Entries in ProPublica (6)
Gaming giant Las Vegas Sands said in an SEC filing last week that an internal investigation found possible FCPA violations.
The pressure these days to comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other anti-corruption laws is coming from several directions at once. Last week we mentioned whistleblower hotlines as one example. But there are other reasons why it's harder than ever for companies to cheat and for bride-taking officials to hide their crimes. Here's a quick look at some of what's happening:
The internet. Hundreds of millions of people now have access to uncensored news, chat boards, social sites, blogs, email and short messaging, podcasts and the like. While plenty of the internet's so-called news is gossip, rumor and opinion, there are also some real scoops. Last year in China, for example, someone found a bag on the subway in Shanghai. In it were expense reports from a trip by 23 local officials who'd spent $94,000 of taxpayer money on a three-week USA "study tour. " The receipts showed that the real itinerary included Hawaiian beaches, a sex show in San Francisco, and casinos in Vegas. The finder published them anonymously, a few at a time, on the internet. As reported (here), the details spread "like wildfire across Chinese cyberspace."
The net isn't just for amateur sleuths. Powerful non-traditional news outlets have appeared online, backed by serious money and seasoned professionals. ProPublica is one of them. It's a privately funded, non-profit, independent newsroom led by Paul Steiger, the former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. Its staff includes some of the best editors and investigative reporters in America. We've featured their work in posts about KBR's Jack Stanley (here) and Siemens (here).
A new virtual newsroom is called The Business of Bribes. It's a ten-week online project from Lowell Bergman and the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, along with PBS' Frontline. We mentioned Lowell Bergman in a 2007 post (here). He's a Pulitzer Prize-winning former producer of CBS' 60 Minutes. His new online project aims to go deeper into the investigation of international bribery -- how corrupt payments are hidden from sight, how public graft helps destabilize the developing world, and what the U.S. and other countries are doing to combat global corruption.
NGOs and public interest groups. They're able to exert enormous pressure on corporations and governments to be more accountable. Transparency International created the annual Corruption Perception Index, a handy measure of how well countries are doing in the fight against sleaze. You see the CPI everywhere now, and TI's message about it is always clear. Here, for example, is what TI said about crooked courts:
It is difficult to overstate the negative impact of a corrupt judiciary: it erodes the ability of the international community to tackle transnational crime and terrorism; it diminishes trade, economic growth and human development; and most importantly, it denies citizens impartial settlement of disputes with neighbors or the authorities. When the latter occurs, corrupt judiciaries fracture and divide communities by keeping alive the sense of injury created by unjust treatment and mediation.Another NGO working to shine the light on corruption is Global Witness. It concentrates on graft linked to the exploitation of natural resources. In 2003, it was co-nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for its work on conflict diamonds. Its latest report, Undue Diligence, names some major banks that it says have been complicit with corrupt regimes (Citigroup, Barclays, HSBC, Deutsche Bank). This is from the introduction of the 116-page report:
Now we are going to go on a journey, to the oil-producing countries of the Gulf of Guinea as well as to Central Asia, to witness the corrosive and devastating effects of banks being willing to do business with corrupt regimes. With each story, the effectiveness of the bank’s ethical standards, compliance with due diligence requirements, and regulatory action will be examined, as far as the available evidence permits. Many of the examples in this report raise serious questions about how well a bank really knew its customer, even if it had been able to tick the regulatory box to say it had done its due diligence; and about whether compliance with the letter of regulations that require identification of the customer is sufficient to prevent banks doing business that contributes to corruption.Brave Officials. Perhaps inspired in part by the openness of the internet and the advocacy of the watchdog groups, younger people in developing countries are rejecting the old ways of bribery of corruption. In Nigeria, for example, Nuhu Ribadu, 49, was exposing government graft until he lost his job last year as head of the country's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. In Kenya, John Githongo, 43, was permanent secretary for ethics and governance in the office of the president until one of his investigations took him too close to the president and his cronies. Githongo combines several modern anti-corruption roles -- journalist, founder and former head of Transparency International's Kenya office, and next-generation government official. We talked about him here. He and Ribadu are both in the U.K. now for their own safety. But it's a sure bet Africa and the world will be hearing more from them.
