Parker Drilling Settles U.S. Bribe Probes for $16 Million

Parker Drilling Co., a Houston-based oil services company, agreed to pay $15.9 million to settle U.S. allegations it tried to bribe a Nigerian government panel to reduce fines for violating the country’s customs laws.

The company gave a middleman $1.25 million knowing it would go to a foreign official to lower a legally imposed fine, the U.S. said in a filing today in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. Parker Drilling agreed to pay $11.8 million to settle prosecutors’ charges it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The company also agreed to pay $4.1 million in disgorgement and interest to settle a civil complaint by the Securities and Exchange Commission that alleged violations of anti-bribery and record-keeping provisions of the FCPA, the Justice Department said in a statement.

“After an extensive investigation, with which we fully cooperated, we are pleased to have reached agreement with the DOJ and SEC, and we will continue to maintain a vigorous FCPA compliance program,” Gary Rich, Parker Drilling’s president and chief executive officer, said in an e-mailed statement.

The SEC settlement is contingent on approval by a federal judge, according to a company announcement accompanying Rich’s statement.

Panalpina Probe

The investigation of Parker Drilling grew out of a Justice Department probe of freight forwarder Panalpina World Transport Holding Ltd., the government said. In that investigation, Panalpina, along with five oil and gas service companies, agreed to pay about $236 million to settle civil and criminal FCPA investigations in 2010, according to a Justice Department statement at the time.

In the Parker Drilling case, Basel, Switzerland-based Panalpina, working on Parker’s behalf, trimmed costs associated with Nigerian customs law by fraudulently claiming that drilling rigs had been exported and then re-imported into Nigeria, according to court documents.

The Nigerian government subsequently fined Parker Drilling $3.8 million. The company responded by paying the middleman, who succeeded in getting the fine reduced to $750,000, court papers show.

Under the terms of the settlement of the criminal case, the government can prosecute Parker Drilling if it fails to maintain compliance standards and to cooperate in ongoing investigations over the next three years.

The case is U.S. v. Parker Drilling, 13-cr-00176, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).