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Tobacco Companies Implicated in Bribery Scandal

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Two Virginia tobacco companies are implicated in overseas bribery. A Brazilian subsidiary of Richmond-based Universal Corp. has pleaded guilty to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for actions ending in 2005, and will pay a $4.4 million fine.

Universal has some powerful Richmond connections. Its board of directors includes former Virginia Commonwealth University President Eugene Trani and businessman and gubernatorial economic adviser Robert C. Sledd. Sledd acts as a senior economic adviser to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and Trani is now a VCU professor and heads a new think tank focused on improving the Richmond region.

George C. Freeman III, Universal's chairman, president and chief executive, says in a news release that the payments in question were “contrary to the policies and standards” of his company and its subsidiaries.

In a separate instance, a former manager and tobacco seller for Danville-based Dimon also pleaded guilty to paying $3.1 million in bribes to officials of the former Soviet Republic of Krygyztan.

The seller, Bobby Jay Elkin of Washington, N.C., pleaded guilty to delivering cash to the head of the Kyrgz agency that manages state-owned tobacco processing facilities from 1996 to 2004. He was charged under the federal act as well.

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