payments in Ecuador. Brown’s sentencing is currently scheduled for January 28, 2010.
On November 5, 2007, Jason Steph, also a former Willbros executive, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA, for making corrupt payments to Nigerian government officials to obtain and retain the EGGS contract. Steph’s sentencing is also scheduled for January 28, 2010. See our post here.
On May 14, 2008, Willbros Group Inc. and Willbros International Inc. entered into a deferred prosecution agreement and agreed to pay a $22 million criminal penalty, for the illegal payments to government officials in Nigeria and Ecuador. See our post here.
James K. Tillery was charged, along with Novak, for his alleged role in the bribery scheme in an indictment unsealed on December 19, 2008. According to the indictment, Tillery was a Willbros employee and executive from the 1980s through January 2005. He remains a fugitive. See our post here.
Download the DOJ’s November 12, 2009 release here.