State-owned Mexican oil company Pemex PEMX.UL sued Siemens AG (SIEGn.DE) and a South Korean company for $1.5 billion on Thursday over a bribery scheme that has dogged the German conglomerate for years.
Pemex's lawsuit marks a rare instance of a company owned by a foreign government seeking restitution through the U.S. courts for alleged bribery.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in New York, Pemex accused Siemens and SK Engineering & Construction Co Ltd SKEC.UL, a subsidiary of SK Holdings Co Ltd (003600.KS), of securing contracts to participate in an oil refinery modernization project in Mexico through bribes to Pemex officials.
Pemex said it began looking into whether its dealings with Siemens were "tainted by bribery" after the company paid a record $1.6 billion to U.S. and European authorities in 2008 to resolve allegations of paying bribes around the world, from Iraq to Argentina.
A parallel action brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as part of that case alleged that Siemens in late 2004 made around $2.6 million in payments to a politically connected consultant to help settle cost overrun claims with refinery modernization projects in Mexico.
Siemens neither admitted nor denied the allegations in settling with the SEC.
Pemex's lawsuit accused Siemens and SK Engineering of racketeering violations. Another defendant is Conproca, S.A. De C.V. CONPR.UL, a Mexican joint-venture between Siemens and SK that was created to bid for the state oil company's refinery contract. Conproca is 85 percent owned by SK, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit seeks at least $500 million in damages, which could be tripled under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Guenter Gaugler, a spokesman for Siemens, and officials with Mexico City-based Pemex declined comment. An SK representative could not be reached. A lawyer for Conproca did not respond to requests for comment.
RESTITUTION LAWSUITS RARE
While the United States has stepped up its enforcement of its anti-bribery law, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the countries in which bribery occurred have rarely appeared in U.S. courts to seek their own restitution.
Last year, an electric utility in Costa Rica objected to a bribery settlement French telecoms company Alcatel Lucent SA (ALUA.PA) entered into with U.S. authorities, and demanded restitution.
The Justice Department had accused an Alcatel subsidiary of paying bribes to Costa Rican government officials, including five employees of the electric utility. The utility, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, lost in the lower courts and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to