Siemens Settlement Shows Bribes In Latin America

Three Siemens subsidiaries pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington to settle long-standing corruption charges, including paying millions in bribes to secure business.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- The German company Siemens AG has acknowledged paying millions of dollars in bribes to secure business in Venezuela and Argentina.

Three Siemens subsidiaries -- operating in Venezuela, Argentina and Bangladesh -- pleaded guilty on Monday in federal court in Washington to settle long-standing corruption charges.

Court documents say Siemens in Venezuela acknowledged payments of at least $18.7 million to purported business consultants from 2001 to 2007 "with the understanding that some or all of those funds would be passed along" to government officials to secure or retain contracts for urban train projects in the cities of Valencia and Maracaibo.

Contracts for the Valencia metro train project were estimated at about $240 million, and for the Maracaibo metro project at more than $100 million.

Payments went to "various Venezuelan officials, indirectly through purported business consultants, in exchange for favorable business treatment," according to a sentencing document by U.S. prosecutors.

Venezuelan government officials did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

Siemens also acknowledged payments to Argentine government officials "both directly and indirectly, in an effort to retain current business or secure future business," the court document said.

It said the company, which had obtained a $1 billion national identity-card project in Argentina, made $31.3 million in payments to purported business consultants. It also said Siemens improperly recorded "those corrupt payments in its books and records as legitimate payments for 'consulting fees' or 'legal fees.'"

Payments in Venezuela were recorded similarly in company books. And in Bangladesh, court documents say, payments totaling at least $5.9 million went to purported consultants enlisted to bribe officials.

U.S. prosecutors said in their sentencing document that some payments were cut with or paid into U.S. accounts, and that investigators found a "a strong nexus to the U.S." in some of the payments.

The Munich-based industrial conglomerate, which makes products ranging from wind turbines to trams, has been embroiled in a far-reaching corruption scandal and has acknowledged making dubious payments to secure business. An investigation commissioned by Siemens found evidence of violations across the company, and in several countries.

Under the terms of the U.S. settlement, Siemens and its subsidiaries will pay about $450 million to the U.S. Justice Department to settle charges of making bribes and trying to falsify corporate books from 2001 to 2007. It will pay an additional $350 million to settle charges from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Siemens also agreed this week to pay 395 million euros ($533.6 million) in fines to European authorities.

The U.S. portion of the fines was by far the largest ever levied under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, said attorney Danforth Newcomb, a partner and head of the anti-corruption practice at the New York-based law firm Shearman & Sterling. Still, he said, Siemens "got a pretty good deal."

"It's a whopping-large matter, but considering what they could have been faced with, they were smart to negotiate," Newcomb said.

He called the close cooperation between U.S. and German authorities "extraordinary" and said that precedent "is likely to accelerate the trend toward more anti-corruption enforcement."

Siemens said it will now pay for an independent compliance monitor who will report to the Justice Department on the company's actions.

A spokesman for Siemens in Germany did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Officials could not be reached at its subsidiary in Caracas.

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