CHICAGO, March 23, 2010 (AFP) - Daimler will pay some 180 million dollars in fines to settle US allegations that the German automaker habitually bribed foreign officials, a source close to the case told AFP Tuesday.
Daimler is accused of paying out millions in cash and gifts of golf clubs, vacations, and luxury Mercedes armored cars to officials in 22 countries to win government contracts.
The deal would end investigations by both criminal prosecutors and securities regulators, said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"There is no (official legal) settlement yet," the source said. "That's what the judge is going to decide on April 1" at a hearing.
Spokesmen for Daimler and the US Justice Department declined to comment on the case.
Daimler has previously acknowledged that "improper payments" were made in a number of countries and said it voluntarily shared information from internal investigations with US and German prosecutors.
"Daimler has taken various actions designed to address and resolve the issues identified in the course of its investigation and to safeguard against the recurrence of improper conduct," the automaker said in its 2009 annual report.
The charges filed in US court show there is "no margin for error" when it comes to complying with bribery rules, said high profile corporate lawyer Jacob Frenkel.
"US criminal prosecutors have been on an international rampage enforcing US bribery laws wherever and whenever possible," said Frenkel, a former US Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement lawyer and federal prosecutor.
"The message from US prosecutors is if there is a US connection, then they will seize on it to bring charges."
A criminal complaint filed in Washington accuses Daimler, maker of Mercedes-Benz cars and the world leader in heavy trucks, of engaging in a "longstanding practice of paying bribes" to foreign officials.
It alleges that Daimler made "hundreds of improper payments worth tens of millions of dollars to foreign officials" in order to secure contracts with government customers.
The bribes allegedly included:
-More than 3.0 million euros (4.0 million dollars) in bribes to Russian government officials in order to secure 64.6 million euros in sales.
-4.1 million euros in "commissions," "gifts" and lavish vacation to Chinese government officials.
-A "birthday gift" of a 300,000-dollar armored Mercedes Benz S-class car to an official in Turkmenistan.
-Kickbacks to Iraqi officials and an agreement not to seek compensation for damages incurred during the first Gulf War in order to secure sales of trucks used for humanitarian purposes through the UN's Oil for Food program.
-Golf clubs, wedding gifts and other perks totaling about 41,000 dollars to win contracts in Indonesia.
Many of these payments were made through "third party accounts" which were supervised by the most senior management of Daimler's sales operations, the complaint alleges. It also allegedly maintained a "cash desk" at a factory in Stuttgart.
That cash desk and most of those accounts were eventually shut down after the German government imposed new rules to curtail foreign bribery in 1998.
But the complaint alleges that Daimler did not seriously crack down on foreign bribes until after the US Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission launched investigations.
Some of those payments were made through US-based shell corporations and "corrupt transactions with a territorial connection to the United States resulted in over 50 million dollars in pre-tax profits," the complaint alleges.
The complaint alleges that the bribes went to officials in: China, Croatia, Egypt, Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Latvia, Nigeria, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and other countries.