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Prosecutors charge former Siemens employees in bribery case

December 13, 2011 |  9:15 am

U.S. prosecutors charged six former employees at the German conglomerate Siemens AG with paying $60 million to bribe Argentine officials.

The Siemens employees -- including one Siemens board member, Uriel Sharef -- are alleged to have concocted an elaborate scheme involving shell companies and cash payments in order to win a $1 billion contract to make Argentina national identity cards, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors said it was the first time that a board member at a company of Siemens' size had been charged under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. 

"Today’s indictment alleges a shocking level of deception and corruption," assistant U.S. attorney general Lanny Breuer said in a statement Tuesday morning.

Though Siemens is based in Munich, Germany, and the employees were said to be located outside the U.S., the crimes were charged in the U.S. because Siemens is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

The individual charges come a few years after Siemens agreed to pay $1.6 billion to settle charges against the company itself.

According to the complaint filed in federal court, Siemens employees began the bribery scheme in the late 1990s, when Argentina was moving to a more advanced national identity card, prosecutors said. After an initial deal fell apart, the Siemens employees allegedly paid more bribes to cover up the initial bribes, according to prosecutors. Many of the payments were made through shell companies in places like the Bahamas and the Channel Islands to obscure their true purpose, prosecutors said. 

All of the defendants were outside the U.S. and will have to be extradited to be tried. They could face up to 20 years on charges of money laundering and five years on charges of violating bribery laws. 


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 -- Nathaniel Popper

Photo: The Siemens company's logo is seen outside an administration building of the German electronic trust Siemens in Munich in a file picture. Credit: Uwe Lein / AP