Schlumberger Oil Pump
Oil-field services giant Schlumberger Ltd. this week agreed to pay nearly $233 million in criminal penalties for violating U.S. sanctions in Iran and Sudan. Reuters

Texas energy giant Schlumberger Ltd. has agreed to pay a steep penalty for violating U.S. sanctions in Iran and Sudan. The world’s largest oil-field services company will pay $232.7 million as part of a plea agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The deal caps a six-year federal probe into the Houston-based company’s activities. U.S. justice and trade officials in recent years have begun cracking down on companies that do business with countries the U.S. deems off limits. Sanctions against Iran aim to curb that nation’s nuclear program, while Sudan is under sanctions related to the government’s abysmal human rights record.

Schlumberger allegedly ran illegal businesses in Iran and Sudan and “took steps to disguise those business dealings” for several years, the Justice Department announced late Wednesday. The oil company wound down its business in Iran in mid-2013 and left Sudan before the plea deal, which is contingent on the court’s approval.

Under the agreement, the subsidiary Schlumberger Oilfield Holdings Ltd. will pay a $155.1 million criminal fine -- the largest such penalty ever imposed for a U.S. sanctions violation. The company will also forfeit $77.6 million in illegally obtained profits and be subject to a three-year period of corporate probation, according to the Justice Department.

“This is a landmark case that puts global corporations on notice that they must respect our trade laws when on American soil,” U.S. attorney Ronald Machen Jr. said in a statement. “Even if you don’t directly ship goods from the United States to sanctioned countries, you violate our laws when you facilitate trade with those countries from a U.S.-based office building.”

Eric Hirschhorn, a U.S. Commerce Department under secretary, said Schlumberger’s criminal guilty plea demonstrates the department’s “commitment to aggressively prosecute multinational corporations for violations involving embargoed destinations. We will continue to pursue violators wherever they are located and whatever the size.”

A spokesman for Schlumberger said the company has “made appropriate enhancements to address the issues discovered through the investigation” and said that Schlumberger is “satisfied that this matter is finally resolved,” the Wall Street Journal reported.