Helmerich & Payne Inc. of Tulsa, Okla., agreed in July to pay $1.38 million in fines to the Justice Department and the SEC over claims of more than $170,000 in improper payments to customs officials in Venezuela and Argentina. Helmerich & Payne also agreed to review its internal controls and report to the government periodically over two years. The U.S. government said Helmerich & Payne officials made the payments from at least 2003 through 2008 to import and export goods that were not within regulations and to avoid higher taxes on goods.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has increased state control of the country's oil industry, which funds nearly half his government's budget, and has nationalized oil projects previously managed by private companies under contract. Yet PDVSA has also continued to contract with oil service companies, some of them based in the U.S., as it seeks expertise and investment from multinationals to develop its heavy crude. The OPEC nation has long had corruption problems. Last year, the organization Transparency International ranked Venezuela near the bottom of its list of 180 nations and territories, based on surveys of experts and businesspeople about corruption. Venezuela came in at 162.
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