UPDATE 2-Statoil says U.S. drops bribery probe into Iran case

* Bribery probe, criminal charges dropped

* Horton case brought down previous Statoil execs (Adds U.S. comment paragraphs 3-6)

OSLO, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Norwegian oil and gas producer Statoil said on Wednesday that a bribery probe by U.S. authorities into a 2002 contract it had with Horton Investments Ltd for business development in Iran has been dropped.

Statoil said it reached an agreement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York that settled the agencies’ investigations under a U.S. law relating to Statoil’s dealings with Horton.

In 2006, the company reached a three-year deferred prosecution agreement with the SEC and Justice Department and agreed to pay a $10.5 million penalty. Statoil had been charged with violating the U.S. anti-corruption law and falsifying its books and records.

The Justice Department said that it had received the final report on the company’s compliance with the three-year deferred prosecution agreement reached in 2006 and determined that Statoil had fully met its obligations.

“Bribing foreign government officials and then attempting to disguise the payments cannot be standard operating procedure,” Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in a statement.

“Three years of diligent efforts by Statoil to address past misconduct and serious compliance failures have led to the dismissal of foreign bribery charges against the company,” he said.

In 2004, Statoil paid a 20 million crown ($3.55 million) fine to the Norwegian authorities for violation of Norway’s bribery rules in its transactions with Horton, a London-based consultancy which helped the Norwegian company in Iran.

Senior Statoil executives, including the then chief executive and head of international exploration and production, lost their jobs over the Horton case.

“Statoil has fulfilled its obligations under the DPA (Deferred Prosecution Agreement), and the criminal charges have now been dismissed,” the Norwegian company said in a statement.

“The company’s controls, policies and procedures related to compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act will no longer be subject to review by an external compliance consultant,” said Statoil.

Statoil is the offshore development operator for phases 6, 7 and 8 of the giant South Pars gas and condensate field in the Iranian sector of the Persian Gulf. It is also engaged in onshore exploration and drilling activities.

$1=5.635 Norwegian Crown Reporting by Wojciech Moskwa; additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter, Bernard Orr