SQM Agrees $30 Million Fine for Fake Invoice
Chilean chemicals and mining group SQM has agreed to pay fines amounting to more than $30 million to the US Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in connection with fake invoices.
SQM said the DoJ would defer charges relating to internal accounting failures, scrapping them after three years, if it agreed to pay nearly $15.5 million and be monitored for two years. The Chilean firm will also pay the SEC a penalty of $15 million, also relating to accounting violations.
Authorities have been investigating claims that executives at SQM, which is one of the world’s largest suppliers of iodine and lithium, had faked invoices to hide illicit donations to political campaigns from 2008 to 2015. In total, SQM admitted having paid nearly $15 million to vendors in the seven-year period despite having no evidence that any goods or services were actually received.
According to the DoJ, SQM said it had given approximately $630,000 to foundations controlled by a Chilean official with influence over the government’s mining plans in the country, a key segment of SQM’s business. In another example, SQM paid around $11,000 to the sister-in-law of a Chilean official who had submitted a false invoice to disguise payment to a senatorial campaign.
The subsequent scandal led to Patricio Contesse, who had been CEO of SQM for 25 years, being fired in March 2015.
As part of the agreement with the DoJ, SQM has agreed to continue to cooperate with the investigation, enhance its compliance program, implement rigorous internal controls and retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for two years, with a third year of self-reporting thereafter.
Because SQM did co-operate with the investigation and is implementing remedial measures, it received a 25% reduction in the low-end of the penalty range, the DoJ said.