The Securities and Exchange Commission charged International Systems and Control Corp., a Houston-based energy development firm, yesterday with paying at least $23 million in bribes to officials of at least seven foreign countries to obtain contracts.
Among those listed in SEC documents as having received direct payments from International Systems (ISC) are a member of the former ruling family of Iran and a company owned by Nicaraugan president Gen Anastasio Somoza.
The unusaully detailed allegations, filed in federal court here, said the firm would channel the illegal payments through various secret foreign bank accounts and in turn hide the accounts from its stockholders in its books. The SEC alleged, for example, that in the case of a Chilean payoff, officials there were instructed by ISC as to how they could susccessfully hilde the bribes.
In addition to the alleged payoffs, the firm was accused of setting up a sham deferred compensation corporation that actually only benefitted its key personnel and with using more than $1 million in company funds to buy and furnish an Irish mansion for its president.
That residence, known as Kilquade, was described by the company in publicly filed reports as having 15,000 square feet of office space, the SEC noted. However, the SEC said yesterday that the only offices there are ISC President J. Thomas Kenneally's den, and a desk, typewriter and Telex machine in the basement used by his secretary on trips there.
SEC officials said the ISC case represents one of the last large foreign bribery cases it has under investigation, and is one of the top 10 in terms of alleged money involved.
One unusual aspect of this case, however, is the SEC's request that the court immediately appoint a receiver to take custody and control of all sets of ISC and to oversee the firm's business activities.
SEC aruged in court documents that such immediate action is necessary because it has learned that four of the company's top five officials have resigned since the SEC investigation began; the firm has been reporting major losses over the last couple of years; the firm has recently attempted to sell or has sold some of its important subsidiaries while under investigation, and reportedly has been shedding approximately 15 bags of corporate records daily over the past month.
The SEC complaint lists illegal ISC payments to officials in Iran, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Nicarauga, Chile, Iraq and the Ivory Coast.
According to the SEC complaint, the firm basically has been engaged in providing services and equipment in the fields of energy, agriculture and forestry - much of it though subsidiaries in underdeveloped and developing nations.
One of the firm's projects, according to the SEC court file, was to design and build a $5.2 million grain storage facility in Nicarauga in the early 1970s. Over a four-year period, the SEC alleged, the firm's Nicaraguan subsidiary paid $288,538 to two Nicaraguan agents.
Although the precise recipients of all of the Nicaraguan funds are not specified in the complaint, the SEC said at least $25,000 went to a company owned by Gen. Somoza and his wife, and the rest was paid to a company composed of employees of other Somoza-controlled entities. An additional $127,000 was paid to "one of these two agents," the complaint continued.
In Iran, the firm sought contracts to build grain facilities and was involved in pulp and paper projects. To facilitate th awards of contracts, the SEC said, the firm made arrangements for payoffs to Prince Abdorreza, a member of the royal family of the then-Shah of Iran.
At one point after the Iranian government had officially come out against bribe-taking, other Iranian officials confronted the ISC subsidiary's official with allegations of such payments, the SEC said. ISC's official then reported the problem to the Prince directly, who then had a personal meeting with the other Iranian official and the Iranian investigation of bribes stopped, the SEC said.
An ISC memo of the incident said it merely pointed out the need to "emphasize once more that any confidential payments made to Iranian personalities must be kept in a small circle," the SEC said.
The other individual ISC defendants in the complaint are Herman M. Frietsch, senior vice president; Raymond G. Hofker, former vice president and general counsel; Albert W. Angulo, former treasurer, and Harlan M. Stein, former presidetn of ISC's engineering group, all of the Houston area.
Frietsch said the firm had not seen the charges and could not comment. He told Dow Jones News Service ISC had been expecting the filling.