U.S. says BizJet settles foreign bribery charges

MEXICO CITY Wed Mar 14, 2012 7:33pm EDT

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - BizJet, which provides maintenance for civil aircraft, has agreed to pay $11.8 million to settle charges that it bribed Mexican and Panamanian officials, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Wednesday.

The department charged that BizJet, owned by a Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) unit, paid bribes to the officials in order to secure aircraft work from government agencies, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Under the deferred prosecution agreement, BizJet will cooperate in ongoing investigations and implement internal controls to prevent future violations. After three years the charges will be dismissed if the terms are met.

"In many instances, BizJet paid the bribes directly to the foreign officials. In other instances, BizJet funneled the bribes through a shell company owned and operated by a BizJet sales manager. BizJet executives orchestrated, authorized and approved the unlawful payments," the department said.

In a separate news release on Wednesday, Mexico's attorney general office said it had launched its own probe into contracts worth around $24 million that were granted to the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based company between 2004 and 2009.

The attorney general's office said that according to BizJet employees, the company was in charge of maintaining and repairing aircraft and helicopters owned by Mexican federal and state governments.

Mexico's attorney general believes BizJet employees handed $2 million to a middle-man who then gave the money to six Mexican officials in order to get the contracts.

Jay Holtmeier, a partner at New York law firm WilmerHale, which represents BizJet, declined comment on the ongoing Mexican probe. Regarding the U.S. settlement, he referred to the U.S. Justice Department's statement.

($1 = 12.6 pesos)

(Reporting By Cyntia Barrera Diaz; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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