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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Injunction Still Possible in Nigerian Bribery Case

HOUSTON (CN) - The Securities and Exchange Commission can press for an injunction against two offshore drilling company officers who allegedly bribed Nigerian officials, a federal judge ruled.

Mark Jackson and James Ruehlen dodged permanent import duties by illegally obtaining temporary import permits for Noble Corp.'s drilling rigs off Nigeria's coast, the SEC says.

The men allegedly secured false paperwork and obtained the permits by bribing Nigerian customs agents. They concealed the bribes as legitimate operating costs, according to the complaint.

During his time at Noble, Jackson alternately worked as CFO, COO, president and CEO, the commission says. Ruehlen served as the director and division manager of Noble's Nigerian subsidiary, but his attorney says he has since taken a new position in Mexico.

The SEC filed a complaint against Jackson and Ruehlen in February, charging them with violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison partially dismissed the claims against the officers on Tuesday, but he scoffed at their claims that the SEC must specify the targets of the alleged bribes.

"It would be perverse to read into the statute a requirement that a defendant know precisely which government official, or which level of government official, would be targeted by his agent; a defendant could simply avoid liability by ensuring that his agent never told him which official was being targeted and what precise action the official took in exchange for the bribe," Ellison wrote.

"The court's conclusion is bolstered by the fact that interpretations of the domestic bribery statutes have not required the level of specificity defendants seek," he added

The SEC can continue to pursue its efforts to enjoin Jackson and Ruehlen from violating the FCPA, Ellison ruled.

The 61-page order dismisses all claims for monetary penalties, with the exception of those against Ruehlen for violations occurring after Feb. 24, 2007, the date determined by the five-year statute of limitations.

Ellison gave the SEC 30 days to file an amended complaint.

The SEC also filed a separate complaint in February against Noble's former controller and head of internal audit, Thomas O'Rourke, over the same scheme.

O'Rourke agreed to a $35,000 penalty and a permanent injunction, the SEC said in a statement. He neither admitted nor denied guilt.

Noble agreed to an $8 million civil and criminal settlement for FCPA violations alleged against it "as part of a sweep of the oil service industry in late 2010," the SEC says.

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