India's bribery issues upsets U.S
Tuesday, 27 March 2007, 05:00 Hrs | 1 Comments
Washington: With companies from emerging markets such as India and China ranked among the worst bribe payers, American companies have complained that a government drive against corporate bribery puts them at a disadvantage. But US officials are not buying their argument that the drive that has in recent days involved both domestic and foreign firms puts them at a disadvantage as many of their overseas competitors continue to pay bribes without fear of serious prosecution. As "our foreign law enforcement partners see our commitment to combating corruption around the world and to enforcing our own anti-corruption laws, it is more likely that they will prosecute corruption in their own countries," according to assistant attorney general Alice Fisher. In the last six months, US Justice Department has brought several new cases under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a 1977 law that prohibits companies doing business in the United States from paying bribes to officials in other countries to obtain or retain business. It recently levied substantial fines against a US company for bribing South Korean and Chinese officials, a Norwegian company for bribing Iranian officials and a British company for paying off Nigerian officials. Although US enforcement efforts principally are focused on US companies, the FCPA allows the government to prosecute foreign companies that issue stock on US capital markets. "If you come to the United States and seek access to our capital markets, we expect you to play by the same rules our own companies do," says Benjamin Longlet, senior counsel to the assistant attorney general in Justice's criminal division. In the wake of widely publicized corporate fraud scandals, the department has increased its focus on enforcing the FCPA substantially. Since 2001, it has obtained plea agreements or deferred prosecution agreements from a number of corporations and individuals, including the Monsanto Company, the Micrus Endovascular Company, Titan Corporation, Statoil, Schnitzer Steel Industries Inc. and others, Longlet said. "We think we are doing our share and making a real, meaningful impact on this problem," he said. Longlet said the vigorous enforcement of the FCPA actually benefits US businesses because it helps to preserve the integrity of US capital markets and the confidence of investors. "If investors know that US companies' profits aren't a house of cards built on corruption, they will be more likely to invest their money in US markets," Longlet said. "And that's good for all businesses." But two-thirds of the 31 countries that signed the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials have had little or no enforcement of related bribery laws since 1999, according to a Transparency International (TI) 2006 report. The report said none of the countries came even close to the US record of 55 investigations and 50 prosecutions between 2005 and 2006. TI an international anti-corruption research group, ranks companies from India, China and Russia among the worst in its 2006 Bribe Payers Index. US officials suggest rampant corruption in many developing countries, coupled with weak enforcement of anti-bribery laws in many developed nations, has produced a significant number of tainted deals. They estimate that between April 2004 and May 2005, more than 53 contracts worth around $15 billion available for competitive bidding by foreign companies may have been affected by bribery.