Alstom Logo
Alstom shares fell on 27 March on the risk of fine in a US graft probe. Reuters

Troubled French engineering conglomerate Alstom saw its shares tank on news that it could face a hefty fine from the US Justice Department, following a bribery investigation that has spread across Asia.

Alstom's stock finished 4.9% lower on 27 March, making it one of the biggest losers in the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index. The stock has foundered by some 40% over the past 12 months on concerns over the company's cash flow.

The US Justice Department has evidence that a former Alstom executive tried to bribe officials to bag power projects in Indonesia, India and China, according to media reports.

Two executives of Alstom's US subsidiary in Connecticut have already pleaded guilty and admitted to paying bribes on behalf of the company, in connection with a project on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

The investigation could result in penalties worth several hundred millions of dollars, legal experts have said.

Penalties in such cases are typically based on the profits the firm allegedly obtained through its behaviour. The size of the fine will be multiplied depending on the extent of iniquity across the company, or if senior management approved it. Whether the firm fully cooperates with the investigation, will also be a factor.

...the DOJ has not identified any on-going shortcomings with the scope, level, or sincerity of the company's effort.
- Alstom lawyer Robert Luskin

Alstom is cooperating with the investigation, it said.

A spokesman for the Justice Department (DOJ) refused to comment.

"In the course of our regular consultations, the DOJ has not identified any on-going shortcomings with the scope, level, or sincerity of the company's effort," Alstom lawyer Robert Luskin said in a statement.

"The discussions with the DOJ have not evolved to the point of negotiating a potential resolution of any claims. Any effort to estimate the size of any possible fine is sheer speculation, as would be any comparison with other cases that have recently been resolved," Luskin added.

'Special Attention'

The US probe into Alstom originally focused on a $118m contract to provide services at a power plant in Sumatra. The contract, known as the Tarahan project and completed in 2007, was part of a joint venture between Alstom and Japanese trading firm Marubeni.

While examining the Sumatra deal, the Justice Department found proof of probable bribery in 11 other energy projects in Indonesia, India and China.

Court papers filed by the US government cite entertainment expenses and emails from Alstom employees, referring to "special attention" and fees to be paid to local officials to help secure contracts.

Bad Shape

Hit by a drop in orders for power equipment, Alstom announced 1,300 job cuts in 2013 and decided to sell assets to raise cash, including a stake in its transport business that makes France's high-speed TGV trains.

Last week, Japan's Marubeni pleaded guilty to paying bribes to secure the Tarahan project and was fined $88m.

Alstom's larger rival Siemens agreed to pay $800m to the US Justice Department in 2008 to settle a global graft scandal.