Siemens to Pay $1.34 Billion in FinesNY Times
By ERIC LICHTBLAU and CARTER DOUGHERTY
Published: December 15, 2008
WASHINGTON — Siemens, the German engineering giant, agreed Monday to pay a record total of $1.6 billion to American and European authorities to settle charges that it routinely used bribes and slush funds to secure huge public works contracts around the world.
The company also pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington to charges that it violated a 1977 law banning the use of corrupt practices in foreign business dealings.
The fines that the company agreed to pay on the American side of the case — $450 million to the Justice Department and $350 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission — dwarf the previous high for a foreign corruption case brought by Washington. That mark of $33 million was set last year in the case of Baker Hughes, an oil conglomerate that paid a total of $44 million over foreign bribery charges.
Officials said that Siemens, beginning in the mid-1990s, used bribes and kickbacks to foreign officials to secure government contracts for projects like a national identity card project in Argentina, mass transit work in Venezuela, a nationwide cellphone network in Bangladesh and a United Nations oil-for-food program in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
"Their actions were not an anomaly," said Joseph Persichini Jr., the head of the Washington office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "They were standard operating procedures for corporate executives who viewed bribery as a business strategy."
Executives at Siemens vowed to clean up their foreign business practices as part of the separate agreements with officials in the United States and Germany. "Siemens is closing a painful chapter in its history," Gerhard Cromme, the Siemens chairman, said in announcing the agreements at a news conference.
Officials at the Justice Department and at the S.E.C., which also investigated the case, said that some Siemens agents in the United States participated in the schemes. But most of the transactions were in foreign countries. Company employees created off-the-books slush funds, used middlemen posing as consultants and delivered suitcases filled with cash to bribe foreign officials.
Linda Chatman Thomsen, the head of the S.E.C.'s enforcement division, said that the company paid an estimated $1.4 billion in bribes to government officials in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. She called the schemes "unprecedented in scale and geographic reach." The United States claimed partial jurisdiction because Siemens, once it became listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2001, was subject to American financial laws and regulations.
Prosecutors in Munich, whose work revealed the outlines of the bribery operation, also announced a deal with Siemens that would cost the company 395 million euros ($540 million). That figure is in addition to $290 million levied by a Munich court last year.
Officials in Germany and the United States said they were still investigating potential wrongdoing by former Siemens employees that could result in criminal charges against individuals, in addition to the company's corporate plea.
Crucially, while Siemens admitted violating the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, it avoided either a guilty plea or a conviction for bribery, allowing it to maintain its status as a "responsible contractor" with the federal Defense Logistics Agency. Without that certification, Siemens could have been excluded from public procurement contracts in the United States and elsewhere. German authorities are preparing a similar certification.
Despite the size of the civil and criminal fines in the United States, the deal still represented a partial victory for Siemens because it was far below the estimated $2.7 billion that might have been levied under Justice Department guidelines. Federal authorities said in court papers that they were impressed by the company's efforts to identify wrongdoing and prevent new occurrences through an internal monitor and other measures.
"Compared to other cases that have been brought, we have been dealt with very fairly," Peter Y. Solmssen, the general counsel for Siemens, said in a telephone interview.
"Before Siemens started giving hints, we would have expected much more," said Roland Pitz, an analyst at UniCredit in Munich. "The employees must be celebrating."
Shares of Siemens fell 0.22 euros, to 47.23 euros a share. Matthew Friedrich, the acting head of the Justice Department's criminal division, said the case was part of a noticeable spike in the department's foreign corrupt practices investigations, with 42 cases brought in the last four years compared with 17 in the four years before that.