Friday, February 13, 2009

Why no criminal prosecution when companies bribe?

I've been railing against bribe takers and bribe givers in public corruption cases on this blog for some time now; we've even seen Texas Sheriffs sent to jail and commissary vendors prosecuted in state court over the practice. But after learning from Lindsay Beyerstein about federal "deferred prosecution agreements" for corporate wrongdoers, I'm now wondering why companies implicated in federal bribery cases don't also face criminal prosecution?

The latest corporate crook caught red-handed in a bribery scandal is one of Houston's most prominent companies. According to Voice of America:
A major US engineering and military contractor has agreed to pay more than $500-million in penalties and fees to settle bribery allegations against one of its subsidiaries that operates in Nigeria. Halliburton Company, which until 2007 controlled the Houston, Texas-based KBR (also known as Kellogg, Brown, and Root), has agreed to pay $382-million of a $402-million fine and $177-million in fees incurred through US federal charges lodged against KBR by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). KBR will pay $20 million.
The SEC alleges that KBR disbursed millions of dollars in bribes to Nigerian officials to win contracts for building a $6-billion gas liquefaction plant on Nigeria’s Bonny Island. ...
The alleged bribes took place over a decade, between 1994 and 2004. During part of that time, KBR’s parent company, Halliburton was headed by Dick Cheney, who stepped down as CEO in 2000 to become Vice President of the United States.
It's fine and proper for the company to pay fines to the SEC, but these decisions were made by individual human beings, not just some faceless corporation. Shouldn't somebody be headed to the hoosgow over this?
RELATED: Oklahoma insurance commissioner convicted of bribery.

19 comments:

ZMan! said...

Not sure if you have seen this. This is just disgusting, and these judges should get a lot more than 7 years.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/13/us/13judge.html?_r=2&emc=eta1

Anonymous said...

Yes, there should be a certain ex-vice president sitting in the local pokey, Grits, but who's about to eat one of their own?

How often have we seen the shady dealings dismissed with simple fines, although the numbers in this case look large. Let's face it, how many BILLIONS did they make off of this deal? I have always carried the belief that some of these large global companies factor such things into the bottom line of the deal..

Mack T. Harrison said...

It looks like the Feds are just going after the corporation itself, and not the individuals working for it. It may be too hard to prove individual wrongdoing, but perhaps they can show a pattern of wrongful behavior by the company. And maybe the prosecutors are just biding their time before going after the individuals--cutting deals with some small fry to reel in the big fish.

A $400 million fine is nothing to sneeze at. Even if the individuals don't face criminal charges, the people in charge will face pressure from stockholders and the board of directors. It's some accountability, at least.

Soronel Haetir said...

I have a completely different take on such things, foreign corruption should not be a US crime. Let the Nigerians prosecute if they are so inclined.

Anonymous said...

Not sure there's even jurisdiction if the bribes occurred in Nigeria. There may be wire some sort of treasury violation but these are soft criminal statutes that usually carry heft fines.

Then there's who to charge. If employee A was directed by B who was directed by C and so on; accountability and intent went out the window.

As for a conspiracy, I don't think that an act in this case would support the overall scheme in that a clerk wiring 5K to an official in Nigeria hardly knows her job is helping the overall scheme succeed.

My analysis of this is Good Job on the part of DOJ. I'd rather have the 20 million in fines and not pay for the expenses of a very expensive prosecution and still get 20 million or even nothing.

Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker here:

To ZMan--yes, this is disgusting. These judges should have to spend their 7 years in a max unit somewhere. They'll be in their 60s when (if) they get out, disbarred and stripped of their retirement. So they are paying a pretty heavy price.

To Anonymous 8:33, I also had a flashback to our more recent veep when I read of the involvement of Halliburton and KBR.

Anonymous said...

Soronel Haetir, are you so blind, ignorant and pathetic that you do not believe that this gang of crooks did not do exactly the same thing in the US.

2 + 2 is 4. Not 1, as you believe.

Soronel Haetir said...

anonymous,

Given that the conduct being fined was ostensibly in Nigeria, or at least Nigerian officials, I don't see it being particularly relevant whether they also bribed US officials. If they did then go after the companies/people for that conduct. I see no reason that bribing an official of another country should be illegal under US law.

