(June 26): A former agent of a US unit of Keppel Offshore & Marine, the world’s biggest builder of oil rigs, pleaded guilty in a scheme to pay bribes to Brazilian officials tied to the Petrobras scandal.

Zwi Skornicki, 69, admitted on Tuesday that from 2001 to 2014 he participated in a plot to bribe Brazilian authorities and officials with Petroleo Brasileiro SA, Brazil’s state-owned oil company, to win business for Keppel.

“I agreed to pay bribes to Petrobras,” Skornicki told US District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto in Brooklyn, New York. “In exchange for those bribes, we expected contracts would be awarded.” He added: “I acted on behalf of KOM,” the Keppel unit.

Prosecutors alleged that Skornicki agreed with others to pay as much as US$55 million ($74.6 million) in bribes tied to 13 projects in Brazil “tendered by Petrobras” to “secure improper advantages and influence” with Brazilian officials and to “obtain and retain business in Brazil for KOM entities.”

See: Keppel Corp’s internal investigations uncovers ‘suspicious’ transactions

See also: What Keppel's corruption scandal means for investors

See also: Keppel O&M fined US$422 mil as part of resolution over bribes for contracts by ex-agent Skornicki

Decade-long scheme

Keppel agreed in December 2017 to pay US$422 million ($572 million) to end a US bribery probe into illegal payments to Petrobras officials and to the then-governing political party. The payments were part of outsize commissions to an intermediary and disguised as consulting agreements, according to prosecutors.

“The defendants used the global financial system –- including the United States banking system –- to disguise the source and disbursement of the bribe payments by passing funds through a series of shell companies," Bridget Rohde, acting US Attorney in Brooklyn, said in a statement at the time.

Prosecutors said the scheme ran for more than a decade and violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a US anti-bribery law. Keppel Offshore & Marine USA pleaded guilty, while its parent, Singapore-based Keppel Offshore & Marine, entered into a deferred-prosecution agreement with the government.

Skornicki’s plea to conspiracy to violate the act carries a prison term of as long as five years behind bars. Assistant US Attorney Alixandra Smith said in court Tuesday that Skornicki, a Brazilian national, already has been convicted in Brazil and paid US$25 million in fines, so the US wouldn’t oppose his request for probation or seek additional penalties from him. Sentencing has been set for Sept 23.

Global fines

Skornicki also worked as a consultant for TechnipFMC, a global provider of oil and gas services, the US said Tuesday. In a related case, the company and its US subsidiary agreed to pay US$296 million in global fines to resolve criminal bribery investigations brought by the US and Brazil.

TechnipFMC admitted that as early as 2003 and continuing until 2013, it conspired with others, including Keppel, to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by making more than US$69 million in corrupt payments to companies associated with Skornicki. He passed along portions of those payments as bribes to officials at Petrobras to win lucrative contracts.

Beginning in 2008 until 2013, prosecutors said TechnipFMC also conspired to violate anti-bribery laws by funneling payments to at least seven Iraqi government officials, including the Minister of Oil, as well as two Iraqi-owned oil companies through a Monaco-based intermediary company to win valuable projects in Iraq.

Petrobras was at the center of a corruption probe dubbed Operation Carwash in which other companies paid officials at the oil producer to win business, prosecutors said. The investigation of one of South America’s biggest corruption scandals goes back more than five years and has involved construction companies, banks, shipyards and leading politicians.

In September, Petrobras agreed to pay US$853.2 million to settle claims by authorities in its home country and the US stemming from allegations that its executives facilitated bribes to politicians and then concealed those payments from investors.