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Florida company pays $16.6 million to resolve South America FCPA offenses

An asphalt company based in Boca Raton, Florida pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for a scheme to bribe officials in three South American countries.

Sargeant Marine Inc. paid “million of dollars in bribes” between 2010 and 2018 to officials in Brazil, Venezuela, and Ecuador. The bribes helped the company and a trading affiliate obtain contracts to purchase or sell asphalt to state oil companies, the DOJ said.

The company entered its plea Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn. It agreed to pay a criminal fine of $16.6 million.

The DOJ said Sargeant Marine was one of the largest asphalt providers in the world. Asphalt is bitumen, a thick form of petroleum found naturally or as refining byproduct.

In Brazil, Sargeant Marine paid around $5 million in bribes, the DOJ said. Payments went to a government minister, a high-ranking member of the Brazilian congress, and senior executives at Petróleo Brasileiro S.A.-Petrobras.

Sargeant Marine used “fake consulting agreements with bribe intermediaries,” the DOJ said. It wired money to offshore bank accounts held by shell companies controlled by “bribe intermediaries.” The intermediaries then passed the bribes to the officials either by wiring funds to offshore shell companies the officials controlled or by paying cash in Brazil.

The Brazil bribes helped Sargeant Marine and its trading affiliate win Petrobras contracts worth $185 million, the DOJ said.

In Venezuela between 2010 and 2018, Sargeant Marine bribed four officials at the state energy company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA). In return for about $1.2 million in bribes, Sargeant Marine received inside information and contracts to buy asphalt from PDVSA. Similar to Brazil, Sargeant Marine covered up the bribes with fake consulting agreements with a bribe intermediary.

In Ecuador, Sargeant Marine bribed an official at the state oil company, EP Petroecuador, in exchange for a 2014 contract to supply asphalt. The company used the same tactics as in Brazil and Venezuela to conceal bribes to “a decisionmaker” at Petroecuador, the DOJ said.

“Today’s resolution is the result of a multi-year, multi-national, collaborative effort to root out corruption perpetrated by an American company in three countries,” Acting U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme of the Eastern District of New York said in a statement.

The DOJ also announced the unsealing of guilty pleas by six individuals in the case.

One of them, Daniel Sargeant, was charged in December 2019 in federal court in Brooklyn. The DOJ described him as an “executive and part owner” of Sargeant Marine. He was charged with conspiracy to violate the FCPA and commit money laundering.

Jose Tomas Meneses, a Sargeant Marine trader, was charged in August 2018 with conspiracy to violate the FCPA for the bribery scheme involving officials at Venezuela’s PDVSA. He’s a Brazilian national.

Luiz Eduardo Andrade was charged in September 2017 on two FCPA conspiracy counts. He’s also Brazilian and worked in Brazil and the United States. He acted as an agent for Sargeant Marine and its trading affiliate. The DOJ said he bribed officials at Petrobras.

Another Sargeant Marine trader, Roberto Finocchi, also pleaded guilty in November 2017 to an FCPA conspiracy for bribes to Petrobras officials. Finocchi is an American citizen.

The two other guilty pleas involved another former Sargeant Marine agent and a former PDVSA official who took bribes.

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