Add to the above the zeal of the United States, the OECD and others to enforce the anti-corruption laws, and you have a powerful case why companies everywhere should be improving their compliance efforts. Anyone who hasn't yet made it a priority to obey the letter and the spirit of anti-corruption legislation could well end up in tomorrow's spotlight -- for all the wrong reasons.
One of ProPublica's outstanding investigative reporters, T. Christian Miller, wrote the story below (which ProPublica co-published with MSN Money). We reprint it under ProPublica's generous license ("You can republish our articles for free, if you credit us, link to us, and don't edit our material or sell it separately.")
If you have trouble accessing the DOJ and SEC charging documents linked in the story (we did), you can also find them at the bottom of our earlier post here.
Help Us Name Names in Siemens Corruption Scandal
by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica - December 22, 2008 1:05 pm EST
Get ready for the Siemens World Corruption Tour, 2001-2008. Siemens pleaded guilty last week to corruption across the globe, receiving a record-setting fine -- $1.6 billion (which sounds like a lot, but really, it's just 0.3 percent of their revenue during those years.)
In announcing the fine, the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission released formal complaints detailing how Siemens bribed government officials all around the world. (We published a story in Sunday's New York Times profiling the Siemens accountant at the center of the scandal.)
However -- and this is a big "however" if you're into accountability -- they released none of the names of the corrupt bureaucrats that took the cash or the Siemens officials who paid it.
This was done, Justice folks said, to protect the integrity of ongoing investigations and to comply with privacy laws in various countries.
At the hearing prosecutors seemed a bit wistful that they couldn't reveal the names, which were provided to Judge Richard Leon in a sealed file. Lori Weinstein, the dogged prosecutor who pursued the case, said the department could not provide exact names. But, she said, the documents were sprinkled with clues to provide "sufficient clarity" for the court to figure out who was who.
Some identifications are vague -- there are plenty of "government officials." But others are more specific. (Hello, "Wife of the former Nigerian Vice President, a dual U.S.-Nigerian citizen.") ProPublica figures that with the help of readers, we might be able to ID at least some of these folks. Below, you'll find descriptions of the bribees. Send us a name and a link sourcing the information.
To get things started, take the case of the Argentine identity card contract. The SEC's complaint said that Siemens paid bribes to a certain "president of Argentina" who left office in 1999. Not too hard to figure out that one -- Carlos Menem ran the country from 1989 to 1999. Looks like the buck really did stop there.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. As of last count, 16 countries had investigations ongoing into Siemens. Our list below includes only those bribery schemes detailed in the formal complaints by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
E-mail us if you find clues to figure out the other grafters.
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 21
National Identity Card contract (1998-2004)
Contract Amount: $1 billion
Bribe Amount: $40 million
- President of Argentina until 1999 (Carlos Menem)
- Minister of the Interior
- Head of Immigration Control
- Cabinet ministers
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 19
Mobile Phone contract (2004-2006)
Contract Amount: $40.9 million
Bribe Amount: $5.3 million
- Son of then-Prime Minister
- Minister of Posts & Telecommunications
- Director of Procurement for the Bangladesh Telegraph & Telephone Board
- In addition, Siemens Ltd. Bangladesh hired relatives of two BTTB and Ministry of Posts and Telecom officials.
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 14
Metro contracts (2001-2007)
Valencia and Maracaibo metro systems
Contract Amounts: $642 million
Bribe Amount: $16.7 million
- A high-ranking member of the central Venezuela government
- Two prominent Venezuelan attorneys acting on behalf of government officials
- A former Venezuelan defense minister and diplomat
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 17
Power plants (2002-2005)
Contract Amount: $786 million
Bribe Amount: $20 million
- Former director of the Israel Electric Company
- Payments routed through brother-in-law of former CEO of Siemens Israel Ltd.
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 20
Telecommunications projects (2000-2001)
Contract Amount: $130 million
Bribe Amount: At least $4.5 million
- Wife of the former Nigerian Vice President, a dual U.S.-Nigerian citizen who lived in the U.S.
