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SEC ‘streamlines’ case against Noble execs

As first reported last week by Sam Rubenfeld of the Wall Street Journal, the SEC dropped internal controls charges in a civil FCPA action against a current and a former executive at Noble Corporation in order to “streamline the presentation” of the case.

Former Noble CEO Mark A. Jackson and James J. Ruehlen, the head of Noble’s Nigeria unit, are scheduled to go on trial in July.

They were charged in February 2012 with bribing officials in Nigeria in exchange for illegal import permits for drilling rigs.

Both defendants have denied the charges.

A third man, Thomas F. O’Rourke, Noble's former controller and head of internal audit, settled the SEC's civil charges by paying a $35,000 penalty.

The WSJ's Rubenfeld said the SEC made a filing last Tuesday in Houston federal court to drop allegations that the defendants violated internal-controls rules.

The SEC said it wanted “to narrow this case and streamline the presentation of evidence to the jury.”

In 2010, Noble Corporation paid $8.1 million to settle FCPA offenses. The case was part of an enforcement action against seven companies from the oil and gas industry. The DOJ and SEC said Noble paid $74,000 to a Nigerian freight forwarding agent, knowing that some of the payments would be passed on as bribes to Nigerian customs officials. Noble falsely recorded the bribes as legitimate business expenses, the SEC said.

Earlier this month, the SEC dropped some allegations from a complaint against former Magyar Telekom executives. The Wall Street Journal reported the SEC's action was taken "to simplify the case because it may be too complicated to present at trial."

Mary Jo White took over as chairman of the SEC in April 2013 -- after the complaints againt the Noble and Magyar Telekom executives were first filed. White is a seasoned trial lawyer. She served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and was a criminal defense lawyer in private practice.

In the SEC complaint against Jackson and Ruehlen, the agency alleged they "bribed customs officials to process false paperwork purporting to show the export and re-import of oil rigs, when in fact the rigs never moved."

The bribes were allegedly paid through a customs agent for Noble’s Nigerian subsidiary with Jackson and Ruehlen’s approval, the SEC said.


Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.