SEC slaps Alcoa with foreign bribery charges

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The Securities and Exchange Commission charged aluminum giant Alcoa on Thursday with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Alcoa and a joint venture it controls will pay $384 million to settle civil and criminal charges that the aluminum producer's subsidiaries bribed officials in Bahrain , U.S. authorities said on Thursday.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice announced separate settlements on Thursday morning.

The SEC said Alcoa's subsidiaries repeatedly bribed officials to retain the right to supply a government-controlled aluminum producer, Aluminium Bahrain, or Alba.

(Read more: Alcoa signs supply deal worth $110 million with Airbus )

"As the beneficiary of a long-running bribery scheme perpetrated by a closely controlled subsidiary, Alcoa is liable and must be held responsible," George Canellos, co-director of the SEC's enforcement division, said in a prepared statement.

Alcoa previously said it was in settlement talks with the authorities. It settled a civil lawsuit with Alba in 2012.

"There is no allegation in the filings by the DOJ and there is no finding by the SEC that anyone at Alcoa Inc knowingly engaged in the conduct at issue," Alcoa said in a release.

Charges were laid under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a U.S. law that prohibits bribery of foreign officials.

The Department of Justice settled with Alcoa World Alumina, part of a joint venture with Australia's Alumina Ltd. Alcoa owns 60 percent of the joint venture. The SEC settlement is with Alcoa Inc.

(Read more: Rolls-Royce says SFO to investigate bribery allegations )

Bribery allegations involving Alba have played out in several countries and more than five years.

In one of Britain's biggest corruption prosecutions in years, a British-Canadian businessman, Victor Dahdaleh, was charged in Britain with paying former Alba managers bribes linked to the supply agreements between 1998 and 2006.

But his trial fell apart in December after two lawyers who played a crucial role in the case refused to testify, and another witness changed his testimony.

Alcoa had not been accused of wrongdoing, and it was not a party to the proceedings in Britain.

The SEC said on Thursday that Alcoa's subsidiaries used a London-based consultant to funnel the payments to officials but did not name the consultant.

Alcoa said it "welcomes the resolution of this legacy legal matter with the U.S. government."

Payments over four years

Alcoa World Alumina agreed to plead guilty to one count of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and pay $223 million in five installments over four years, the Department of Justice said.

At the same time, Alcoa settled civil charges brought by the SEC, agreeing to pay $161 million, also in five installments over four years.

(Read more: Penn gaming exec slams foreign corruption rules )

Under a previous agreement with Alumina Ltd, the Australian company will contribute 15 percent of the cost of the settlements, including legal fees. Alcoa will take a $288 million charge in the fourth quarter of 2013 related to the settlements.

The company is scheduled to report fourth quarter-results after North American equity markets close on Thursday.

Alcoa's stock was down Thursday.

-By Reuters

image: © John M

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