French trains and power grid giant Alstom has pleaded guilty to charges that it spent tens of millions of dollars in bribes to win billions of dollars in business around the globe, and has agreed to pay a $772 million fine to settle the case with the U.S. Department of Justice. But according to Alstom, it won’t have an effect on its $15.4 billion sale of its power business to General Electric.
Monday’s announcement marks the end of a years-long investigation into a bribery scheme that spanned decades and continents, U.S. Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole said in a statement. Alstom used “consultants,” with code names such as “Mr. Paris” and “Quiet Man,” to pay more than $75 million to win $4 billion in projects in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Taiwan, and the Bahamas, according to the plea.
Alstom announced Monday that it has ceased hiring such “sales consultants” and is committed to meeting the terms of the deferred prosecution agreements that its two U.S. subsidiaries, Alstom Power Inc. and Alstom Grid Inc., have signed with the Justice Department. Under those agreements, both subsidiaries will have to meet a number of conditions over the next three years.
“There were a number of problems in the past and we deeply regret that,” Alstom CEO Patrick Kron said in a Monday statement. "This resolution with the DOJ allows Alstom to put this issue behind us and to continue our efforts to ensure that business is conducted in a responsible way."
Importantly, the Justice Department agreed that none of the fine could be passed on to GE as part of its purchase of Alstom’s energy business, the company reported. In June, GE beat out Siemens and Mitsubishi with its offer to buy Alstom’s power turbine and grid business units for about €12.4 billion ($15.6 billion), and set up joint ventures in grid, nuclear and renewable energy, leaving Alstom to concentrate on its trains and transportation business. French officials approved the deal last month, albeit with a number of conditions, including the French government buying a stake of up to 20 percent of the company from Bouygues, the conglomerate that now owns 29 percent of the company
Monday’s fine is one of the biggest ever levied by U.S. officials in a case of its kind -- but it’s not the biggest. In 2008, German engineering and power grid giant Siemens agreed to pay a record $1.6 billion fine to settle similar charges involving bribes paid to win business around the globe. But in that case, Siemens pleaded guilty to accounting violations, rather than bribery violations, which would have barred it from doing business in the United States. And in 2010, Swiss grid giant ABB paid $53 million in fines to settle a case alleging bribery to win business in Mexico
Four Alstom executives were also charged in the case, and three of them have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) -- Frederic Pierucci, former VP of global boiler sales, and David Rothschild and William Pomponi, former vice presidents of regional sales for Alstom Power. The fourth, Lawrence Hoskins, Alstom’s former senior vice president for the Asia region, is pending trial next year. Alstom is also facing investigations in the U.K. and Brazil, and a member of Indonesia’s parliament has been jailed for accepting bribes from the company.