The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged global aluminum producer Alcoa Inc. with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) when its subsidiaries repeatedly paid bribes to government officials in Bahrain to maintain a key source of business.
An SEC investigation found that more than $110 million in corrupt payments were made to Bahraini officials with influence over contract negotiations between Alcoa and a major government-operated aluminum plant.
Alcoa’s subsidiaries used a London-based consultant with connections to Bahrain’s royal family as an intermediary to negotiate with government officials and funnel the illicit payments to retain Alcoa’s business as a supplier to the plant, the SEC said in a press release.
Alcoa lacked sufficient internal controls to prevent and detect the bribes, which were improperly recorded in Alcoa’s books and records as legitimate commissions or sales to a distributor, the SEC said.
The company agreed to settle the SEC’s charges and a parallel criminal case announced today by the U.S. Department of Justice by paying a total of $384 million.
“As the beneficiary of a long-running bribery scheme perpetrated by a closely controlled subsidiary, Alcoa is liable and must be held responsible,” said George Canellos, co-director of the SEC Enforcement Division. “It is critical that companies assess their supply chains and determine that their business relationships have legitimate purposes.”
According to the SEC’s order instituting settled administrative proceedings, Alcoa is a global provider of not only primary or fabricated aluminum, but also smelter grade alumina – the raw material that is supplied to plants called smelters that produce aluminum.
Alcoa refines alumina from bauxite that it extracts in its global mining operations.
From 1989 to 2009, one of the largest customers of Alcoa’s global bauxite and alumina refining business was Aluminium Bahrain B.S.C. (Alba), which is considered one of the largest aluminum smelters in the world.
Alba is controlled by Bahrain’s government, and Alcoa’s mining operations in Australia were the source of the alumina that Alcoa supplied to Alba, the SEC said.