An angry federal judge here refused yesterday to "rubber stamp" a government offer to allow Westinghouse Electric Corp. to settle a foreign bribery case charge without identifying the country or official implicated.
Justice Department and Westinghouse attorneys continued to refuse to name the country involved, but other sources said it was Egypt. It could not be learned which official received the alleged payments of $322,000.
In court, District Judge Barrington Parker told attorneys for the Justice Department and Westinghouse "Gentlemen, I'm going to leave you to other alternatives. I will not accept it."
Westinghouse had agreed to pay a $300,000 fine and plead guilty to charges of making false statements to U.S. agencies that financed construction projects in the unnamed country.
Parker noted that the fine was less than the $322,000 alleged to have been paid by Westinghouse to get the contracts.
He also expressed displeasure at a press release Westinghouse issued Monday before the guilty plea was accepted. Parker accused the company lawyers of "taking things for granted" and expecting the court "to rubber stamp everything you hand it."
The judge had delayed his ruling on the proposed plea-bargaining arrangement so he could study material about the payoffs that a Westinghouse attorney, Vincent J. Fuller, had given him in confidence. Fuller told the judge the materials would explain the need for secrecy.
But yesterday morning, after serveral more questions showing his dissatisfaction with the settlement, he formally turned it down.
Justice Department officials said later they were studying several options for salvaging the case. It is possible that the charges, which are still pending, could be taken to trial or that Westinghouse could plead guilty without a pre-arranged penalty, they said.
It is unlikely the charges will be dropped entirely, they added.
The case was being handled with extraordinary sensitivity by the Justice Department. Officials said the decision not to press for disclosure of the country involved was made on the prosecutors' initiative, rather than requests by the company, the State Department or the intelligence community.
Justice Department attorney D. Jeffrey Hirschberg had told Parker "we believe it is in the interest of the United States" not to identify the country "at this time."
Parker asked yesterday what was significant about "at this time," but the prosecutor said he didn't want to reply in public.
The Westinghouse payments were first diclosed to the government early this year, the firm said, after the company official who arranged them told his superiors.
The first payment of $250,000 was for help in getting a civil construction contract worth between $30 million and $35 million, the government alleged. That project was partially financed by a loan from the Export-Import Bank.
An additional payment of more than $27,000 was made last year, the prosecutor said, for aid in obtaining a related contract financed entirely by the Agency for International Development.
Westinghouse was charged specifically with making false statements in Ex-Im and AID documents when company officials said they had made no payments other than those reported to bona fide agents.
The bank approved two apparently related loans for Westinghouse projects in Egypt in June 1974, according to bank records. They helped finance a $10.8 million generating plant and a $20 million project for electric lighting.
AID also provided money for power plant construction in Egypt during the same period. It could not be determined yesterday whether the money went to the same Westinghouse project.
High-level sources at the State Department said yesterday they knew of no potential national security problem in revealing the bribe recipient or the country involved. They expressed some puzzlement at the Justice Department action.