WASHINGTON – Jim Bob Brown, a former executive of a subsidiary of Houston-based Willbros Group Inc. who worked in Nigeria and South America, has pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by conspiring with others to bribe officials of the governments of Nigeria and Ecuador, the Department of Justice announced today.
The plea was accepted this afternoon at the federal courthouse in Houston by Judge Sim Lake of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The court set a sentencing date of November 30, 2006.
Willbros, a publicly traded company that provides construction, engineering and other services in the oil and gas industry, conducts international operations through a subsidiary known as Willbros International Inc. (WII). During his guilty plea hearing, Brown, 45, admitted that in February 2005, he and another Nigeria-based WII executive arranged for the payment of approximately $1.5 million in cash in Nigeria as part of a conspiracy to make corrupt payments to, among others, officials of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (the Nigerian government-owned oil company) and a joint venture effectively controlled by that company, in order to obtain and retain gas pipeline construction business in Nigeria. The payment was part of a larger, multi-million dollar foreign bribery scheme involving, among others, a former senior Willbros executive officer, a U.S. national acting as a purported “consultant” to Willbros, and Nigeria-based employees of a major German engineering, and construction company. Brown also admitted that, from at least 1996 to early 2005, he and other mid and senior-level WII executives approved of a scheme in which WII’s Nigerian operations submitted fictitious invoices for payment by Willbros. These funds were used, in part, to make corrupt payments to officials of the Nigerian revenue agencies and courts in order to lower taxes that would otherwise have been assessed, and to influence favorably litigation in Nigeria affecting the business of Willbros.
Brown further admitted that, in June 2004, he conspired with the former senior Willbros executive officer and the “consultant,” in addition to local WII Ecuador employees, to pay at least $300,000 to officials of PetroEcuador, the Ecuadorian government oil company, to obtain a gas pipeline rehabilitation contract and potential future business.
Brown is cooperating with the government’s ongoing investigation as part of his plea agreement. The maximum sentence for a charge of conspiring to violate the FCPA is not more than five years in prison and a fine of not more than the greater of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or twice the gross loss.
The case is being prosecuted by Fraud Section Deputy Chief Mark F. Mendelsohn and Trial Attorney Thomas E. Stevens of the Criminal Division, Department of Justice. The case continues to be investigated by the Washington Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.