Pemex sues Siemens, SK Engineering over bribery claims

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON Thu Dec 13, 2012 5:51pm EST

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - State-owned Mexican oil company Pemex PEMX.UL sued Siemens AG (SIEGn.DE) and a South Korean company for $500 million on Thursday over a bribery scheme that has dogged the German conglomerate for years, adding to a short list of cases that raise novel questions about who is a victim in corruption cases.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in New York, Pemex accused Siemens and SK Engineering & Construction Co Ltd SKEC.UL of securing contracts to participate in an oil refinery modernization project in Mexico through bribes to Pemex officials.

Siemens paid a record $1.6 billion to U.S. and European authorities in 2008 to resolve allegations of paying bribes around the world, from Iraq to Argentina.

As part of the settlement, Siemens pleaded guilty to U.S. criminal charges. The case has been held up as one of the most egregious bribery cases ever.

While the United States has stepped up its enforcement of an anti-bribery law, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the countries in which bribery occurred have rarely appeared in U.S. courts to seek their own restitution.

Last year, an electric utility in Costa Rica objected to a bribery settlement French telecoms company Alcatel Lucent SA (ALUA.PA) entered into with U.S. authorities, and demanded restitution.

The Justice Department had accused an Alcatel subsidiary of paying bribes to Costa Rican government officials, including five employees of the electric utility. The utility, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, lost in the lower courts and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to look at the case, but was denied earlier this week.

Alcoa Inc (AA.N) agreed to pay $85 million in October to resolve a bribery-related case brought in the United States by Aluminium Bahrain, a settlement that may have inspired the Pemex lawsuit. Alcoa has not yet resolved any related action from the U.S. Justice Department or the Securities and Exchange Commission.

An FCPA settlement usually signified the end of a matter for a company, but the recent cases suggest companies could face new types of post-settlement action, according to Michael Koehler, a law professor at Southern Illinois University and expert on the foreign bribery law.

"An FCPA enforcement action in many cases now is not the end of the day but in many respects, the opening of a whole new day in terms of potential civil causes of action," he said.

COST OVERRUNS

Pemex's lawsuit accused Siemens and SK Engineering of racketeering violations. Another defendant is Conproca, S.A. De C.V. CONPR.UL, a Mexican joint-venture between Siemens and SK that was created to bid for the state oil company's refinery contract. Conproca is 85 percent owned by SK, according to the complaint.

Pemex contends that bribes caused cost overruns that were a "significant component" of an arbitration with Conproca, according to the court papers.

Guenter Gaugler, a spokesman for Siemens, and officials with Mexico City-based Pemex declined comment. An SK representative could not be reached. A lawyer for Conproca did not respond to requests for comment.

Conproca, which has been seeking to recover $530 million in the arbitration with Pemex, filed a lawsuit, also in New York federal court, in December 2011 seeking to confirm an award on liability.

In the arbitration, Conproca asserted claims for payment for work done beyond the scope of the contract and for costs arising out of delays and disruptions caused by Pemex. The lawsuit remains pending.

SEC ALLEGATIONS

In the 2008 settlement, the case brought against Siemens by the U.S. Justice Department did not include allegations about Mexico.

But a parallel action brought by the SEC alleged that Siemens in late 2004 made around $2.6 million in payments to a politically connected consultant to help settle cost overrun claims with refinery modernization projects in Mexico. Siemens neither admitted nor denied the allegations in settling with the SEC.

In its lawsuit, Pemex said that as a result of the SEC's case, it began an ongoing investigation into "whether any of its dealings with Siemens were tainted by bribery."

Pemex said the investigation showed that the Conproca joint venture partners bribed Pemex officials in connection with its refinery modernization project in the Cadereyta region of Mexico, which it sought bids for in 1996.

The lawsuit said a criminal investigation in Mexico "has been substantiated, and is moving forward to uncover the full extent of the corruption."

The case is Petroleos Mexicanos v. Conproca, S.A. De C.V., U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, 12-9070.

(Reporting By Nate Raymond in New York and Aruna Viswanatha in Washington, additional reporting my David Alire Garcia in Mexico; Editing by Martha Graybow, Tim Dobbyn and Marguerita Choy)