CORRECTED-Noble Corp execs to pay nothing in U.S. SEC bribery settlement

Thu Jul 3, 2014 6:48pm EDT

(Corrects date to July 9 instead of next Monday, paragraph 2)

By Nate Raymond

July 3 (Reuters) - Two Noble Corp executives will pay no money to resolve claims by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission they participated in a bribery scheme to obtain permits for oil rigs in Nigeria, according to court records filed Thursday.

Mark Jackson, Noble's former chief executive officer, and James Ruehlen, director of the oil and gas services company's Nigerian subsidiary, had until recently been set to face off against the SEC at trial in Houston on July 9.

Instead, the trial was called off Tuesday owing to a settlement. Final judgments signed by U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison on Thursday contained injunctions against Jackson and Ruehlen but, in a rarity for an SEC settlement, no financial penalty.

The deal also does not restrict the two men's current or future employment, the defendants' lawyers said. The settlement was for a limited set of claims, they said, and had no admission of wrongdoing.

David Krakoff, Jackson's lawyer at law firm BuckleySandler, in a statement said the settlement would allow his client to "move forward with his life and career."

Joseph Warin, a lawyer for Ruehlen at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, said the settlement "satisfactorily ends the matter and allows Jim to focus his energies on his work for Noble."

Spokesmen for the SEC did not respond to requests for comment.

The SEC lawsuit against Jackson and Ruehlen, filed in 2012, asserted claims under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which bans U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials.

The complaint came after Noble agreed to pay $8 million in 2010 to resolve related FCPA civil and criminal charges and $2.5 $2.5 million in 2011 as part of a non-prosecution agreement with the Nigerian government.

The case against Jackson and Ruehlen centered on temporary import permits granted by Nigeria's customs service to Noble's local subsidiary that allowed rigs to remain in the country for a one-year period.

The customs service had the authority to grant up to three six-month extensions before the company would either need to receive a new temporary permit to export and re-import the rigs or permanently import them and pay significant duties.

The SEC contended Jackson and Ruehlen participated in a scheme that began in 2003 to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to Nigerian customs officials to obtain 11 illicit permits and 29 extensions.

Both men denied the charges. Thomas O'Rourke, Noble's former head of internal audit, agreed in 2012 to pay a $35,000 penalty to resolve claims he aided and abetted the violations without admitting or denying the allegations.

The SEC's ability to extract penalties was limited, after a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last year barring the regulator from pursuing civil penalties five years after a claim "accrued" to sue. The ruling meant the SEC could only seek penalties for conduct in 2007, the last year of the alleged scheme.

The case is SEC v. Jackson, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas, No. 12-00563. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)

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