U.K. Lawyer Pleads Guilty in U.S. to KBR Bribery Scheme

A British lawyer pleaded guilty to U.S. charges he conspired to bribe Nigerian government officials to help KBR Inc. (KBR) win contracts for a $6 billion natural gas project.

Jeffrey Tesler, 62, stopped fighting his extradition from the U.K. last month, after the London Court of Appeals ruled he should face charges in the U.S. He entered his plea today in federal court in Houston before U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison.

“You seem like such an unlikely person to be here,” Ellison said to Tesler. “Was it just that everyone was doing this?”

“I think that’s a fair comment,” Tesler replied.

Ellison previously accepted guilty pleas from KBR, former KBR Chief Executive Officer Albert Jack Stanley and a consultant with KBR’s London unit over charges they violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the Nigerian project.

Tesler, who was indicted in Houston in February 2009 on 11 counts related to the U.S. anti-bribery law, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of violation of FCPA. He agreed to forfeit $148,964,568.

He will be released on $50,000 cash bond and required to live in the Houston area until he is sentenced on June 22. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

Natural Gas Project

Tesler admitted helping a KBR joint venture negotiate and pay $180 million in bribes to Nigerian government officials so the venture partners could win contracts to build the Bonny Island liquefied natural gas project between 1994 and 2004.

The conspirators used a Gibraltar-based company controlled by Tesler to funnel more than $130 million of the bribery payments to Nigerians, William Stuckwisch, assistant chief of the Justice Department’s fraud section, told Ellison today.

KBR pleaded guilty two years ago and agreed to pay $579 million to resolve criminal and regulatory charges over its role in the scheme. Stanley also pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. He faces at least seven years in prison and will forfeit $10.5 million.

Two of KBR’s three partners in the venture have made deals to avoid U.S. prosecution. Snamprogetti Netherlands BV, a Dutch engineering firm, agreed in July to pay $365 million with the help of former parent company Eni SpA (ENI) to settle criminal and civil charges.

Nigerian Scheme

Technip SA (TEC), Europe’s second-largest oilfield-services provider, agreed in June to pay $338 million to resolve all allegations it faced over the Nigerian scheme.

Wojciech Chodan, a British lawyer who was a consultant for KBR’s London unit, was extradited to Houston from the U.K. in December. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the FCPA and awaits sentencing. He faces up to five years in prison and agreed to pay $726,885 in restitution.

The case is U.S. v. Tesler, 4:09-cr-00098, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Houston).

To contact the reporter on this story: Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at laurel@calkins.us.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Rovella in New Yorkt .

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