Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Hallibuton Offers $559m to Settle Corruption Charges
Halliburton is the latest in a string of Western companies settling charges or paying fines in connection with bribing foreign officials to get contracts. The company has agreed to pay $559 million to the U.S. to settle charges that one of its former units, Kellog, Brown and Root, bribed Nigerian officials during the construction of a gas plant, according to media reports.
The case under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act against Kellogg, Brown & Root engineering unit stems from the construction of a giant liquefied natural gas plant on the Nigerian coast near Port Harcourt from 1996 through the mid-2000s. KBR was part of a consortium that built the facility, which at the time was the largest industrial investment ever made in Africa. Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton during this period. Mr. Cheney is not named in the Justice Department charges and there is no evidence Mr. Cheney knew of the bribes.
The $559m payment would be the largest paid by a U.S. company in a bribery investigation, eclipsing the previous record $44 million fine in 2007 against U.S. oil-field services firm Baker Hughes Inc. for improper payments in Kazakhstan. In December, German industrial conglomerate Siemens AG agreed to pay $800 million in U.S. fines to settle bribery investigations involving alleged payments to government officials around the world to win infrastructure contracts. As part of the settlement, Siemens didn't admit to bribery allegations but it admitted to having had inadequate controls and keeping improper accounts.
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence of widespread corruption in many parts of the world. The rarity of the formal charges or convictions indicates that the behavior of large multinationals in their dealings with corrupt politicians and officials in many Asian and African countries has received only scant attention. There have been serious allegations and at least preliminary evidence to suggest that illegal payments were made to Bhutto-Zardari controlled fronts by companies in France, Switzerland and Poland. There was some action pursued in Switzerland at the request of Pakistani Government under Pervez Musharraf. However, France and Poland have not pursued the charges of corruption involving their companies in Pakistan. The only explanation being offered is that foreign corruption laws did not exist in France prior to the year 2000.
There are currently laws on the books in the West such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in the United States. Almost all ethics classes taught in the Western management schools and company training courses cover this topic. However, the question is whether these laws are really enforced and how often are the companies held accountable? Or do they simply rely on the foreign governments to report misbehavior? It would be a fantasy to expect the officials and politicians on the receiving end to report incidents of bribery as they are the main beneficiaries. But I think the German, French, US, British and other governments of developed nations who claim higher moral positions should be cracking down on these reprehensible practices just to enforce their own laws and live up to their own higher standards. While it may be argued and it is like putting the shoe on the wrong foot, I see it as the only hope we have of containing such widespread corruption in developing nations that is robbing their people blind.
Bhutto Convicted in Switzerland
Corruption in Pakistan
Transparency International Survey 2007
Is Siemens Guilty?
Zardari Corruption Probe