(Dow Jones) The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged three Noble Corp. (NE) executives with helping bribe Nigerian customs officials, the latest accusations to emerge from a lucrative drilling region that remains plagued by corruption, the SEC said Friday.
Former Chief Executive Mark A. Jackson was among the individuals charged with signing off on payments to Nigeria Customs Service officials, who allegedly made false reports that Noble’s oil-drilling rigs had left and re-entered Nigerian waters.
The payments allegedly allowed the company to avoid customs duties, a violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The rigs never actually moved even as the company gained about 11 illicit permits and 29 permit extensions, the SEC said.
The agency charged James J. Ruehlen, the current director of Noble’s Nigerian subsidiary, with bribing customs officials to process the false paperwork.
Ruehlen attorney F. Joseph Warin disputed the claims against his client in a prepared statement and vowed to disprove them at trial.
“Mr. Ruehlen is the person who initially raised this matter within Noble,” Warin said. “He fully cooperated throughout the investigation and always acted in an ethical and transparent manner.”
The SEC also charged Thomas F. O’Rourke, a former controller and head of internal audit at Noble, with helping approve the bribes while booking them as legitimate operating expenses. O’Rourke agreed to settle the SEC’s charges and pay a penalty.
The SEC originally charged Noble during a 2010 sweep of the oil services industry. The company cooperated with SEC investigators and agreed to pay more than $8 million to settle civil and criminal cases. A Noble spokesman had no immediate comment on the latest charges.
Jackson allegedly approved the bribes and concealed them from Noble’s audit committee and auditors. He resigned from Noble in 2007 after less than a year on the job.
Noble shares were recently down 2 cents at $38.99, in line with the broader market.
-By Drew FitzGerald, Dow Jones Newswires