- "likely" the former President of Nigeria
- "likely" the former Vice President of Nigeria
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 22
Hospital equipment sales (2005-2006)
Contract Amount: $6 million
Bribe Amount: $383,000
- Government officials
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 27
Mobile network (2002)
Contract Amount: $35 million
Bribe Amount: $140,000
Note: Siemens did not win the project but agreed to pay 8 percent to 14 percent of project value to Vietnamese government officials
- "likely" Vietnamese Ministry of Defense officials
- Vietel, state-owned mobile phone network
Source: SEC Complaint, p.16
Metro trains and signaling devices contracts (2002-2007)
Contract Amount: $1 billion
Bribe Amount: $22 million
- Government officials
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 18
High voltage lines (2002-2003)
Contract Amount: $838 million
Bribe Amount: $25 million
- Government officials
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 23
Medical equipment sales (2003-2007)
Contract Amount: $295 million
Bribe Amount: $14.4 million
- Deputy Director, Songyuan City Central Hospital, convicted in China and sentenced to 14 years in prison
Source: SEC Complaint, p.24
Hospital equipment sales (1998-2004)
Contract Amount: Unknown
Bribe Amount: $650,000
- Chinese hospital officials
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 25
Traffic control system (2004-2006)
Contract Amount: $27 million
Bribe Amount: $741,419
- Government officials
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 27
Hospital equipment (2000-2007)
Contract Amount: Unknown
Bribe Amount: $55 million
- Russian state-owned hospital officials
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 26
Refinery modernization (2004)
Contract Amount: Unknown
Bribe Amount: $2.6 million
- Senior official of Pemex, state-owned oil company
Source: SEC Complaint, p. 28
Oil for Food program (2000-2003)
Contract Amount: $124 million
Bribe Amount: $1.7 million
- Iraqi Ministry of Electricity officials
- Iraqi Ministry of Oil official
Will readers of the FCPA Blog contribute to this story? Let's see.
* * *
A Siemens / Jefferson Link? Meanwhile, a story in the Dec. 24 edition of Harper's Magazine by Ken Silverstein refers to the earlier joint ProPublica/New York Times story about Siemens, and then says: "Now ProPublica has asked for help identifying some of the alleged recipients of the bribes who are described but not named in the SEC complaint. One of those people appears to be Jennifer Atiku-Abubakar, who is tied to the scandal involving the former Louisiana congressman William Jefferson and is also a donor to the Republican Party. But I want to emphasize that I have no way of knowing whether the charges made in the complaint about her are accurate. . . . According to this Washington Post story, she is the wife of Atiku Abubakar, the very controversial former vice president of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007."
ProPublica is a privately-funded, non-profit, independent newsroom located in Manhattan. It's led by Paul Steiger, the former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, and its staff includes some of the best editors and reporters in the business. Its mission is to save investigative journalism, which is going the way of the dodo in commercial newrooms across America.
One story ProPublica is now chasing is the guilty plea a few days ago by Albert "Jack" Stanley, the former chairman and CEO of KBR. He admitted violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by helping arrange and hide more than $182 million in illegal payments to Nigerian government officials. When news about the plea broke, we knew right away the story would be too big for blogs or even most traditional news organizations. The scale of the bribery is enormous, the companies involved are powerhouses, and the cast of characters is daunting. But it's the most important FCPA story around, and maybe the most important one ever. So it needs some special handling.
Enter ProPublica. Its first look at the Stanley plea appeared yesterday, in an article written by T. Christian Miller. He and four others reported the story, including the legendary Lowell Bergman, who's no stranger to the FCPA. This story appeared first in MSN Money, and then on ProPublica's site under what's called a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. That means we can republish it with attribution to ProPublica and without any changes.
While this post exceeds our typical word count, we doubt any readers will object.
A former Halliburton exec has pleaded guilty to being in cahoots with crooked foreign officials. He's now helping US investigators, and a much wider crackdown is expected to unfold.
By ProPublica and PBS' "Frontline"
In the world of Big Oil, Albert "Jack" Stanley was legendary for winning billion-dollar contracts in Third World countries as the Halliburton executive who knew all the secrets of deals in places like Malaysia, Egypt and Yemen.
In the wake of his admission in a guilty plea last week that he had resorted to bribes, kickbacks and high-level corruption to secure deals in Nigeria, however, Stanley now lies at the center of a widening scandal in the oil industry that has implications for corporations and governments across the globe.
Stanley's case is the first in what federal officials believe will be a string of indictments in coming months against U.S. corporate executives who have participated in bribing foreign officials in recent years.
By agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors, Stanley, who ran KBR when it was a subsidiary to Halliburton, promises to become a hammer for federal investigators seeking to crack open additional cases under a 30-year-old statute designed to halt overseas corporate corruption. About 80 cases involving major corporations accused of overseas bribery were under investigation as of last year, a high-level Justice Department official said.
In addition, Stanley's cooperation may provide a new tool for encouraging industrial countries in Europe and Asia to get more serious about enforcing anti-bribery laws against corporations based there. The $182 million in bribes were allegedly paid not just by Halliburton but by its partners, an international consortium of engineering companies from France, Italy and Japan. The United Kingdom has jurisdiction, too, because much of the bribery scheme was, according to court documents, hatched in London, where Stanley maintained a sumptuous home.
"We are very pleased to see that there has been an uptick in enforcement not only in the U.S. but in other countries as well,'' said Patrick McCormick, a spokesman for Transparency International-USA, an anti-corruption group funded by donations from government development agencies and private businesses and foundations. "We are hoping that (this case) is a sign of things to come."
A nightmare unfolding
The intensifying level of this government effort, pushed by a Republican administration normally friendly to business, cuts two ways for American business executives.
For those who may have been involved in bribery to secure construction contracts or equipment sales in developing countries around the world, it represents a nightmare.
The active involvement of the FBI is particularly worrisome to such people. In contrast to white-collar investigations handled by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, the FBI is believed to be prepared to use techniques more familiar to investigations of organized crime, including wiretapping and undercover agents.
Stanley's high profile and punishment -- he faces a potential seven-year sentence, the longest in the history of the federal statute outlawing the bribing of foreign officials -- also signal the federal government's willingness to seek long prison terms rather than fines and court injunctions.
For those who fret that they have been losing out to foreign competitors in jurisdictions less likely to prosecute bribery, it offers hope that the playing field will soon be leveled.
Stanley has already acknowledged paying bribes to unnamed senior Nigerian officials, although reports have identified the primary recipient as Nigeria’s late president, Sani Abacha. Stanley also has admitted receiving kickbacks of $10.8 million from contracts that Halliburton and predecessor companies signed with governments in Nigeria, Malaysia, Egypt and Yemen. Government officials in those countries, with the exception of Abacha, have not yet been implicated, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
Stanley's testimony may also pose concerns for Vice President Dick Cheney, who ran Halliburton between 1995 and 2000, when Stanley was appointed as KBR's chief executive officer. Cheney has consistently denied wrongdoing.
Law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation said that in previous interviews, Stanley repeatedly said that then-CEO Cheney had no knowledge of the bribes. At the time, however, Stanley was not a cooperating witness, a stance that changed in June when he was confronted with evidence of his involvement in the bribery scheme.
The vice president's office declined to comment, citing the continuing litigation.
Larry Veselka, Stanley's lawyer, said his client will cooperate fully in any investigation. A judge will determine Stanley's final sentence depending on his compliance with the plea agreement.
"He's going to cooperate with wherever they want to go and whatever they want him to do,'' Veselka said Thursday.
When oil mixes with greed
Stanley's rise and fall, detailed in U.S. and leaked French court documents, show what can happen when corporate greed mixes with the autocratic governments that control valuable natural resources such as oil and copper in lawless corners of the globe.
Now 65, Stanley spent nearly his entire career in the oil business, a globe-trotting high-level roustabout who made a specialty of dealing with governments in resource-rich, accountability-poor countries. He owned a million-dollar home in Texas and a residence in one of London's swankest neighborhoods -- a property that he will now have to sell under his plea agreement.
A fearsome competitor, Stanley had a reputation as a hard drinker. At his hearing in Texas, Stanley held himself up by gripping the podium, and he looked frail. He appeared to wince at references to alcoholism as a mitigating factor for his actions and to statements by the government prosecutor William Stuckwisch, who characterized Stanley's behavior as "egregious."
"Jack was . . . extremely capable, smart and totally dedicated to the company,'' said one former colleague, who did not want to be identified because of the continuing investigation. "I was shocked like everyone else when we heard about the bribes."
Others expressed less surprise that Halliburton was involved. Walter Carrington was the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria in 1994, when Stanley acknowledged making the first bribe payments to the Nigerian government.
