US firm ‘bribed’ Customs panel judge, CBI steps in

It's taken quite a while but the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has now begun probing allegations of bribes paid by a US company to a judge of the Customs, Excise and Gold (Control) Appellate Tribunal (CEGAT).

Officials of the company, Houston-based Pride International, one of the world's largest offshore drilling firms, are alleged to have paid bribes to the tune of $500,000 for obtaining a favourable order from CEGAT way back in June 2003.

CEGAT's ruling, according to indictments served on the company by the US Securities Exchange Commission in 2010, stated that the estimated gain to the company from securing a favourable decision from the Indian tribunal was "at least" $10 million.

While the indictment against Pride International and its French subsidiary, Pride Forasol (which dealt with the Indian region) was widely publicised and, in 2010, the US companies agreed to pay penalties of over $156 million for bribing government officials in India, Venezuela and Mexico, Indian agencies have only now begun looking into the charges.

This follows Pride International's network being taken up as a case study at last week's Interpol conference in Paris, which was also attended by an Indian delegation comprising senior CBI and CVC officials.

CBI sources said that a preliminary investigation into the veracity of allegations against officials of Pride Forasol and the CEGAT judge has been initiated.

The US indictment, which charged Pride International and its subsidiaries with violating provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) had alleged that officials of the companies "agreed to pay $500,000 into bank accounts in Dubai in the name of third party entities with the intent that it would be passed on to an Indian CEGAT judge to secure a favourable judicial decision for Pride India relating to a litigation matter pending before the official involving the payment of customs duties and penalties owed for a rig, the Pride Pennsylvania..."

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