Former Armenian Ambassador and a Russian National Charged in Foreign Bribery and Money Laundering Scheme
Two employees of an international engineering consulting firm were charged in a superseding indictment filed today for their alleged participation in a scheme to launder bribe payments to foreign government officials for the benefit of a Columbus, Ohio-based subsidiary of Rolls-Royce plc, to secure a contract to supply equipment and services to power a gas pipeline from Kazakhstan to China.
Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman of the Southern District of Ohio, Acting Inspector in Charge Nicole Davis of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Criminal Investigations Group, Assistant Director Christopher Hacker of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division and Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno of the FBI’s Washington Field Office Criminal Division made the announcement.
Azat Martirossian, 62, a citizen of Armenia, and Vitaly Leshkov, 50, a citizen of Russia, were charged by a superseding indictment filed in the Southern District of Ohio with one count of conspiracy to launder money and 10 counts of money laundering. Petros Contoguris, 70, a citizen of Greece, was also charged on these counts, as well as one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), and seven counts of violating the FCPA. Contoguris previously had been charged on all of these counts in an indictment that was filed on Oct. 12, 2017 and unsealed on Nov. 7, 2017. Martirossian, Leshkov, and Contoguris are believed to be residing outside the United States.
“The charges announced today against Azat Martirossian and Vitaly Leshkov further demonstrate the Criminal Division’s unwavering resolve to prosecute those who facilitate corruption and launder illicit proceeds,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan. “Thanks to the coordinated efforts by our prosecutors and agents—working closely with their counterparts throughout the world—these defendants will face prosecution for their allegedly corrupt schemes.”
“The charges filed today reflect the continued determination of the United States to prosecute those who engage in foreign corrupt business practices,” said U.S. Attorney Glassman. “International actors should think twice before executing bribery schemes because the United States can and will discover and prosecute such schemes and their perpetrators.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has a long history of successfully investigating complex fraud and corruption cases,” said Acting Inspector in Charge Davis. “Corruption and bribery schemes such as this involving international corporations and conspirators are not victimless crimes. This type of conduct can damage competitive domestic and international markets, and cause immeasurable economic losses both here in the United States and around the world. Anyone who engages in deceptive practices like this should know they will not go undetected and will be held accountable, regardless of where they are. The collaborative investigative work on this case conducted by Postal Inspectors and our domestic and international law enforcement partners illustrates our efforts to protect the United States and the international marketplace.”
“The allegations outlined today exemplify how a small group of individuals, who knowingly engage in illegal payments in an attempt to advance businesses dealings, create an uneven global marketplace,” said Acting Assistant Director Hacker. “The FBI with our partners continues to work these important cases in order to remove the notion that bribery, through backroom deals, is an acceptable way of doing business. This investigation demonstrates the importance of international cooperation amongst law enforcement in combatting fraud and money laundering on a global basis.”
“Today’s charges serve as a reminder of the important role the FBI plays in rooting out international corruption,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge DeSarno. “No one is above the law, so let today’s announcement be a warning to those who may try to perpetrate a similar scheme that the FBI will work with global partners in its mission to detect and prevent corrupt business practices, and we will continue to hold those who attempt to take advantage of international markets accountable.”
According to the superseding indictment, Contoguris, the founder and chief executive officer of Gravitas & CIE. International Ltd. (Gravitas), former Rolls-Royce employees and executives, and others, allegedly conspired to pay bribes to foreign officials in exchange for directing business to Rolls-Royce Energy Systems Inc. (RRESI). RRESI was a U.S.-based subsidiary of Rolls-Royce plc, the United Kingdom-based global manufacturer and distributor of power systems for the aerospace, defense, marine and energy sectors.
The superseding indictment alleges that Contoguris, working with employees of an international engineering consulting firm (Technical Advisor), including Martirossian and Leshkov, devised and executed a scheme with Rolls-Royce executives and employees, whereby Rolls-Royce would pay kickbacks to the Technical Advisor employees and bribes to at least one foreign official in Kazakhstan, and disguise these payments as commissions to Contoguris’s company, Gravitas, in exchange for helping Rolls-Royce win contracts with Asia Gas Pipeline LLP (AGP).
According to the superseding indictment, AGP was created to build and connect a gas pipeline between Central Asia and China, and the Technical Advisor purported to provide independent engineering consulting advice and other services to AGP. The superseding indictment further alleges that after AGP awarded Rolls-Royce a contract in November 2009, worth approximately $145 million, Rolls-Royce made commission payments to Gravitas, and Contoguris then passed a portion of those commission payments onto the Technical Advisor employees, including Leshkov and Martirossian, knowing that a portion of that money would be shared with a foreign official consistent with their corrupt agreement.
The charges announced today follow the Jan. 17, 2017 announcement of a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with Rolls-Royce plc and a more than $800 million total penalty as part of a global resolution to investigations by the Department of Justice, U.K., and Brazilian authorities related to the corrupt conduct. The charges also follow upon the Nov. 7, 2017 announcement, concerning Rolls-Royce former executives and employees James Finley, Keith Barnett and Louis Zuurhout, and Technical Advisor employee Andreas Kohler, each of whom have entered guilty pleas in connection with their respective roles in the bribery scheme. The DPA acknowledged Rolls-Royce’s cooperation in this case, including with the Department’s investigation into individuals, and significant remedial measures.
An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the FBI’s International Corruption Squad in Washington, D.C., investigated the case. Trial Attorneys Kevin R. Gingras and Vanessa Snyder of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys J. Michael Marous and Jessica Kim of the Southern District of Ohio are prosecuting the case.
The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance in this matter. The United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office provided assistance in this matter, as did law enforcement colleagues in Brazil, which both coordinated with the Department to reach simultaneous resolutions with Rolls-Royce. The Department also thanks its law enforcement colleagues in Austria, the Bahamas, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, Switzerland and Turkey.
The Criminal Division’s Fraud Section is responsible for investigating and prosecuting all FCPA matters. Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.