A federal judge in New Jersey ruled last week that prosecutors can use secret video recordings in the trial of the former PetroTiger CEO that the FBI made with a camera attached to the executive’s lawyer.
Joseph Sigelman asked the judge to suppress the videos the FBI made with a camera attached to Gregory Weisman, PetroTiger’s former general counsel who also served at times as Sigelman’s personal lawyer. Sigelman said the videos violated his attorney-client privilege.
Sigelman was charged in May 2014 with bribing an official at Ecopetrol SA, Colombia’s state-controlled oil company, and defrauding PetroTiger by taking kickbacks. He has pleaded not guilty.
Judge Joseph E. Irenas ruled last week that attorney-client conversations are shielded by privilege only if the client is actively seeking legal advice. “I cannot find a shred of indication that Weisman is there with the intention of giving legal advice to Sigelman,” Judge Joseph Irenas said, “or the converse, that Sigelman was seeking legal advice from Weisman.” The Wall Street Journal reported the ruling Monday.
Weisman, the former general counsel, pleaded guilty in November 2013 to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and to commit wire fraud.
Knut Hammarskjold, who served as a co-CEO of PetroTiger, also pleaded guilty to the same charges.
PetroTiger is a privately held British Virgin Islands company with operations in Colombia and offices in New Jersey. It provides production testing services to oil and gas companies.
The defendants allegedly made at least four payments in 2010 from PetroTiger’s bank account in the United States to an account in Colombia held by David Duran, an employee of Ecopetrol, worth a total of about $333,500.
“Judge Irenas ruled that in the recorded December 2012 conversation, Mr. Sigelman was not seeking counsel from Mr. Weisman–if anything he was offering it,” the Wall Street Journal said.
A federal indictment charged Sigelman with one count of conspiring to violate the FCPA and three counts of violating the FCPA. He also faces charges for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering.
Sigelman has asked the judge to dismiss the FCPA charges against him. He’s arguing that employees of state-owned enterprises aren’t “foreign officials” under the FCPA.
In 2012, the FBI interviewed Weisman about suspicious overseas payments. Weisman then went to Sigelman’s Miami apartment and asked what he should do. The Wall Street Journal said: “Unbeknownst to Mr. Sigelman, the former company counsel was secretly wearing a hidden camera on his body.”
Sigelman told Weisman to calm down “regroup, go on vacation, collect yourself, come out [expletive] strong,” according to court documents.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.