Aircraft CEO Admits He Bribed Foreign Officials
(CN) - The former head of BizJet, a Tulsa-based aircraft maintenance company, pleaded guilty Thursday to bribing government officials in Mexico and Panama for contracts, federal prosecutors said.
Bernd Kowalewski, 57, was president and CEO of BizJet International Sales and Support, a subsidiary of Lufthansa Technik. He pleaded guilty in Tulsa Federal Court to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the Department of Justice said in a statement.
Kowalewski is third and most-senior company executive to plead guilty in the investigation, Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said.
"While Kowalewski and his fellow executives referred to the corrupt payments as 'commissions' and 'incentives,' they were bribes, plain and simple," Caldwell said. "Though he was living abroad when the charges were unsealed, the reach of the law extends beyond U.S. borders, resulting in Kowalewski's arrest in Amsterdam and his appearance in court today in the United States. Today's guilty plea is an example of our continued determination to hold corporate executives responsible for criminal wrongdoing whenever the evidence allows."
Peter DuBois, Bizjet's former vice president of sales and marketing, pleaded guilty on Jan. 5, 2012.
Neal Uhl, BizJet's former vice president of finance, pleaded guilty the same day.
Jald Jensen, a former BizJet sales manager, has been indicted and is believed to be living abroad.
Prosecutors claim the conspirators paid bribes directly to foreign officials and in some cases funneled the money through Avionica International & Associates - a shell company owned by Jensen.
The bribes were paid to officials with Mexico's Federal Preventive Police, Mexico's Presidential Air Transport Service, the air fleet for the governments of Sonora and Sinaloa states, and the Panamanian Civil Air Authority.
Prosecutors said the bribes were referred to as "commissions" or "incentives" to the targets to get the contracts.
"At one meeting, for example, in response to a question about who the decision-maker was at a particular customer organization, DuBois stated that a director of maintenance or chief pilot was normally responsible for decisions on where an aircraft went for maintenance work," prosecutors said. "Kowalewski then responded by explaining that the directors of maintenance and chief pilots in the past received 'commissions' of $3,000 to $5,000 but were now demanding $30,000 to $40,000 in 'commissions.' Similarly, in email correspondence between Uhl, DuBois, Kowalewski, and several others, Uhl responded to a question about BizJet's financial outlook if 'incentives' paid to brokers, directors of maintenance, or chief pilots continued to increase industry wide, stating that they would 'work to build these fees into the revenue as much as possible. We must remain competitive in this respect to maintain and gain market share.'"
In March 2012, BizJet and Lufthansa agreed to pay $11.8 million to settle bribery claims by the Justice Department.