Sargeant Marine to pay $16.6m fine after pleading guilty to bribery schemes

Boca Raton, Florida-based asphalt-shipping company Sargeant Marine has been fined $16.6m after pleading guilty to bribery schemes in three South American countries. The US Department of Justice said that between 2010 and 2018 the company paid millions of dollars in bribes to foreign officials in Brazil, Venezuela, and Ecuador to obtain contracts to purchase or sell asphalt to the countries’ state-owned and state-controlled oil companies.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said that “with today’s (September 23rd) guilty plea, Sargeant Marine has admitted to engaging in a long-running pattern of paying bribes to corrupt officials in three South American countries to obtain lucrative business”.

The DOJ said that Sargeant Marine admitted to bribing a minister in the Brazilian government, a high-ranking member of the Brazilian Congress, and senior executives at Petróleo Brasileiro S.A.-Petrobras to obtain valuable contracts to sell asphalt.

Sargeant Marine entered into fake consulting agreements with bribe intermediaries.  After receiving fake invoices, it then sent international wires from Sargeant Marine bank accounts to offshore bank accounts held in the names of shell companies controlled by the bribe intermediaries. 

The bribe intermediaries used a portion of the commissions to pay bribes to Brazilian government officials on Sargeant Marine’s behalf, either by wire to the officials’ offshore shell companies, or in cash in Brazil.

Sargeant Marine also admitted that between approximately 2012 and 2018 it bribed four PDVSA officials in Venezuela in exchange for inside information, and for their assistance in steering contracts to purchase asphalt from PDVSA to a Sargeant Marine nominee.

As was the case in Brazil, Sargeant Marine concealed the bribes by entering into fake consulting agreements with a bribe intermediary and wiring commission payments into US and offshore bank accounts controlled by the bribe intermediary, who then paid the PDVSA officials on behalf of Sargeant Marine. 

The DOJ added that the company admitted bribing an official at Ecuador’s state-owned oil company EP Petroecuador (Petroecuador) to secure a 2014 contract to supply asphalt. The company used the same tactics as in Brazil and Venezuela to conceal the bribe payments.