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Former Allen & Overy partner charged in Petrobras-SBM Offshore bribe case

Sietze Hepkema (image courtesy of SBM Offshore)A former Allen & Overy partner who led the firm’s Amsterdam office was among a dozen people charged last week by prosecutors in Brazil as part of the corruption investigation into Petrobras, the state-owned oil company.

Sietze Hepkema was a member of Allen & Overy LLP from 2000 to 2011 and also served as co-head of the law firm’s global corporate practice from 2010 until he left in December 2011.

After leaving Allen & Overy, Hepkema, 62, joined Netherlands-based SBM Offshore as chief governance and compliance officer. He retired from that position in April 2015 but remained with SBM as a member of its supervisory board.

Hepkema has been leading the company’s investigation into alleged bribery in Brazil and other countries.

In November 2014, SBM Offshore agreed to pay Dutch authorities $240 million to settle allegations that it bribed government officials in Brazil, Angola, and Equatorial Guinea.

After the Dutch settlement, the U.S. Department of Justice dropped its FCPA investigation into the company.

In Brazil, the SBM-Petrobras probe is known as Operation Black Blood. Prosecutors there allege that at least $46 million in “undue payments” were made in Switzerland between 1998 and 2012 tied to contracts for floating oil production, storage, and offloading ships.

On Monday, SBM’s supervisory board issued a statement supporting Hepkema and Bruno Chabas, the company’s CEO who was also charged by Brazil prosecutors last week in the Petrobras case.

The statement said,

Following the recent charges made by the Brazilian Public Prosecutor’s Office (Ministério Público Federal – “MPF”) against SBM Offshore’s CEO, Mr. Bruno Chabas, and against a member of the Company’s Supervisory Board, Mr. Sietze Hepkema, the Supervisory Board has, together with its advisers, reviewed and discussed the allegations which have been published in relation to Messrs. Chabas and Hepkema.

The Supervisory Board has concluded that there are no impediments to Mr. Chabas continuing in his role as CEO of SBM Offshore and to his leadership of the Company through these challenging times. Likewise, the Supervisory Board sees no impediments to Mr. Hepkema continuing to serve as member of the SBM Offshore Supervisory Board. As always, due regard is given to potential conflicts of interest.

The Chairman of the Supervisory Board, Mr. Frans Cremers commented: “It is unfortunate that the very people who have been and still are doing the right things in this complex compliance case in Brazil, are now being questioned. We have no doubts regarding the integrity of both Bruno Chabas and Sietze Hepkema, who continue to have our full support.”

Hepkema’s current term on SBM’s supervisory board runs through 2019. He’s a member of the board’s audit committee.

He was charged in the Brazil case with “favorecimento pessoal,” or personal favoritism, a report in the Global Legal Post said.

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Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.

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