Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On the take. On the make.

Several excellent recent reports by The Economist on corporate corruption (graphic above from a previous item), most recently the full skinny on Siemens:
On Monday December 15th Siemens pleaded guilty to charges of bribery and corruption and agreed to pay fines of $800m in America and €395m ($555m) in Germany, in addition to an earlier fine of €201m.

There is something almost touching about the candour and trust with which Siemens went about a very dirty business. Take the three “cash desks” it set up in its offices, to which employees could bring empty suitcases to be filled with cash. As much as a €1m ($1.4m) could be withdrawn at a time to win contracts for its telecoms-equipment division, according to America’s Department of Justice (DoJ).

This article cites Mark Pieth, chairman of the working group on bribery at the OECD, who:

thinks about half of the 30 biggest German and French companies are being investigated or prosecuted for bribing foreign officials.

The numbers go off any scale of reason:
Some $805m was handed over in bribes to foreign officials to help Siemens win contracts over about six years after the firm’s American listing, according to the DoJ. And the brazenness of the firm’s bribe-paying points to a rotten corporate culture pervasive across Germany at the time. “The great majority of companies operating in the international market were well aware that German law—and the law of most OECD countries—allowed foreign bribery and even subsidised this,” says Peter Eigen, the founder of Transparency International, an anti-corruption campaigning group.
The Economist concludes that Europe needs to up its rules to (recently-discovered) US standards.

Who could argue with that?

Well, Europe learned its lesson from the masters: Lockheed got away with it for a quarter of a century, in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and Japan. The company seems to have controlled a fair number of right-wing politicians and the odd Royal. Salt Lake City bought the 2002 Winter Olympics with $1M to two dozen IOC officials. For twelve years DaimlerChrysler ran slush funds in Africa, Asia and east Europe. Enron kept it domestic, bribing officials to fabricate tax documents. Last year, Baker Hughes was bribing the officials of Kazakhoil.

Not just the giving either: Halliburton executives were rumbled taking bribes in Kuwait. American Honda executives took kick-backs for favours given.

And so on.

Shall we count the number of US officials caught on the take? Randy “Duke” Cunningham took $2.4M before he went down. Jack Abramoff seemed to own two, three or four Congressmen (and Bush Administration officials who conspired to block the cases coming to Court) in the name of promoting betting on Indian reservations. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska is in denial over his convictions for not declaring "gifts". Earlier this month, William J. Jefferson lost one of the safest Democratic districts because of the miasma of corruption that clings to him.

And so on.

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