The former chief executive of a Chilean chemical and mining company on Tuesday settled a foreign bribery case with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Patricio Contesse, as CEO of Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile SA, or SQM, directed and authorized nearly $15 million in payments through a discretionary account to Chilean politicians, political candidates and people and entities associated with them, the SEC alleged. The payments were supported by fake documentation he submitted to the company, the SEC said.
“Corporate culture starts at the top,” said Charles Cain, chief of the SEC’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act unit in the enforcement division, “and when misconduct is directed by the highest level of management it is critical that they are held accountable for their conduct.”
Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Mr. Contesse agreed to pay $125,000. A lawyer for Mr. Contesse didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
SQM trades series B American Depositary Shares on the New York Stock Exchange, making it subject to U.S. jurisdiction under the FCPA. The Santiago, Chile-based company in January 2017 agreed to pay $30.5 million to resolve bribery allegations from the SEC and the Justice Department, which jointly enforce the FCPA.
At the time of the 2017 settlement, authorities said an investigation was ongoing; a Justice Department spokeswoman on Tuesday neither confirmed nor denied the existence of a probe.
Mr. Contesse worked for the company for more than 25 years, nearly all of it as its chief executive. From at least 2008 through 2015, while as CEO, he used the discretionary account to pay politically exposed people in Chile, falsely recording them in the company’s books, the SEC alleged. Mr. Contesse also lied to SQM’s independent auditor and signed false certifications in the company’s filings, the SEC said.
The company terminated him in 2015 amid the bribery scandal.
Write to: Samuel Rubenfeld at [email protected]