US company pleads guilty to paying bribes in Brazil and Venezuela | Ecuador News


A major U.S. asphalt company agreed to pay $ 16.6 million in fines while pleading guilty on Tuesday of federal charges that it paid millions in bribes to Brazilian, Ecuadorian and Venezuelan officials during nearly a decade to win lucrative contracts.Sargeant Marine Inc.’s plea deal is part of a broader crackdown on corrupt transactions in South America’s commodities markets.

In what appears to be a related case, a former Switzerland-based Vitol oil trader was accused on Tuesday of paying $ 870,000 in bribes to former Ecuadorian officials from 2015-2020 in return of fuel oil contracts. Vitol, who is not named in the indictment, bought half of Sargeant Marine in 2015.

Brooklyn federal prosecutors said Sargeant Marine and its affiliates paid bribes between 2010 and 2018 for contracts with state-owned oil companies in the three South American countries, all of which were run by governments. left at the time. The Boca Raton, Florida-based company has made more than $ 38 million in profit from the bribes.

Recipients in Brazil, where the bulk of the profits were made, included a member of Congress, a minister and senior officials from state-run Petrobras under the administration of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his successor, President Dilma Rousseff. None of the foreign officials are identified by name in the plea deal, but Brazilian prosecutors in 2018 accused former congressman Candido Vaccarezza of negotiating with Sargeant Marine over the bribes paid to Petrobras. Vaccarezza was at the time the leader of the ruling Workers’ Party in the lower house.

Recently unsealed court documents indicate that Daniel Sargeant, who ran Sargeant Marine, quietly pleaded guilty last December to conspiring to commit money laundering and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits Americans from paying money. foreign officials in exchange for business. He is awaiting conviction after paying $ 300,000 in cash. This month, a former director of Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) – who was once in charge of asphalt sales – was arrested in a related case, bringing the total number of executives, traders, agents and former officials to seven. Venezuelans from Sargeant Marine linked to the long-standing corruption system.

A lawyer representing Sargeant Marine declined to comment.

Fake consulting contracts and bogus invoices were used to pay middlemen who negotiated the bribes in the three countries, according to the plea deal. The members of the conspiracy, who are not identified by name, are said to negotiate the payments by drafting messages in a US-based email account for which they shared login and password information.

After a Sargeant Marine affiliate completed asphalt shipments to Petrobras in August 2010, the branch executive emailed Daniel Sargeant, stating, “Wow, I guess the last trip to Brazil with crooks paid. Should leave before the contract gets hot and heavy next year, ”the plea deal said.

Similar tactics have been used in Venezuela, whose tar crude is among the best in the world for making asphalt. The confidential information that was obtained through the corrupt system and which gave Sargeant Marine a competitive advantage in its relationship with PDVSA after 2015 has been codenamed “chocolates”.

Sargeant Marine was “one of the largest suppliers of asphalt in the world,” according to the indictment. But the company is a shadow of itself amid an asset sale that followed a bitter, multi-year legal fight between Sargeant and his older brother, Harry Sargeant III, for control of the company. asphalt business started by their father.

Elder Sargent, a prominent Republican donor in Florida, was not named in the indictment or his brother’s plea deal. Some of the bribes were paid before he was ousted from the family business.

Sargeant Marine also admitted to paying bribes in 2014 into offshore accounts to an official working for EP Petroecuador, which was seeking to supply the country with asphalt.

Separately, Javier Aguilar, a former oil trader for Vitol, has been accused of paying bribes to Petroecuador, according to a criminal complaint also filed by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn and unsealed Tuesday. Vitol acquired a 50% stake in Sargeant Marine in 2015 for an undisclosed amount.

Alex Spiro, an Aguilar lawyer, denied the allegations. “We will see everyone in court,” he said in a statement.

“Vitol is aware of the charges against a person connected with business with Petroecuador and is cooperating with the relevant authorities,” the company said in a statement. “Vitol is committed to upholding the law and has anti-corruption and anti-corruption policies, procedures and controls in place in all of its business operations.”


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