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SEC fines BHP Billiton $25 million in Olympics bribery probe


(Reuters) — BHP Billiton P.L.C. will pay $25 million to settle charges that it violated a U.S. anti-bribery law by failing to properly monitor a program under which it paid for dozens of foreign government officials to attend the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

The accord resolves U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charges that BHP, one of the world's biggest mining companies, violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act when it sponsored the attendance of officials who were "directly involved with, or in a position to influence" its business and regulatory affairs.

BHP, which has offices in London and Melbourne, Australia, neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing in agreeing on Wednesday to settle the civil case. It also said the U.S. Department of Justice ended a related criminal probe without taking action, and that all U.S. investigations into the matter are complete.

The SEC said BHP invited 176 government officials to attend the Olympics at company expense, including 98 who worked for state-owned enterprises that were customers or suppliers, under a "global hospitality" program tied to its sponsorship of the games.

According to the SEC, 60 invitees plus some spouses and guests ultimately attended, mainly from Africa and Asia, and enjoyed packages worth $12,000 to $16,000 that included luxury hotels, event tickets and sightseeing.

The SEC said BHP did not properly monitor the invitation process or train employees to ensure that the program would remain untainted by bribery.

"BHP Billiton recognized that inviting government officials to the Olympics created a heightened risk of violating anti-corruption laws, yet the company failed to implement sufficient internal controls to address that heightened risk," said Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC enforcement division.

In one illustration, the SEC said BHP extended an invitation to a provincial governor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who the company thought "could be the key" to a copper exploration transaction it was negotiating. The governor accepted the invitation but later canceled, the SEC said.

In a statement, BHP said it has taken "significant" remedial steps to upgrade its internal controls. It also said it fully cooperated with the SEC, and will keep cooperating with an Australian Federal Police investigation announced in 2013.

"Our company has learned from this experience and is better and stronger as a result," CEO Andrew Mackenzie said in a statement.

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