Insurance brokerage Aon has agreed to pay more than $16 million to settle criminal and civil allegations that it bribed employees of government-owned companies and others in several countries between 1983 and 2007, U.S. authorities said Tuesday.
The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission announced separate agreements with the Chicago company. Aon Corp. is paying $14.5 million in restitution and interest to settle the SEC's civil charges and a $1.76 million criminal fine in an agreement with the Justice Department.
The government accused Aon of violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits bribery of foreign government officials or company executives to secure or retain business. A number of U.S. and foreign companies have been charged with violating the anti-bribery law in recent years.
On its website Aon says it "provides more insurance brokerage, reinsurance brokerage and risk management services than any other company in the world." It has 59,000 employees in over 120 countries.
The criminal fine relates to allegations that Aon improperly used training funds for employees of Costa Rica's state-owned insurance company for other purposes. A large portion of the funds went to reimburse officials of the Costa Rican company for tourist travel abroad with their spouses and other uses, the Justice Department said. Because Aon Corp. cooperated with the investigation, it will avoid prosecution, Justice said.
The SEC allegations involve various countries including Egypt, Vietnam, Indonesia, Costa Rica, the United Arab Emirates, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Aon's subsidiaries doled out more than $3.6 million in improper payments to get or retain insurance business in those countries, and the company made more than $11.4 million in profits as a result, the SEC said in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington.
Kara Brockmeyer, the head of the SEC enforcement division's unit that deals with foreign bribery cases, said the agency's case against Aon wasn't based on "an isolated instance of misconduct."
"Aon's subsidiaries repeatedly engaged in misconduct around the world," Brockmeyer said in a statement. "Maintaining accurate books and records, and adequate internal-controls systems are essential tools in detecting and preventing foreign bribery."
Aon neither admitted nor denied the civil allegations under the SEC settlement. It agreed to avoid future violations of securities laws.
The Justice Department said Aon admitted that its British subsidiary's accounting records related to the Costa Rican training funds didn't accurately show the real purposes of the funds. Aon also admitted in its agreement with the department that it failed to maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls related to its sales abroad.
Aon agreed to comply with record keeping and internal control standards.
In a statement, Aon said that since it began an internal review in 2007, it "has put in place a comprehensive, global and robust anti-corruption program designed to prevent and detect improper conduct."
Greg Case, Aon president and CEO, said the company "has invested a significant amount of time and resources in anti-corruption compliance and transparency, to greatly enhance our controls and processes."