You are hereWashington Post: Justice Department, SEC cracking down on U.S. companies engaging in bribery abroad

Washington Post: Justice Department, SEC cracking down on U.S. companies engaging in bribery abroad


March 24, 2011- To win computer business with the South Korean government, IBM allegedly delivered cash bribes in shopping bags.

In pursuit of Ni­ger­ian construction contracts, ­­Halliburton and its international business partners allegedly routed illicit payments through bank accounts in Switzerland and Monaco.

And a middleman for a middleman of the Italian energy company ENI allegedly made repeated trips to a Ni­ger­ian hotel room and handed over briefcases containing millions of dollars in U.S. currency to a government official. But paying the balance of the alleged $5 million bribe in the local currency was more problematic — the local bills were so bulky that the bagman allegedly had to deliver them by the carload.

These alleged schemes have come to light as part of an escalating effort by U.S. law enforcement officials against companies that engage in bribery abroad. Just last week, federal authorities announced they had charged IBM with corruptly pursuing contracts in Asia.

In recent years, the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission have filed an increasing number of foreign corruption cases, charging companies such as Tyson Foods, General Electric, Alcatel-Lucent and Daimler, the maker of Mercedes-Benz cars and the former parent of Chrysler.

The cases reach from Latin America to Africa, Asia and the Middle East, involving contracts worth billions of dollars. Together, they suggest that illicit payments often tip the scales of global business — sometimes with the blessing of top corporate executives.

Corruption imposes “an enormous tax” on international business, said Lanny A. Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, referring to the added costs companies must bear. “And because of that tax, jobs are lost” and “honest businesses lose business opportunities,” Breuer said.

Some U.S. companies have said that the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) of 1977 holds them to a higher standard than their overseas competitors — and that it can carry a price.

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