The Lockheed Corp. pleaded guilty yesterday to federal charges that it illegally paid more than $2.6 million to Japanese officials to clinch sales of its wide-body £1011 commercial jetliner.
As part of a plea-bargaining arrangement with the Justice Department, the firm agreed to pay $647,000 in civil and criminal penalties. The government, in turn, agreed to take no further action in its 2 1/2-year investigation of more than $30 million the company allegedly paid to officials in several foreign countries.
Yesterday's court appearance thus apparently is the final act in a scandal that in 1976 rocked the governements of Japan, Italy and the Netherlands and was the subject of highly publicized Senate hearings.
Justice dropped the recommended prosecution of former Lockheed president A. C. Kotchian without explanation in February. This was several months after Kotchian's attorney, Mitchell Rogovin, raised the issue of his client's involvement with the U.S. intelligence community as a possible defense.
In the brief appearance before U.S. District Court Judge John Lewis Smith Jr. yesterday, lawyers representing Lockheed pleaded the company guilty to four felony counts of wire fraud, four felony counts of making false statements to the Export-Import Bank, which backed loans for the jet sales to Japan, and two misdemeanor counts of illegally transporting currency overseas.
One official familiar with the case said prosecution of payoffs in other countries was barred in most cases because the transactions were too old or because they did not involve false statements to U.S. government financing agencies.
There was no specific U.S. law against bribery overseas until December 1977, so government prosecutors have used a variety of other statutes in pursuing the multinational bribe cases.
The action against Lockheed also comes at a time that lawyers in the Justice Department's criminal division are preparing an unusual set of guidelines to explain the new law on bribery.
Basically, the law makes it illegal for officials of American corporations to bribe foreign government officials. There have been no convictions yet under the new criminal statute.
Big corporations and the Commerce Department asked for the guidance, saying the law was confusing. But en- forcement officials at the Securities and Exchange Commission, which disclosed many of the overseas payment schemes, and some at Justices have complained about the idea of such a roadmap for behavior.
Deputy Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti said in an interview yesterday that he felt publishing guidelines was proper "because there's a view that the breadth of the law is such that any conduct, even legitimate commission payments - no matter how innocent the intent - could be subject to investigation and prosecution."
"Clearly the intent of the law is to prosecute false and hidden payments," he said.
In court yesterday, Justice Department attorney Morris B. Silverstein summarized an "offer of proof" that said Lockheed's Kotchian had pledged in 1972 that $1.8 million would be paid to the office of then prime minister Kakuei Tanaka for assistance in selling 21 £1011s to the All Nippon Airlines.
According to the court papers, Lockheed also paid $700,000 to officials of the airline and $100,000 to other Japanese politicians in 1973 and 1974.
The firm received signed receipts for the payoffs from a middle man who listed the money as "peanuts" and "pieces". The information in the court papers had been disclosed before by the SEC, a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee and during lengthy trials in Japan of officials there in 1976 and 1977.
According to the government filing, Lockheed tried to cover up the payments by preparing and backdating a set of phony receipts for a company in the Cayman Islands. The real procedure was for Lockheed to wire the payoff money to Japan through Deak & Co., a currency trader, an official said later.
Disclosure of the payments led to a storm of protest in Japan. Thousands demonstrated in the streets, calling for an investigation; prosecutors raided Lockheed's Tokyo office, and one zealot even made a kamikaze-style airplane attack on the home of one of the alleged recipients.
The scandal touched other governments as well. There were disclosures that Prince Barnhard of the Netherlands took $1 million in the early 1960s. Italian President Giovanni Leone was driven from office last year in part because of fallout from disclosure officials in government had taken $2 million from Lockheed.
The Lockheed investigation was conducted by a task force of Justice Department fraud section prosecutors headed by Silverstein and Customs Service agents led by John Wailes. CAPTION: Picture, KAKUEI TANAKA . . . scandal rocked his government