Foster Wheeler, now part of the Wood Group, has agreed to pay $177 million to resolve criminal charges stemming from a scheme to pay bribes to officials of Petrobras in exchange for a $190 million contract to design a gas-to-chemicals complex.
The scheme occurred in 2012. At the time, Foster Wheeler was an independent company with its headquarters in Switzerland. In 2014 Amec acquired the company for £1.9 billion. The combined company was later acquired by UK-based John Wood Group plc in 2017 for £2.2 billion. All three companies had large presences in the Houston area.
In 2011 Foster Wheeler hired a Country Manager for Brazil to identify opportunities in the country. The Country Manager reported to the Houston office.
Later that year, an Italian agent learned from a Brazilian agent (an ex-Petrobras employee) that Petrobras were seeking bids on the design of a gas-to-chemical fertilizer plant. Both the Italian agent and the then-Chairman of Foster Wheeler were regular customers of a high-end men’s clothing store in New York. The Store sales manager introduced the two. After the meeting, the chairman forwarded details to the acting CEO, without vouching for the legitimacy of the agent.
In turn, the CEO forwarded the information to the Brazil Country Manager, who responded that the company should not use the Italian agent as ‘we would send a wrong message in the market here’.
The Italian agent was affiliated with a Unaoil, a Monaco company heavily involved in bribery. See my blog post from October 2019 here. When Foster Wheeler did its due diligence on Unaoil, they declined to use it because of its possible violations of US and UK sanctions laws. Despite that, the CEO and COO offered the agent a 2% commission.
Foster Wheeler later agreed a 2% commission with the Brazilian agent. As a result, the company won the front-end engineering and design contract in late 2012. In total, Foster Wheeler ended up paying over $1.1 million in bribes.
In 2014, Petrobras elected not to proceed with the construction phase of the project.
Wood Group issued a press release stating it will pay $177 million over the next three years to resolve all allegations. This covers payments to the UK, US, and Brazil, though the company did not disclose the exact split.
Foster Wheeler is paying the Department of Justice $18.4 million. It is also paying the SEC $22.7 million for FCPA and book-keeping violations (if you are going to bribe someone, you must record it as a bribe). Both will be reduced by penalties paid to Brazil and the UK. The US will receive a net number of $17.8 million.