Albemarle resolves multiple international bribery investigations

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(The Center Square) – The Charlotte-based Albemarle Corp., recent recipient of $239.7 million in grants from the Biden administration, agreed last week to pay $218 million to resolve multiple international bribery investigations.

Albermarle is resolving investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Security and Exchange Commission into violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina said Friday.

The investigations stem from the company’s participation in schemes to bribe government officials in Vietnam, Indonesia and India between 2009 and 2017 through third-party sales agents and subsidiary employees. The motivation was to obtain and retain chemical catalyst business with state-owned oil refineries, according to the Justice Department.

“Albemarle earned nearly $100 million by participating in schemes to pay bribes to government officials in multiple countries,” Nicole Argentieri, acting assistant attorney general for the department’s criminal division said in a prepared statement.

Argentieri said the resolution “demonstrates the real benefits that companies can receive if they self-disclose misconduct, substantially cooperate, and extensively remediate.”

The Justice Department reduced the applicable fine range by 45% based on numerous factors, including Albemarle alerting investigators, providing documentation, terminating 11 of 16 employees involved, and improving anti-corruption compliance.

The agreement comes about two weeks after the Department of Defense awarded Albemarle, the world’s largest producer of lithium, a $90 million grant to expand domestic production of the raw mineral used to manufacture electric vehicle batteries. The money will go toward reopening a Kings Mountain lithium mine shuttered since 1988, estimated capable of supporting the production of 1.2 million electric vehicles annually for 30 years.

The $90 million grant was the second from the Biden administration, following another $149.7 million last year for a North Carolina processing facility.

Anthony Di Stasio, director of the Department of Defense’s Manufacturing Capability Expansion and Investment Prioritization office, said in a September statement the award “directly supports President Biden’s April 2022 Presidential Determination for Critical Materials in Large-Capacity Batteries.”

That determination aims to boost domestic supply chains for minerals used in batteries, supporting the Biden administration’s goal of electric vehicles comprising half of all new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. by 2030. Gov. Roy Cooper also set a North Carolina goal of 1.25 million electric vehicle registrations by 2030.

Albemarle, which acquired the Kings Mountain site in 2015, plans to use the federal funding to purchase mining equipment to start operations there “as early as 2026,” according to a release.

The mine is one of the few known hard rock lithium deposits in the U.S. and was operational between 1938 and 1988. It closed amid the discovery of less expensive lithium sources in South America.

Reopening at the site, currently a pit of water, has drawn some pushback from residents of the Charlotte suburb of 11,000, though local officials have countered by pointing to hundreds of jobs that will likely follow the reopening.

With Albemarle’s community engagement ongoing, the company is scheduled to offer a public tours of the Kings Mountain mine site on Oct. 10, 18 and 19, according to the company’s website.

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