Cobalt International Energy, an independent exploration and production company, disclosed in a securities filing this week that the Securities and Exchange Commission concluded its second investigation into potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act related to the company’s operations in Angola and does not intend to bring an enforcement action.
In its securities filing, Cobalt said it received notice of the conclusion of the investigation on Jan. 29. “This formally concludes the SEC investigation, which was opened in March 2017,” Cobalt said in the Form 8-K.
That second investigation concerned an informal inquiry the SEC initiated related to Cobalt’s funding of Sonangol Research and Technology Center, under an agreement with Angola’s state-owned oil and gas company, Sonangol. As background, in December 2011, “we executed the PSC [Production Sharing Contract], under which we and BP are required to make certain social contributions to Sonangol, including for the Technology Center,” Cobalt said.
Cobalt came under criticism, however, by Global Witness, who raised “urgent questions” to BP and Cobalt about where the US$350 million payments toward the research center were going, considering the lack of progress being made. “The companies did not provide this information in their responses,” Global Witness stated at the time.
“International oil companies are contractually obliged to make these types of payments to Sonangol, which has a history of corruption allegations,” Global Witness added. “The lack of information to confirm that the SRTC exists raises serious concerns that the money may have been misappropriated, potentially corruptly.”
In a quarterly filing last year, Cobalt said it was informed of the SEC’s investigation by telephone on March 13, 2017. That same day, Cobalt said it also received a voluntary request for information regarding such inquiry. “We believe our activities in Angola have complied with all applicable laws, including the FCPA, and we will cooperate with the SEC’s inquiry,” Cobalt said in the quarterly filing at the time it disclosed the investigation.
As previously disclosed, the Department of Justice and the SEC first began investigating Cobalt’s operations in Angola in 2011 following allegations of a connection between senior Angolan government officials and Nazaki Oil and Gaz, an Angolan company that, until 2014, held a working interest alongside Cobalt on Blocks 9 and 21 offshore Angola.
The SEC concluded that investigation in January 2015 without any enforcement action. Then in February 2017, Cobalt said the Justice Department also notified the company that it would not be bringing an enforcement action.
Cobalt and certain U.S. affiliates filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy petitions on Dec. 14. The company said in a securities filing that it was notified by the New York Stock Exchange that the NYSE had commenced proceedings to delist the company’s common stock from the NYSE. In addition, the NYSE advised Cobalt that its application to the SEC to delist the company’s common stock was pending, subject to the completion of applicable procedures.
Effective as of Dec. 14, 2017, the company’s common stock is expected to begin trading on the OTC Pink marketplace under the symbol “CIEI.” The company said it will remain subject to the public reporting requirements of the SEC following the trading of its common units on the OTC Pink marketplace.