The Control Data Corp., a Minneapolis-based computer company, was fined an unpredecented $1.38 million in federal court yesterday after pleading guilty to making illegal payments to foreign officials.
The case, the second in an expected series by the Justice Department against multinational corporations, is considered significant because of the size of the fines - $500,000 each - for violations of a little-used federal law on currency transactions.
The firm also agreed to pay a civil Penalty of $380,000, an amount equal to the illegally transported funds.
The total corporate fine is believed to be the largest on record.
A Justice Department task force, augmented by Customs Service investigators, has been investigating about 73 multinational firms for allegedly illegal payments overseas.
Control Data, in a plea-bargaining agreement, admitted bringing $180,000 in bearer checks into the United States from Amsterdam in April 1973 and then transporting $200,000 by courier a week later to an unnamed foreign country as a payoff to get a contact.
In each instance, the firm intentionally failed to fill out a customs report required when more than $5,000 is carried in or out of the country, according to the criminal information filed in U.S. District Court here.
Control Data also pleaded guilty to violating the federal wire fraud statute by using an overseas telephone call between company officials to discuss the payoff, the charges said.
As part of the effort to disguise the payments, the company created "false and fictitious memoranda, vouchers and purchase orders" and paid third parties in the foreign country to act as conduits and to obtain false documentation, the company acknowleged in the plea.
Justice Department attorneys acknowledge that the Control Data plea and a similar one last month by the Williams Companies of Tulsa, as agricultural and chemical firm, are unique because of the application of the wire fraud statute to the foreign bribery cases.
The criminal charge said that from 1967 to 1976, Control Data devised a scheme to "defraud the citizens of a certain foreign nation of their right to honest and loyal services of their government officials . . ."
Robert B. Hawkins, a Control Data vice president, said yesterday the company pleaded guilty to avoid long and costly litigation.
Justice officials said they will not hesitate to test their legal theory - that foreign citizens are victims of such bribery schemes by U.S. firms - in future cases.
One Justice source, who asked not to be identified, said: "There are other cases in the pipeline." He said the department has not precluded bringing cases against individual company executives as well as the firms. It is also possible, he said, that future cases will include grand jury indictments rather than plea bargains.
The maximum criminal fines in the Control Data case were Permitted because the currency violations occurred in connection with another crime, the wire fraud, a Justice Department attorney pointed out.
The foreign country was not named because it was part of hte plea-bargaining arrangement. In the future the department will consider whether to identify the country on a csase-by-case basis, the official added.
The overseas bribery investigation by Justice grew out of disclosures by congressional investigators and the Securities and Exchange Commission over the past few years.
The targeted firms have claimed the payments to foreign officials were necessary business expenses to compete in a highly competitieve international marketplace.
There was no U.S. law against foreign bribery at the time. But it is now apparent that the Justice Department task force has focused on hte novel application of the wire fraud laws and the seldom-used currency violation law as a means of prosecuting the cases.
The currency transaction law was enacted in the early 1970s in an attempt to check the flow of cash leaveing the country by narcotics dealers and organized-crime figures.