Former Allen & Overy (A&O) Dutch senior partner Sietze Hepkema has been charged by the Brazilian Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) in relation to a probe into contracts between Petrobras and the Dutch company SBM Offshore.
Hepkema joined SBM Offshore in 2012 as chief governance and compliance officer, tasked with overseeing an investigation into alleged bribery payments by the company in Angola, Brazil and Equatorial Guinea.
He replaced outgoing general counsel Jay Printz, who quit SBM Offshore in early 2012. Hepkema was previously global corporate co-head at A&O before retiring at the end of 2011.
Hepkema stepped down as chief governance and compliance officer earlier this year, to be replaced by former Aegon general counsel Erik Lagendijk. He is now a member of the SBM Offshore supervisory board.
Along with SBM Offshore CEO Bruno Chabas, Hepkema was named on a list of 12 individuals charged by the Brazilian authorities in connection to alleged bribes relating to contracts between oil giant Petrobras and the Dutch company. Chabas and Hepkema are accused of “favorecimento pessoal” or “personal favoritism”.
Last year SBM Offshore agreed a $240m settlement with the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office following an inquiry into payments to sales agents in the three countries.
Separately, SBM Offshore is suing a former in-house lawyer, Jonathan Taylor, for defamation in the Rotterdam courts.
Taylor worked in-house at SBM Offshore since 2003 and was part of the team involved in the internal investigation until he quit the company in June 2012. He then went on to provide information to the authorities about the alleged bribes and also spoke to the media.
SBM Offshore claims that Taylor “unlawfully” made statements alleging that the company had “covered up” criminal activities and had “misled” the market. It is seeking damages of €500,000 and €130,000 in costs.
In his defence Taylor claims that he was “forced to participate in SBM’s cover-up of its criminal activities, under threat of having to leave the company”.
The claim is currently in the discovery process and is pending before the Rotterdam courts. Taylor is also suing SBM Offshore in Monaco, where he was based, over the terms of his termination of employment.
SBM Offshore has turned to Slaughter and May’s Dutch best friend De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek to lead its legal advice throughout the investigation and subsequent settlements. New York-based corporate criminal defence, compliance and investigations head Marnix Somsen led the firm’s work. Meanwhile De Brauw partner Jan de Bie Leuveling Tjeenk is leading the defamation claim against Taylor.
US firm Paul Hastings was also instructed over the internal investigation, with its team led by partner Timothy Dickinson.
Taylor has instructed Otto Volgenant, a partner at Dutch libel boutique Boekx, to defend him against the defamation claims.
In a statement issued today (21 December) SBM Offshore said it had “reviewed and discussed the allegations which have been published in relation to Messrs. Chabas and Hepkema”.
It added: “The Supervisory Board sees no impediments to Mr. Hepkema continuing to serve as member of the SBM Offshore Supervisory Board. As always, due regard is given to potential conflicts of interest.”
Supervisory board chairman Frans Cremers added: “It is unfortunate that the very people who have been and still are doing the right things in this complex compliance case in Brazil, are now being questioned. We have no doubts regarding the integrity of both Bruno Chabas and Sietze Hepkema, who continue to have our full support.”
A spokesperson for the company said it was currently negotiating a settlement with Brazil over the allegations of bribery.