PetroTiger’s Former Co-CEO Pleads Guilty During Bribe Trial

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The former co-chief executive officer of PetroTiger Ltd. pleaded guilty during his trial on charges that he conspired to bribe an official at Colombia’s state-controlled oil company.

Joseph Sigelman, who faced as many as 20 years in prison, ended his jury trial in Camden, New Jersey, with a deal that calls for a sentence ranging from probation to a year and a day behind bars. Prosecutors agreed to the plea in the trial’s third week after Sigelman’s lawyer attacked their star witness during cross-examination.

In an unusual move, U.S. District Judge Joseph Irenas will waive a background investigation of Sigelman, which typically takes weeks, and impose his sentence Tuesday. Prosecutors said Sigelman and others paid $333,500 in bribes to David Duran, an employee at Ecopetrol SA, for his help in securing a $45 million oil services contract for PetroTiger.

Sigelman, 44, pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe Duran in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He admitted authorizing payments to Duran, stopping short of saying he was aware he was an Ecopetrol employee.

“Did you consciously avoid learning or deliberately close your eyes to what otherwise would have been obvious to you -- that, in fact, David Duran was an employee of Ecopetrol?” Sigelman attorney William Burck asked him in court, according to a transcript.

Sigelman, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Business School, said yes.

PetroTiger, which once had a New Jersey office, is a British Virgin Islands-based oil and gas company with operations in Colombia.

Guilty Pleas

The company’s former co-CEO, Knut Hammarskjold, and ex-general counsel, Gregory Weisman, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the FCPA and commit wire fraud. Weisman cooperated with prosecutors and was the trial’s second witness.

On cross-examination last week, Weisman answered questions about earlier testimony that focused on his work at another company controlled by Sigelman. During that period, Weisman secretly recorded Sigelman. Weisman told jurors that a government official told him he should continue working there.

“That statement, that a government official told you when you should leave, that statement that you made under oath was false, correct?,” Sigelman attorney William Price asked Weisman on June 11, according to a transcript.

“Yes,” Weisman said.

When pressed on his testimony about what a government official told him, Weisman said: “I had misremembered a couple days ago.”

The judge interjected: “Misremembered? Did you have a hallucination?”

Burck on Monday declined to comment on the guilty plea.

As part of the plea, prosecutors agreed to drop five other counts, including charges of violating the FCPA and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Sigelman agreed to pay $239,016 to the U.S.

The case is U.S. v. Sigelman, 14-cr-263, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Camden).