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Ex-BizJet CEO pleads guilty in Latin American bribe scandal


The former president and CEO of Oklahoma City-based BizJet International Sales & Support Inc. has pleaded guilty for his participation in a scheme to pay bribes to Mexican and Panamanian government officials, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Bernd Kowalewski is the third and most senior BizJet executive to plead guilty to bribing officials in Mexico and Panama to get contracts for aircraft services, the department said Thursday in a statement.

Mr. Kowalewski pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, according to the Justice Department. The department said Mr. Kowalewski and three BizJet employees paid bribes directly to the officials to secure aircraft maintenance repair and overhaul contracts and in some instance funneled bribes to them through a shell company.

Mr. Kowalewski was arrested in Amsterdam in March and waived extradition in June, according to the department.

Peter DuBois, BizJet's former vice president of sales and marketing, and Neal Uhl, its former vice president of finance, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the FCPA in June 2012. Jald Jensen, BizJet's former sales manager, has been indicted for conspiracy for alleged FCPA violations and money laundering and is believed to be living abroad, the department said.

“While Kowalewski and his fellow executives referred to the corrupt payments as 'commissions' and 'incentives,' they were bribes, plain and simple,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said in the department's Thursday statement.

“Though he was living abroad when the charges were unsealed, the reach of the law extends beyond U.S. borders, resulting in Kowalewski's arrest in Amsterdam and his appearance in court today in the United States. Today's guilty plea is an example of our continued determination to hold corporate executives responsible for criminal wrongdoing whenever the evidence allows.”

The Justice Department announced in March 2012 that it had entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with BizJet that required it to pay an $11.8 million penalty to resolve charges related to the case. The department also agreed to forgo prosecution of BizJet's indirect parent company, Hamburg, Germany-based Lufthansa Technik A.G., in exchange for the company's promise to cooperate with future investigations and implement strict internal controls.

Spokesmen for BizJet and Lufthansa Technik could not immediately be reached for comment.