* Olympics hospitality, exploration efforts probed
* BHP says fully cooperating with authorities
MELBOURNE, Aug 16 (Reuters) - BHP Billiton
said on Friday U.S. authorities have laid out grounds for
possible enforcement action against the top global miner for
corrupt practices, stepping up a four-year probe linked partly
to its 2008 Olympics sponsorship.
The company has been under investigation by the Securities
and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice
(DOJ) since 2009, mainly over exploration activities that had
been terminated and its hospitality at the Beijing Olympic
"As a part of the U.S. 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 in a statement, adding that it could not
comment on possible outcomes.
BHP has said previously it believed it had complied with all
applicable laws in regards to its Olympics sponsorship, and said
on Friday it has what it considers to be a "world class
anti-corruption compliance program."
"BHP Billiton is fully committed to operating with integrity
and the group's policies specifically prohibit engaging in
unethical conduct," the company said, adding that it was
cooperating fully with the authorities.
After being approached by the SEC, the company said in 2010
that it had uncovered potential violations of anti-corruption
laws "involving interactions with government officials", which
media have said related to a payment to Cambodian officials in
2006 for a bauxite project that BHP later dropped.
Penalties for violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt
Practices Act can vary widely, depending on, among other
factors, the extent and duration of the violations, the level of
benefit the company received, and the level of cooperation from
the target of the probe.
In one recent case, French oil giant Total SA
agreed to pay $398 million to settle U.S. criminal and civil
allegations that it paid $60 million in bribes to win oil and
gas contracts in Iran over nine years.
In another recent settlement, Parker Drilling booked a
$15.85 million charge to settle allegations by the SEC and
Justice Department that it bribed officials in Nigeria and
SEC spokesman John Nester declined to comment on the BHP
probe. The Department of Justice was not immediately available
The company released the update on the anti-corruption probe
ahead of its annual results, due on Aug. 20, the first results
under new Chief Executive Andrew Mackenzie.