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Thursday
Jan222015

SEC charges PBSJ and former exec for Qatar bribes

Tampa, Florida-based engineering and construction firm PBSJ Corporation agreed Thursday to pay $3.4 million for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by paying bribes and employing foreign officials to win Qatari government contracts.

PBSJ is now known as Atkins North America Holdings Corporation and no longer offers public stock in the U.S.

UK-based Atkins acquired PBSJ in 2010. The group has 17,000 employees world wide.

The SEC charged Walid Hatoum, a former international marketing director for PBSJ, with violating the FCPA's anti-bribery, internal accounting controls, and books and records provisions, and with false records offenses.

Without admitting or denying the findings, Hatoum agreed to pay a penalty of $50,000.

The SEC didn't go to court. It entered an administrative order against Hatoum. And it used a deferred prosecution agreement to resolve PBSJ's offenses. The DPA has a two-year term.

Kara Brockmeyer, chief of the SEC's FCPA unit, said: “Hatoum offered and authorized nearly $1.4 million in bribes disguised as ‘agency fees’ intended for a foreign official who used an alias to communicate confidential information that assisted PBSJ.”

The foreign official gave Hatoum and PBSJ’s international subsidiary access to "confidential sealed-bid and pricing information," the SEC said. The information helped the PBSJ subsidiary win bids in 2009 for a hotel resort development in Morocco and a light rail transit project in Qatar.

Brockmeyer said PBSJ ignored "multiple red flags that should have enabled other officers and employees to uncover the bribery scheme at an earlier stage."

Once PBSL discovered the offenses, Brokmeyer said, it self-reported them and "cooperated substantially.”

The SEC also alleged that Hatoum offered a job to a second foreign official in return for help after PBSJ lost the Morocco hotel project.

In the deferred prosecution agreement, PBSJ agreed to disgorge $2.8 million with interest of $140,000, and pay a penalty of $375,000.

"Even though the bribes themselves were not consummated before the scheme was uncovered by the company, PBSJ earned approximately $2.9 million in illicit profits because it continued work on the [Qatar] light rail project until a replacement company could be found," the SEC said.

The SEC said: "PBSJ took quick steps to end the misconduct after self-reporting to the SEC, and the company voluntarily made witnesses available for interviews and provided factual chronologies, timelines, internal summaries, and full forensic images to cooperate with the SEC’s investigation."

PBSJ's deferred prosecution is here (pdf) and the SEC's administrative order against Walid Hatoum is here.

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