Asphalt company Sargeant Marine has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and agreed to a $16.6 million criminal fine to resolve charges that it paid bribes to foreign officials in three South American countries, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

According to its admissions, Sargeant Marine and its affiliated companies engaged in an eight-year scheme paying millions of dollars in bribes to foreign officials in Brazil, Venezuela, and Ecuador between 2010 and 2018 in exchange for obtaining contracts to purchase or sell asphalt to the countries’ state-owned and state-controlled oil companies.

“In Brazil, 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,” the Department of Justice said. To execute the scheme, Sargeant Marine entered into fake consulting agreements with bribe intermediaries, who “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 further admitted that, between approximately 2012 and 2018, “it bribed four Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (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,” the Department of Justice said. Again, Sargeant Marine tried to cover up the bribes by entering into fake consulting agreements.

Sargeant Marine also admitted to similarly bribing an official at Ecuador’s state-owned oil company EP Petroecuador to secure a 2014 contract to supply asphalt.

Individual charges

The Department of Justice also recently unsealed charges against, and the guilty pleas of, five individuals who played a role in the bribery scheme: Daniel Sargeant, a senior executive of the company; Jose Tomas Meneses, a Sargeant Marine trader; Luiz Eduardo Andrade and David Diaz, consultants who acted as bribe intermediaries; and Hector Nuñez Troyano, a former PDVSA official who received bribes in connection with the Venezuela contracts.

A sixth individual, Roberto Finocchi, also a Sargeant Marine trader, pleaded guilty in November 2017 for his role in the Brazil scheme. Additionally, the Department announced, a criminal complaint was unsealed in federal court on Sept. 10 charging another former PDVSA official with conspiracy to commit money laundering, in part, for his alleged role in the Venezuela scheme.