New details about improper foreign political payments by the Exxon Corp. were revealed today as the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a complaint against the giant oil company that charged it disbursed $56.5 million in 6 countries between 1962 and 1975 and did not properly account for these funds on its books.
In terms of the dollars involved, this was the largest complaint filed by the commission in its series of actions against U.S. corporations for foreign payoffs.
But of the total, $55.25 million was distributed in Italy, and much of the information about these payments had been made public two years ago when the matter first surfaced.Only Exxon official named in today's action was Vincent Cazzaniga, a former managing director of the company's Italian subsidiary.
Exxon reached an immediate consent agreement on the SEC action filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., which enjoined the company from further reporting violations.
And as part of the consent, Exxon filed with the SEC a document enumerating the amounts and circumstances - though not the recipients - of $1.25 million in additional payments in 15 other countries.
Of the total, $600,000 was paid out in Thailand. Smaller amounts were disbursed or kept in secret funds in Japan, Australia Indonesia, Okinawa, South Vietnam, Laos, the Dominican Republic, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, France, Tunisia, Malaysia and Venezuela.
Some of these payments were questionable while others were legal, according to Exxon's 8-K filing, but nearly all of them were somehow disguised on Exxon's books and therefore accounted for improperly.
The incidents ranged from a series of large under-the-counter payments to high government officials in Thailand to get permits so Esso Thailand could expand to the relatively trivial matter of five payments totalling $500 paid to Malaysian customs officials to cut red tape on household shipments for Exxon employees.
According to the SEC complaint, Exxon paid out "at least $56.5 million as purported political contributions, payments to foreign government officials and employees, commercial bribes or as other illegal, improper, noncorporate or unaccountable payments. Most or all of these payments were accounted for falsely and improperly on Exxon's books and records or passed through unrecorded bank accounts."
While the $55.25 million distributed in Italy was purported to consist mainly of political contributions the SEC said that "some or all were in fact payments made to political parties or individuals for the purpose of achieving desired governmental action," and Exxon's top management was aware of about half of these payments.
"In at least one instance, the tie-in between a proposed payment and the settlement of a tax dispute with the Italian government was known to at least one current senior Exxon official, one Exxon director now retired and other senior officers and employees of Exxon," the SEC charged.
Exxon said it reached the consent with the SEC - in which it neither admitted or denied guilt - because it felt lengthy litigation was unjustified.
In November 1975, Esso Italian instituted a court action against former managing director Cazzaniga asking for an accounting and damages. Subsequently, criminal proceedings have been instituted against Cazzaniga by the Italian government. These are pending.
Exxon has claimed Cazzaniga went well beyond his authority in keeping a secret fund to make payments in Italy where, the company notes, political contributions are nonetheless legal.
Payments in countries other than Italy detailed by Exxon in its 8-K filing included:
In Thailand, an affiliate, Esso Thailand, late in 1967 purchased the assets of a Thai company manufacturing asphalt and made payments totalling $350,000 to overcome government obstacles and obtain permits so the subsidiary could expand. There were other payments averaging $30,000 annually between 1963 and 1972 relating to product sales in Thailand.
According to testimony of a former Esso Thailand manager before he SEC, some of the recipients included "representatives to the then secretary of the cabinet" of Thailand, who in 1969 received a total of $50,000; a mininster of justice who was a former Esso Thailand outside counsel and who got $50,000 in 1971; and persons "allegedly representing the former Minister of Industry," who in 1973 also got $50,000.
In Chile, an investigation revealed that in 1970, "in response to a solicitation on behalf of a Chilean political party, an Exxon affiliate paid $35,000 into the account of a repreenstavito ef into the account of a representative of the party in a New York bank."
In Japan, Exxon said an internal audit revealed that a member of the Japanese diet had been retained by Exxon's Japanese affiliate. He was paid approximately $1,145 a month, and supposedly advised the company of economic and political developments in Japan.
In South Vietnam, according to a 1974 internal audit, the local operations manager for Exxon "paid the equivalent of $4,000 to customs officials in 1973 to drop charges against the manager and the company for unauthorized mixing of petroleum products."