International Financial Law Prof Blog

Editor: William Byrnes
Texas A&M University
School of Law

Friday, November 17, 2017

Two SBM Executives Plead Guilty to Role in Foreign Bribery Scheme of Petrobras

Two former executives at a Dutch oil and gas services company (the “Oil Services Company”), Anthony “Tony” Mace and Robert Zubiate, pleaded guilty this week to conspiracy to Petrobrasviolate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for their roles in a scheme to bribe foreign government officials in Brazil, Angola and Equatorial Guinea.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez of the Southern District of Texas and Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations’ (ICE-HSI) Houston Field Office made the announcement.

Mace, 65, of the United Kingdom, was the Oil Services Company’s CEO from 2008 to 2011, and a former board member of one of its wholly-owned Houston subsidiaries.  Zubiate, 66, of California, was a former Texas and California-based sales and marketing executive at the same subsidiary.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas accepted Mace’s guilty plea on Nov. 9 and Zubiate’s guilty plea on Nov. 6.  Sentencing for Mace is scheduled for Feb. 2, 2018, and Zubiate for Jan. 31, 2018.

As part of his guilty plea, Mace admitted that prior to becoming CEO, other employees of the Oil Services Company entered into an agreement to pay bribes to foreign officials including at Brazil’s state-controlled oil company, Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras), Angola’s state-owned oil company, Sociedade Nacional de Combustíveis de Angola, E.P. (Sonangol) and Equatorial Guinea’s state-owned oil company, Petroléos de Guinea Ecuatorial (GEPetrol).  Mace further admitted that he joined the conspiracy by authorizing payments in furtherance of the bribery scheme and deliberately avoided learning that those payments were bribes. 

Mace admitted that he maintained a spreadsheet reflecting payments to five individuals and that even though he was aware there was a high risk those individuals were Equatorial Guinean officials or persons receiving money on behalf or at the direction of those officials, he nevertheless authorized Oil Services Company to make over $16 million in payments to those individuals.  Mace further admitted that he continued a practice that was instituted before he became CEO by splitting payments to Oil Services Company’s Brazilian intermediary, that is, paying a portion of the intermediary’s commission to an account in Brazil and another portion of the agent’s commission to accounts in Switzerland held in the name of shell companies.  Mace admitted that he deliberately avoided learning that the ultimate recipients of the payments that he authorized to the shell companies were Petrobras officials.

As part of his plea, Zubiate’s admitted that between 1996 and 2012, he and his co-conspirators used a third-party sales agent to pay bribes to foreign officials at Petrobras in exchange for those officials’ assisting the Oil Services Company and its U.S. subsidiary with winning bids.  Zubiate also admitted engaging in a kickback scheme with the bribe-paying sales agent for the Oil Services Company and its U.S. subsidiary.

ICE-HSI investigated the case.  Trial Attorney Dennis R. Kihm and Assistant Chief Tarek Helou of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Suzanne Elmilady of the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting the case.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs also provided substantial assistance in this matter.

The Department of Justice is grateful to Brazil’s Ministério Público Federal, the Netherlands’ Openbaar Ministerie and Switzerland’s Office of the Attorney General and Federal Office of Justice for providing substantial assistance in gathering evidence during this investigation.

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