The SEC had charged BHP Billiton with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) when it sponsored the attendance of foreign government officials at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
"BHP Billiton invited 176 government officials and employees of state-owned enterprises to attend the Games at the company’s expense, and ultimately paid for 60 such guests as well as some spouses and others who attended along with them," the SEC said in a statement about the fine.
The guests were primarily from countries in Africa and Asia, the SEC said and they were given hospitality packages including event tickets, luxury hotel accommodations, and sightseeing excursions valued at $12,000 to $16,000 per package.
"BHP Billiton footed the bill for foreign government officials to attend the Olympics while they were in a position to help the company with its business or regulatory endeavours,” said Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s enforcement division.
"BHP Billiton recognised that inviting government officials to the Olympics created a heightened risk of violating anti-corruption laws, yet the company failed to implement sufficient internal controls to address that heightened risk," Ceresney said.
BHP Billiton was a sponsor of the games, and supplied the materials for its gold, silver and bronze medals.
"While [we] made efforts at the time to address the risks related to inviting government officials to the Olympics, the controls [we] relied upon were insufficient to satisfy the civil books and records and internal accounting controls requirements of the US statute," BHP Billiton said in a statement.
The company has now created an independent compliance function that will decide whether to approve any offer of hospitality of this kind to a government official. Under the SEC order, BHP Billiton will self-report on its compliance program for twelve months, it said.