Two former co-chief executive officers of PetroTiger Ltd. paid bribes to an official at Ecopetrol SA (ECOPETL), Colombia’s state-controlled oil company, for a $39.6 million oil-service contract, the U.S. charged.
The co-CEOs funneled payments through the wife of an official at Ecopetrol, Latin America’s second-largest oil company by market value, authorities said. One of the co-CEOs, Joseph Sigelman, 42, was a banker at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS:US) before joining PetroTiger. Sigelman, who was arrested Jan. 3 in the Philippines, appeared at a bail hearing today in Guam.
Former co-CEO Knut Hammarskjold, 42, was charged Nov. 8 and arrested 12 days later. Former general counsel Gregory Weisman, 42, pleaded guilty Nov. 8 in federal court in Camden, New Jersey. The charges against Sigelman and Hammarskjold were unsealed yesterday, and Weisman’s case was unsealed today.
“Bribery of public officials, whether at home or abroad, corrupts business opportunity and undermines trust in government,” Paul Fishman, the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, said in a statement. “The under-the-table deals alleged in today’s charges are not an acceptable way of doing business.”
Sigelman, Hammarskjold and their conspirators wired money to the Ecopetrol official from an account in New York, according to the criminal complaints against them. They initially tried to make payments to an account in the wife’s name for services she didn’t provide, according to Fishman.
“The official’s wife purportedly provided finance and management-related consulting services for PetroTiger,” according to the Hammarskjold complaint filed Nov. 8. “In reality, the official’s wife served as a conduit for bribe payments to the official.”
Prosecutors also charged the three men with a separate kickback scheme involving the purchase of another company on behalf of PetroTiger and several of its directors, who helped fund the deal. PetroTiger is a British Virgin Islands-based oil and gas company.
The defendants increased the purchase price, and two owners of the target company agreed to kick back a portion of the higher amount, according to Fishman. The men had the payments deposited into Sigelman’s bank account in the Philippines and created a side letter to justify the payments. They referred to the payment as the “Manila Split,” according to the complaints.
Both Sigelman and Hammarskjold were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and three counts of violating the FCPA. They face as long as 20 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge. Weisman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the FCPA and commit wire fraud.
“Mr. Weisman has fully accepted responsibility for his role in this matter and looks forward to the opportunity to move on,” said Michael Schwartz, a lawyer for Weisman at Pepper Hamilton LLP in Philadelphia. Weisman faces as long as five years in prison.
Hammarskjold was released on $700,000 bail on Dec. 4, according to court records. On Nov. 21, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider agreed to grant 60 days “to allow the parties to discuss this matter and a potential resolution,” according to court records.
Sigelman, who had been chairman and director of Atlantic Gulf & Pacific Co., appeared today before a federal magistrate in Guam, who set his bail at $1 million, according to court records. He is set to be escorted by a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent to flights connecting him from Guam to New Jersey, where he will have a new detention hearing, a judge ruled.
Patrick Civille, who represented Sigelman in Guam, and Lori Koch, a lawyer for Hammarskjold, didn’t immediately respond to e-mail and phone messages seeking comment on the charges. Andrew Lourie, an attorney for Sigelman, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
Sigelman, who had also been a former banker at Lazard Ltd. (LAZ:US), went to India in the late 1990s to found OfficeTiger, a provider of outsourced back-office operations. In 2006, RR Donnelly bought OfficeTiger for $250 million. After starting up PetroTiger in Colombia in 2007, Sigelman joined a group of investors to buy the Atlantic, Gulf & Pacific Co. of Manila Inc. for $40 million.
The company was founded by two Americans in 1900 during the U.S. occupation of the Philippines and built Manila’s water and sewage systems.
Sigelman previously worked with Goldman in the Whitehall Street Private Equity Funds where he focused on real estate and healthcare investments throughout Europe, according to his biography on the AG&P website. He is executive chairman of AG&P, according to the company’s website.
Weisman is AG&P’s general counsel and executive vice president for mergers and acquisitions, according to the company’s website. Weisman held similar positions with PetroTiger and OfficeTiger.
Before OfficeTiger, Weisman was a mergers and acquisitions attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in New York and a corporate attorney at Dechert LLP in Philadelphia, according to AG&P’s.
The cases are U.S. v. Hammarskjold, 13-mj-2086, U.S. v. Sigelman, 13-mj-02087, and U.S. v. Weisman, 13-cr-730, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Camden).
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