Halliburton to pay $559 million to settle bribery probe

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Halliburton Co will pay a $559 million fine to end an investigation of its former KBR Inc unit if the U.S. government approves the settlement, the largest penalty against a U.S. company for charges of bribery under federal law.

A Pentagon audit of Halliburton, the oil services firm once run by Vice President Dick Cheney, has found the company overcharged for fuel it brought into Iraq from Kuwait, military sources said on December 11, 2003. REUTERS/Richard Carson RC/HB/SV

Halliburton, once headed by former Vice President Dick Cheney, said it was awaiting final approval from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle claims that KBR violated anti-bribery laws by paying kickbacks to Nigerian officials.

Under the settlement, Halliburton would pay $382 million to the Department of Justice and $177 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission in “disgorgement.”

KBR did not comment on the proposed settlement. Halliburton said in regulatory filings last July that it was in settlement talks with the government.

Dan Newcomb, a partner at law firm Shearman and Sterling in New York who specializes in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) law, said it was likely more companies involved in anti-corruption cases would settle with the U.S. government.

Under the FCPA, it is illegal for U.S. companies or their agents to use bribes to win foreign business.

Other oilfield service companies including Schlumberger Ltd and Transocean are being scrutinized by U.S. officials for possible FCPA violations. Both companies said they were cooperating with the U.S. government.

In April 2007, oilfield services company Baker Hughes reached a $44.1 million settlement with U.S. officials related to a bribery probe of its operations in Nigeria, Angola and Kazakhstan.

In December, German engineering conglomerate Siemens paid $800 million to U.S. officials to settle claims that it violated the FCPA.

The U.S. government’s probe of Halliburton related to construction and expansion of a gas liquefaction facility at Bonny Island in Rivers State, Nigeria, and other projects dating back as much as 20 years, Halliburton has said in regulatory filings.

In July, Halliburton said it had “reason to believe” payments may have been made to Nigerian officials by agents of its TSKJ consortium, which built the Bonny Island Facility.

The TSKJ consortium includes France’s Technip SA, Italy’s Snamprogetti and Japan’s JGC Corp.

As part of the settlement, Halliburton said it would not be required to have a monitor, but the company would have to retain an independent consultant to assess its compliance with anti-bribery laws.

Albert “Jack” Stanley, a former KBR chief executive officer, pleaded guilty in September to charges stemming from a scheme to pay $180 million in bribes to Nigerian government officials for work on the Bonny Island LNG plant.

Stanley, who had worked under Dick Cheney when he headed Halliburton, agreed to cooperate with U.S. investigators probing Halliburton’s potential violations of the FCPA.

Shares of Halliburton were up 2.1 percent at $18.64 in afternoon trade on the New York Stock Exchange. Earlier on Monday, the company, headquartered in Dubai and Houston, reported a better-than-expected fourth-quarter profit.

Reporting by Anna Driver; Editing by Toni Reinhold