Thyssen fights BP bribe claims

Thyssen, the German steel and engineering giant, has vowed to fight a landmark law suit from British Petroleum, alleging bribery and corruption over North Sea oil contracts in the early 1990s.

The group, one of Germany's biggest, is already embroiled in another corruption row that has rocked the country's business establishment.

Two weeks ago, chief executive Dieter Vogel was arrested at its Dusseldorf headquarters along with eight other top managers over an alleged fraud during privatisation of an East German metals firm. All were subsequently released on bail.

The move came just two days after BP issued a High Court writ pursuing 12 defendants over pounds 2m of bribes allegedly paid on seven contracts worth pounds 80m.

Apart from Thyssen, they include Swiss pumps group Sulzer, several middlemen and Alan Owen, a former senior executive in BP's procurement division based at Harlow in Essex, who it alleges was bribed to supply confidential details on competing contract tenders.

British Steel, Weir Group and Hunting were among UK firms who lost out on lucrative deals because of the alleged activities of the self-styled "information brokers" and Mr Owen.

Two of the middlemen, Polish-born Josef Szrajber and Italian businessman Paolo Sorelli, were jailed in 1993 in a series of convictions gained by the Serious Fraud Office into information brokers' activities.

Thyssen, BP claims, was one of the chief beneficiaries, winning three contracts from the alleged conspiracy, including a pounds 50m export pipeline for the giant Forties oil field.

BP alleges Thyssen paid pounds 1.4m of kickbacks on that deal alone. The money, it claims, was shared via secret Swiss bank accounts and a Panama-registered firm between Messrs Owen, Szrajber, Sorelli and another Swiss-based associate, Walter Dettwiler.

Thyssen acted as agent on the deals for Mannesmann, another German engineering giant in which it has a 25 per cent stake. Mannesmann itself was banned from the Norwegian sector of the North Sea over a similar corruption case involving state-owned oil firm Statoil in 1992.

A Statoil engineer was jailed for two years in 1995 after receiving over pounds 500,000 in bribes. The trial of a Mannesmann employee has still to come to court.

This weekend, Thyssen admitted it had used "consultants" to help gain deals, but rejected BP's charges.

"In the view of Thyssen (Stahlunion), BP has no claims against it," spokesman Dr Wolfgang Kruger said.

"Thyssen Stahlunion also emphasises that in commissioning the consultant to obtain market and competitive intelligence data in this instance, this was neither an inducement to commit any criminal offence ... not certainly one to bribe BP employees."

BP has yet to serve the writs on Thyssen and Sulzer while it prepares translations.

It is also trying to trace Mr Sorelli, who left for Switzerland shortly after his release from prison in September, 1994.

Mr Szrajber and another middleman, Jim Lillie, have been served, however, and plan to fight the case.

"As far as Jim Lillie and Szrajber are concerned, their intentions are to defend the writ," said their joint solicitor, Andrew Blatt of small east London law firm Murdochs.

Arrayed against them is the full might of BP's in-house resources, plus top City law firms and leading counsel and a rack of evidence from the 1993 criminal trials.

Mr Lillie, BP alleges, acted as an agent for Sulzer in winning two deals. This weeken a Sulzer spokesman in Geneva said it would await the writ before deciding its stance. The Swiss parent and two UK subsidiaries are among the 12 defendants,

Apart from the huge Forties deal, BP's 120 page writ seeks compensation and damages for alleged conspiracy on six other North Sea deals in its Miller, Bruce and Gyda fields.

The allegations include:

pounds 33,000 commission payment improperly made by Sulzer to middlemen to win a pounds 2.3m compressor deal

pounds 69,000 paid by Sulzer on a pounds 1.5m pump contract

pounds 428,000 from Thyssen on a pounds 23.8m pipeline contract.

pounds 28,000 paid by Japanese trading house Marubeni for information on a pipeline deal

pounds 78,000 paid by Thyssen on a pounds 1.5m pipe deal.

pounds 25,000 paid by Japanese trading house Itochu on a pounds 870,000 pipeline casing.

An Itochu employee was cleared on corruption charges in 1993 after claiming he only inherited established practice and did not believe he was acting dishonestly.

The trial of a Marubeni executive was cancelled after he fled to Japan while on bail.

The BP writ also alleges that Humphries & Glasgow, an firm of engineering consultants, was also intimately involved in the scam. An H&G employee was also convicted in 1993 on corruption charges involving contracts for the Channel Tunnel.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Pricing Analyst

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pricing Analyst to join a leading e-...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is a mul...

Guru Careers: C# Project Team Lead

£55 - 65k (DOE): Guru Careers: A unique opportunity for a permanent C# Develop...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor