The United States says seven companies have agreed to pay the U.S. government $236 million in penalties to settle bribery charges.

The firms include oil giant Royal Dutch Shell of Britain and the Netherlands and Panalpina World Transport of Switzerland.

The Security and Exchange Commission accused the companies of paying customs officials in dozens of counties, including Nigeria, Russia, Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela, millions of dollars in exchange for special treatment on fees and taxes owed.

The companies were also accused of paying bribes for bogus documents to allow them to bring oil drilling equipment into countries.

The SEC said Thursday the cases against the international and U.S. companies mark the beginning of its crackdown on companies paying bribes overseas to do business.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.