Former Alcatel Exec Sentenced to Jail on Bribery Charges

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A former executive with French telecom equipment supplier Alcatel has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for a US$2.5 million bribery scheme in an attempt to win a mobile telephone contract from the government of Costa Rica, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

During Tuesday's sentencing, Christian Sapsizian, 62, was also ordered by Judge Patricia Seitz of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami to forfeit $261,500.

Sapsizian, a French citizen, pleaded guilty to two counts of violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He was indicted in March 2007. Sapsizian agreed to cooperate with U.S. and foreign law-enforcement officials in an ongoing investigation.

The DOJ called the bribery scheme "elaborate" in a press release.

Until late 2006, when it merged with Lucent, Alcatel was a French company that had its U.S. depository receipts traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Sapsizian worked for Alcatel or one of its subsidiaries for more than 20 years, and at the time of the bribes, he served as the assistant to the vice president of the Latin American region for Alcatel, now called Alcatel-Lucent.

Between February 2000 and September 2004, Sapsizian conspired with Edgar Valverde Acosta, a Costa Rican citizen who was Alcatel's senior country officer in Costa Rica, and others to make more than $2.5 million in bribe payments to Costa Rican officials to obtain a telecommunications contract with the government-owned mobile carrier, the DOJ said.

The payments were made to a board director for Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE), the state-run telecommunications authority in Costa Rica responsible for awarding all telecommunications contracts. Sapsizian told the court that the ICE official was an adviser to a senior Costa Rican government official and that the payments were shared with that senior official, the DOJ said.

The payments, funneled through one of Alcatel's Costa Rican consulting firms, were intended to encourage the ICE official and the senior government official to exercise their influence to create a bidding process favoring Alcatel's products, the DOJ said. ICE awarded a $149 million contract to Alcatel in August 2001.

The DOJ, with help from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Office of the Attorney General and other officials in Costa Rica, and French law enforcement authorities, continues to investigate the case.

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