Iran General NewsSource: SEC asks for Iran disclosure

Source: SEC asks for Iran disclosure

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AP: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has asked oil companies, including Total SA and Norsk Hydro ASA, to disclose commissions they may have paid while doing business in Iran, a person familiar with the inquiry said. Associated Press

LONDON – The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has asked oil companies, including Total SA and Norsk Hydro ASA, to disclose commissions they may have paid while doing business in Iran, a person familiar with the inquiry said.

That person said a letter from the SEC highlights concern that companies may have financed terrorism by doing business in Syria, Iran and Libya.

Its main focus, however, is Iran. The letter tells companies: “We want to know if you have paid commissions on contracts to the Iranian government … the object of this inquiry is to help you to improve your disclosures” in SEC filings.

The person said the letter from the SEC was sent to a number of oil and oil services companies between December and February.

The letter, seen by the person, emphasizes Iran’s embargoed status under the U.S. Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996, though the SEC’s primary goal appears to be a check on whether companies have breached anti-corruption regulations.

The SEC in 2004 was ordered by the U.S. Congress to set up the unit to monitor companies that have operations in Iran and other countries under U.S. sanction.

“The SEC is looking at this,” confirmed Kathryn Cameron Atkinson, a Washington lawyer with Miller and Chevalier Chartered who has advised the SEC on anti-corruption investigations.

Representatives of Norsk Hydro and Total said the companies had received the letter but they didn’t provide details on its content.

Norway’s Norsk Hydro is operator of the Anaran block in Iran in cooperation with the National Iranian Oil Co.

It has submitted bids for the massive Yadavaran fields, as well as other onshore blocks.

France’s Total has a license for the South Pars offshore gas field.

Royal Dutch/Shell Group, which has two concessions in Iran’s northern Persian Gulf concessions, has previously said it received an SEC letter in 2003 on its activities in the republic but said it didn’t receive the latest letter.

A spokesman for the SEC declined to comment.

Though the letter is only a request for information, foreign companies can be investigated for bribes outside the United States if they are listed in New York through American Depository Receipts.

If wrongdoing is proved, a company faces the risk of fines from the courts and the SEC.

A lawyer familiar with the SEC said the standardized letter may be an attempt to uncover wrongdoing similar to those found in a recent lawsuit against Statoil ASA of Norway.

The 71 percent state-owned company is still under investigation for allegations of a $15 million bribe to the son of an ex-Iranian president.

The company accepted a fine by the Norwegian government last year for the bribery charges.

A Statoil spokesman said he wasn’t aware the company had received the SEC letter.

In July, Swiss automation technologies company ABB Ltd. paid $16.4 million to settle SEC charges that it bribed government officials in Nigeria, Angola and Kazakhstan. It didn’t admit guilt.

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