This would include most of what I've seen against Rep. Jeffersonof La. as well.

Even if the bribes were actually delivered on US soil I don't have a problem with it. US law should only be concerned with the bribing of US officials.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That's quite a nationalist streak you've got going there, Soronel!

Anonymous said...

"Even if the bribes were actually delivered on US soil I don't have a problem with it. US law should only be concerned with the bribing of US officials."

Right. Because bribing public officials in other countries has no effect on who is awarded contracts and based on what merits, including competency, ethics, efficiency, and quality of services rendered. And this in turn has no effect on stockholders and employees of honest companies who don't engage in under the table practices.

dirty harry said...

Grits said:
"That's quite a nationalist streak you've got going there, Soronel!"

I tend to agree with him. I would much rather see the Fed spend all that time and effort prosecuting crimes occurring in THIS country. But, then again, that would mean that a few high-ranking politicians on the senate banking committee, and certain people associated with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac might have to go to jail. We certainly couldn't have that.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

In case you missed it, dirty, Houston IS in this country!

And since we're talking about Halliburton, I'm sure it's true that it "would mean that a few high-ranking politicians" and "certain people associated with" important federal institutions could be implicated. So why not go after them?

Or perhaps that question should be directed to Eric Holder ... perhaps by Patrick Leahy.

dirty harry said...

Grits said:
"In case you missed it, dirty, Houston IS in this country!"

I was unaware that Nigeria was part of the United States. Nigeria was where the crimes supposedly took place.

As I said before, I have no interest in pursuing criminal prosecution for porported acts committed in other countries when we have an unending circus of crimes perpetrated upon the American poeple here. This may be a hard concept to grasp, but I believe the well-being of the American taxpayer comes first.

When I see the likes of Frank Raines, Barney Frank, and Chris Dodd take a perp walk, then I'll beleive the DOJ has the best interests of the American public at heart. At this point, these theives stole more from myself and my children than they could ever repay.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sounds to me, dirty, like you only want to pursue charges that might implicate Democrats and not Republicans.

Soronel Haetir said...

Grits,

If the R's were smart enough to only bribe people from other countries then yes. However I'm sure plenty from both sides could be found.

One other thing I will note that also leads me to the conclusion that the Nigerians should handle this if they so desire, I find the person who accepts a bribe to be far more culpable than the person offering. The person offering is far more likely to have their personal and employement (for those who are not self employed) interests aligned.

As for doing a disservice to the shareholders, if you are going to do business in Nigeria at all, it is likely doing a disservice to your shareholders if you were to refuse to participate in the official bribery. A lot like business in Il. come to think of it.

Anonymous said...

"As I said before, I have no interest in pursuing criminal prosecution for porported acts committed in other countries when we have an unending circus of crimes perpetrated upon the American poeple here. This may be a hard concept to grasp, but I believe the well-being of the American taxpayer comes first."

You don't think that crimes perpetrated by US corps or the US gov. for that matter don't have any effect on the well-being on the American taxpayer?

You must not have been paying attention to recent history. No wonder people in other countries hate us so much.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Do you suppose the United States expects Mexico to pursue drug cartels who bribe US law enforcement officials? If Mexico declared, "That's your problem, not ours," what do you think would have been GWB's response?

Anonymous said...

The problem is that these decisions are MADE in the US.. some lackey in Africa did not make the ultimate decision to bribe government officials in Nigeria. And don't we have laws in affect currently that makes illegal such practices?

Companies that are US owned and based REPRESENT the people of the US every time they go to another country. So the ones saying no big deal, is it OK for you to be known as crooked?

Soronel Haetir said...

Grits,

I already see the cartle issue as our problem and that we shouldn't expect much out of the Mexican government on that front. It's both lucerative for those honest enough to stay bought and scary enough for those that refuse as to make any assistance suspect from the beginning.

And so long as the violence is kept south of the border it doesn't even bother me that much. Policing Mexico should not be a task the US government takes on. Though I would love to see more rendition efforts made to grab Mexican citizens wanted in US courts.

If it sounds like I have a dim view on international norms, you would be right. International norms should be followed only so long as they align with national interest.