Schlumberger Faces Federal Bribery Probe

In the latest example of the Justice Department ramping up its enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, it has begun looking into allegations of possible bribery in Yemen several years ago by oil service company Schlumberger (SLB), The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed sources. The FCPA bars U.S. listed companies from paying foreign government officials to gain business.

The allegations concern contract payments Schlumberger made to a consulting firm, Zonic Invest, which has ties to Yemen's government. At the time, Schlumberger sought approval to create an oil-exploration databank in Yemen, according to the Journal sources and company documents it reviewed. Yemeni authorities urged Schlumberger to hire Zonic, whose general director is the nephew of Yemen's president. Zonic made several demands, including a signing bonus of $500,000.

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Schlumberger compliance officers became aware of the matter in 2008 and carried out investigations. Internal reviews found that Zonic did provide some services, but not others. Later, the reviewers decided it was not possible to confirm all the facts because of the age of the matter. Eventually, Schlumberger determined no one had violated its anticorruption policy.

The DOJ investigation is at an early stage. Investigators have been in touch with former Schlumberger employees who say they have knowledge of internal allegations made at the company and of its internal probes.

With this, Schlumberger joins several pharmaceutical companies, General Electric (GE), which recently announced that it had reached a $23.5 million settlement over bribery charges, and others that are being probed for bribery overseas. The Journal adds that oil-service companies often work in nations ranked as among the most corrupt and they've become a familiar target of FCPA investigations.