Former FH Bertling execs guilty in UK North Sea bribery case

Former FH Bertling executives have been convicted of paying bribes to secure ConocoPhillips freight forwarding contract related to an oil exploration project in the UK North Sea. A former ConocoPhillips employee pleaded guilty for an overcharging scheme.

Jasmine field facilities / Image source: ConocoPhillips

The article has been updated with a statement by ConocoPhillips

According to the UK Serious Fraud Office, Stephen Emler and Giuseppe Morreale pleaded guilty for their part in a corrupt scheme to secure a ConocoPhillips freight forwarding contract, eventually worth over £16m, for FH Bertling as part of the ‘Jasmine’ North Sea oil exploration project, relating to misconduct between January 2010 and December 2013.

Giuseppe Morreale was Managing Director of FH Bertling’s London, Caspian and Kazakhstan operational regions, while Stephen Emler was Chief Financial Officer.

Apart from Emler and Morreale, Colin Bagwell, who was Managing Director/Chief Commercial Officer of FH Bertling, was found guilty of conspiring with Christopher Lane, the Logistics Lead at ConocoPhillips, in the overcharging scheme, relating to misconduct between January 2010 and December 2010.

SFO said that FH Bertling executives had paid over £350,000 in bribes and facilitation payments, to ensure their bid for the ConocoPhillips ‘Jasmine’ shipping contract was successful and separately to obtain assurance that inflated prices it charged for additional services were waived through by ConocoPhillips staff.

In related proceedings, Georgina Ayres, Robert McNally, and Peter Smith were acquitted of charges relating to the ‘Jasmine’ case on 27th November 2018.

Georgina Ayres was the Deputy Contract & Procurement Manager at ConocoPhillips. Robert McNally was the Managing Director of Oil & Gas Associates UK LLP. Peter Smith was a Business Development Manager at FH Bertling, later engaged on a retainer via his own company Keady Computer Services.

‘Bribery has no place in business’

SFO Director, Lisa Osofsky said: “These senior executives failed to show any integrity, resorting to bribery to secure lucrative contracts and hide their illicit activities. It is our mission to bring criminals like these to justice.

“Bribery has no place in business in Britain or abroad. It undermines the rule of law, distorts our economy and damages the reputation of the UK.”

The criminal investigation into corruption at FH Bertling began in September 2014, with the first charges announced in July 2016. In total, 13 individuals were charged as part of the SFO’s case, with 9 convicted of one or more charges and 4 individuals acquitted.

SFO has said its ‘Jasmine’ case focused on two bribery schemes created to secure a freight forwarding contract dishonestly from ConocoPhillips eventually worth £16m. The second scheme targeted Christopher Lane, a former ConocoPhillips lead, to ensure ConocoPhillips would waive through inflated prices FH Bertling charged for additional freight services without complaint.

A separate investigation into FH Bertling’s business in Angola revealed that senior executives had conspired to pay bribes to an Angola state oil company agent to secure around $21m worth of shipping contracts. The activity took place between January 2004 and December 2006.

FH Bertling, Stephen Emler, Giuseppe Morreale, Jorg Blumberg, Ralf Petersen, Dirk Juergensen and Marc Schweiger also pleaded guilty prior to the trial. One defendant, Peter Ferdinand was acquitted. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday, December 11, 2018.

Offshore Energy Today has reached out to ConocoPhillips, asking about any potential repercussions the above might have on the company.

ConocoPhillips’ spokesperson said: “We are aware of the convictions and guilty pleas resulting from the Serious Fraud Office’s F.H. Bertling Ltd investigation.  Neither ConocoPhillips nor any of our current employees or contractors was party to those proceedings. Any further questions about the prosecution of this matter are best directed to the Serious Fraud Office.”

Offshore Energy Today Staff

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