German car giant Daimler has been accused of systematically paying bribes worth tens of millions of dollars over the course of a decade. The US Justice Department has filed papers with a federal court in Washington D.C. alleging that between 1998 and 2008 the company paid bribes to foreign officials in 22 countries in order to secure contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
According to Agence France Presse, the company is willing to pay $180 million (135 million) to settle the case. "There is no (official legal) settlement yet," a source told the news agency. "That is what the judge is going to decide on April 1" at a hearing.
The company is alleged to have engaged in the long-standing practice of paying bribes using offshore bank accounts, deceptive pricing arrangements and third-party intermediaries, according to documents filed with the court.
Daimler is accused of employing an array of methods for paying off officials including commissions, gifts and consultancy fees. In one case, the carmaker provided the son of an unnamed Chinese official with an internship and then paid $3,000 for the official to attend a truck race with his son in July 2004. In another case an armoured Mercedes-Benz S-class car, worth $300,000, was sent to an official in Turkmenistan as a "birthday gift." Kickbacks to Iraqi officials and an agreement not to seek compensation for damages incurred during the first Gulf War secured sales of trucks for use in the UN's Oil for Food program.
The company is alleged to have spent 3 million ($4 million) on bribes to Russian government officials to secure 64.6 million in sales and paid 4.1 million in bribes to Chinese officials. Other countries on the list include Croatia, Egypt, Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Latvia, Nigeria, Serbia and Montenegro, Thailand, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
The complaint alleges that the payments were made through "third party accounts," which were supervised by senior managers at the company. The payments were described within the carmaker as commissions, special discounts or "necessary payments." Daimler wired the payments to US bank accounts or to the foreign bank accounts of US shell companies in order to transmit the bribe, the court papers assert.
Daimler has faced accusations of bribery since 2004 and has also been under investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Under a previous name, Daimler AG, the company merged with the US-based Chrysler Corp, in the late 1990 to become DaimlerChrysler. The company then sold Chrysler to private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management in 2007.