U.S. authorities are investigating China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. over allegations that the state-controlled oil producer paid Nigerian officials about $100 million worth of bribes to resolve a business dispute, according to people familiar with the probe.
Investigators from the Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department are looking into allegations that outside lawyers acting as middlemen for the company, known as Sinopec, funneled illicit payments from its Swiss unit to the Nigerians through banks in New York and California, said the two people, who didn’t want to be named discussing an active investigation.
The alleged payments were intended to resolve a $4 billion dispute between the Chinese oil company’s Addax Petroleum unit in Geneva and the Nigerian government over drilling and other capital costs, tax breaks and a division of royalties between Addax and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the people said.
The U.S. probes are in their early stages, and no action is imminent, one of the people said. The SEC is handling its inquiry through its Los Angeles office, and the Justice Department investigation is being led by the U.S. attorney’s office in that city, the person said.
At least one Washington-based prosecutor from the Justice Department unit that investigates potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has traveled to Los Angeles to conduct interviews, the people said.
The company’s shares in Hong Kong added 0.3 percent to close at HK$5.99 on Thursday. The city’s benchmark Hang Seng Index slipped 0.4 percent.
Spokesmen for the SEC and the Justice Department declined to comment. A Sinopec spokesman at the company’s Beijing headquarters also declined to comment.