Federal district judge Keith B. Ellison denied motions for summary judgments filed by the SEC, and by former Noble executives Mark Jackson and James Ruehlen.
Jackson, Noble’s former CEO, and Ruehlen, the head of Noble’s Nigeria unit, asked Judge Ellison to rule that the SEC didn’t have enough evidence in the civil suit against them for a jury to decide they violated the FCPA.
The SEC asked Judge Ellison to strike Jackson and Ruehlen’s defense that the payments they allegedly oversaw to Nigeria customs agents were permitted facilitating payments under the FCPA.
But in an order entered May 30, the judge denied all three motions for a summary judgment. That means the case is still proceeding to a jury trial, now scheduled to start on July 9.
Jackson and Ruehlen were charged in February 2012 with bribing officials in Nigeria in exchange for illegal import permits for drilling rigs.
Both defendants have denied the charges.
A third man, Thomas F. O’Rourke, Noble’s former controller and head of internal audit, settled the SEC’s civil charges in 2012 by paying a $35,000 penalty.
In 2010, Noble Corporation paid $8.1 million to settle FCPA offenses.
The case was part of an enforcement action against seven companies from the oil and gas industry.
The DOJ and SEC said Noble paid $74,000 to a Nigerian freight forwarding agent, knowing that some of the payments would be passed on as bribes to Nigerian customs officials. Noble falsely recorded the bribes as legitimate business expenses, the SEC said.
In his summary judgment motion, Ruehlen said:
The undisputed evidence establishes that Mr. Ruehlen — a diligent and hardworking operations employee with an impeccable reputation for honesty and integrity — at all times acted in good faith and under the close supervision of Noble’s most senior executives. At no point did he attempt to conceal any conduct or circumvent controls or company processes.
Ruehlen also argued that the SEC can’t prove he acted “corruptly” under the FCPA.
“The undisputed evidence,” he said in his unsuccessful motion, “shows that Mr. Ruehlen, like many others within the company, believed in good faith that the payments were to secure or expedite temporary import permits to which Noble was entitled.”
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.