You can't keep up with the activities at Chevron (NYSE:CVX) these days without a well-worn scorecard. In its most recent bit of news, the company has agreed to pay $30 million relating to charges that, earlier in the decade, it paid kickbacks to the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein.

In agreeing to its towel-tossing settlement, Chevron has promised to pay $20 million to the U.S. Attorney's office, $5 million to the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, $2 million to the Treasury Department, and $3 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company will thereby avoid facing criminal charges but could still face prosecution for criminal tax violations.

The charges against Chevron, which were brought under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, involved the possibility that, in 2001 and 2002, the company paid surcharges to Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization in connection with oil obtained under the United Nations-sponsored oil-for-food program. Chevron has neither confirmed nor denied the allegations. Indeed, it said one of its traders, who is no longer with the company, either knew or should have known about the alleged kickbacks.

Chevron thus joins a disparate group of companies, including oil and gas producer El Paso (NYSE:EP), manufacturer Textron (NYSE:TXT), industrial company Ingersoll-Rand (NYSE:IR), and York International Corp., that have settled SEC-initiated corruption charges involving possible kickbacks to the Iraqi government. (York was acquired by Johnson Controls (NYSE:JCI) two years ago.) Chevron's $30 million settlement is the largest amount paid by any of the companies.

Chevron's current overseas involvement runs from fending off criticism of its environmental record in Kazakhstan, to developing a sour-gas field in China's Sichuan province, and on to a big new natural gas project in Australia.

But as ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) has learned, questing after and developing oil and natural gas overseas can have its drawbacks. The largest publicly held producer is, for instance, involved in a lawsuit claiming human rights violations allegedly committed by Indonesian troops while they were guarding an Exxon natural gas facility in Aceh province.

So, while the need to operate in a variety of international locations expands almost daily for the West's big energy producers, that need clearly comes with baggage. It's one of several handfuls of reasons that I continue to urge my Foolish friends to approach the energy portion of their investment portfolios with tender loving care.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool has a thoroughly developed disclosure policy.