A federal grand jury in Houston yesterday charged a Houston oil field equipment company and nine individuals with paying $9.9 million in bribes to officials of Mexico's government-owned oil company in a scheme designed to win sales contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The grand jury outlined the bribery and conspiracy charges in a 49-count indictment against Crawford Enterprises Inc. of Houston and the company's two top officials, chairman Donald G. Crawford, and president William E. Hall, both of Houston. Also named in the indictment were two former top officials of Ruston Gas Turbines of Houston, another company alleged to have benefited from the bribery scheme, and two former officials of the Solar division of International Harvester.
Also indicted were three men who were Crawford's business agents in Mexico, including the brother-in-law of a Pemex official and Ricardo Garcia Beltran. Beltran headed Grupo Industrial Delta, a firm that represented Crawford in Mexico. Three of the firm's officials have been jailed for alleged violations of income tax reporting laws, but Garcia Beltran has remained at large.
The indictments grew out of a continuing federal investigation by the Department of Justice, the Customs Service and the FBI that has also raised a political hue and cry in Mexico about corruption in Petroleos Mexicanos, the government-owned oil company that has overseen Mexico's oil boom. Government and opposition party officials have called for a thorough investigation by Mexican officials into the charges.
According to U.S. government allegations, two high-ranking Pemex officials received the payments, which were made in connection with sales of natural gas turbine compression systems to Pemex by Crawford Enterprises Inc., Ruston Gas Turbines and the Solar Turbines Division of International Harvester. The contracts involved amounted to $225 million in sales, the government has said.
Jesus Chavarria, the former assistant director for exploration, and Ignacio DeLeon, former assistant director for marketing, have been named by government attorneys in other legal actions as alleged recipients of the bribes. Neither was named in yesterday's indictment, which was handed down only after a federal judge ruled in favor of DeLeon, who had filed suit to keep his name out of the indictment.
The government has alleged that Crawford officials set up the bribery scheme in 1977, incorporating a percentage of the contract price in each bid for "the folks," a phrase that the Justice Department has alleged Donald Crawford used to disguise the identities of the officials being paid off.
Crawford Enterprises Inc, Crawford and Hall "have denied emphatically any wrongdoing through the government's nearly four-year investigation . . . and are confident of being acquitted at trial," according to a statement released late yesterday by Crawford's attorneys.
According to the statement, the firm "is confident that no such bribes were paid" and has been advised "that the contracts awarded to it by Pemex have been the subject of careful review within Pemex to insure the integrity of the procurement process."
It went on to say that a Pemex review found "that no contract has been awarded to CEI unless CEI was the lowest qualified bidder that could deliver compressors on a schedule and in a manner responsive to Pemex's requirements." It also noted that Crawford Enterprises Inc. terminated its contract with Grupo Delta in May 1980.