BHP facing charges from US over Beijing Games 'corruption'


London-listed mining giant BHP Billiton today said it has been warned it could face enforcement action by US authorities over alleged breaches of anti-corruption laws. The move relates partly to corporate hospitality it laid on for the Beijing Olympics.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and US Department of Justice have been investigating BHP since 2009 over exploration projects that have been terminated and hospitality given at the Beijing Games in 2008, where the miner was a major sponsor and supplier of the metals for the medals.

“As a part of the US process, the SEC and DoJ have recently notified the group of the issues they consider could form the basis of enforcement actions and discussions are continuing,” BHP said.

“The issues relate primarily to matters in connection with previously terminated exploration and development efforts, as well as hospitality provided as part of the company’s sponsorship of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.” It said it could not comment on what the possible outcome of the enforcement might be, or the scale of penalty. It could face multi-million-dollar fines.

French oil major Total recently agreed to pay $398 million (£256 million) to settle US criminal and civil allegations that it paid $60 million in bribes to win oil and gas contracts in Iran over a nine-year period.

Levels of penalty for breaching the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act vary depending on the length of time and depth of the violations, the financial benefits made by the company and its co-operation with the authorities during an investigation.

Medical supplies maker Smith & Nephew last year paid $22.2 million to settle a claim that one of its subsidiaries had bribed a Greek distributor. In 2010, BAE Systems paid almost $500 million to the DoJ and the Serious Fraud Office to settle allegations of long-standing bribes paid to Saudi officials among others.

The Australian authorities are also investigating BHP’s dealings with foreign officials, including Chinese dignitaries who attended the Games.

Other issues reportedly under scrutiny include payments to Cambodian officials in 2006 over a bauxite project that BHP eventually dropped.

The mining company said: “BHP Billiton is fully committed to operating with integrity, and the group’s policies specifically prohibit engaging in unethical conduct.

“BHP Billiton has what it considers to be a world-class anti-corruption compliance programme. The group is fully co-operating with the relevant authorities, as it has since the US investigations commenced.”

BHP has said previously that it believed it had complied with all applicable laws in regards to its Olympics sponsorship.

The news came ahead of the first presentation of BHP’s results next Tuesday by its new chief executive Andrew Mackenzie.