"I used to brag that because of our Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Americans weren't involved as other countries were. American businessmen would complain that it wasn't fair -- (that) other countries really ought to be doing more to keep people from doing this. It was a competitive disadvantage,'' said Carrington, who did not recall meeting Stanley. "Halliburton was a different kettle of fish. There were always stories going on about the way in which their people operated."
Stanley began his rise up the corporate ladder with M.W. Kellogg, an oil infrastructure company then owned by Dresser Industries. Dresser would later merge with Halliburton, and Kellogg would become KBR.
Stanley was working as a senior executive at Kellogg in the 1990s when the company formed a joint venture called TSKJ to pursue contracts to construct a liquefied-natural-gas plant on Bonny Island off Nigeria's oil-rich coast. Besides Kellogg, the TSKJ companies were France's Technip; Snamprogetti Netherlands, an affiliate of Italy's Eni.
As Nigerian officials weighed the consortium's bid against a competing group led by San Francisco-based Bechtel Engineering, Stanley decided to improve the chances of winning by offering bribes, according to court documents filed by the Justice Department and the SEC.
He hatched a plan to hire consultants who could direct the money to Nigerian officials, the court documents said. A consultant from the United Kingdom would pay off higher-level Nigerian officials, while a second, from Japan, would be responsible for bribing lower-ranking officials. In November 1994, the U.K. consultant, who was not identified, allegedly told an associate that it would take $60 million to secure the contract, the court documents said. Of that money, $40 million to $45 million would go to the "first top-level executive branch" of Nigerian officials, while an additional $15 million to $20 million would go to other Nigerian officials.
Later that month, Stanley traveled to the Nigerian capital to meet with senior officials and confirm that the U.K. consultant would serve as a go-between, according to court documents and officials familiar with the investigation.
Over the next year, TSKJ, operating through subsidiary companies in Madeira, Portugal, in the Portuguese offshore tax haven of Madeira Island, signed agreements to transfer millions of dollars to the U.K. consultant, according to court documents and people familiar with the investigation.
In December 1995, the Nigerian government awarded the first of the gas plant contracts to TSKJ. Over the next decade, the government awarded TSKJ four contracts worth a total of $6 billion to build and expand the plant.
Throughout that time, Stanley continued traveling to Nigeria to meet with senior officials and continued arranging payments through the U.K. and Japanese consultant firms, according to the court documents.
Abacha died suddenly in 1998. According to Nigerian press accounts, his death was either the result of a marathon Viagra-fueled orgy with four prostitutes or a conspiracy among his closest confidantes to poison him. No autopsy was ever performed. In the decade since Abacha's death, Switzerland alone has returned at least $500 million in his bank accounts to the government of Nigeria.
All told, Stanley traveled to Nigeria to meet with top officials on four occasions between 1994 and 2001 as part of the bribery scheme. TSKJ paid out $130 million in bribes through the U.K. consultant and $50 million through the Japanese firm, according to the court documents.
French and Nigerian investigators have identified the primary consultant to the consortium as Jeffrey Tesler, a London attorney who worked with Nigerian immigrants, according a transcript of testimony from the French case.
Tesler was not identified in U.S. court documents. He has been investigated by British and French authorities but has never been charged with wrongdoing. Last year, British authorities conducted a search of his London office at the urging of U.S. officials. A woman who answered the phone at Tesler's law office Thursday said the attorney could not be reached and would have no comment.
The Cheney connection
In the middle of the bribery and plant construction, Kellogg changed hands. In 1998, Kellogg's parent company, Dresser Industries, merged with Halliburton.
Cheney, then CEO of Halliburton, arranged the merger during a quail-hunting trip. Afterward, Cheney appointed Stanley to head KBR, a newly formed construction and logistics subsidiary that grew out of the merger.
In a 1999 article in Middle East Economic Digest, Cheney praised Stanley: "We took Jack Stanley (and a colleague) . . . to head up the organization, and that has helped tremendously."
As allegations of corruption mounted, however, Halliburton conducted an internal investigation into the charges. In June 2004, the oil services company publicly fired Stanley, who was working as a consultant, for improper personal enrichment. The company also severed all relations with Tesler's firm, Tri-Star Investments.
The bribery scandal is one of many involving Halliburton's KBR subsidiary in the past several years. KBR has repeatedly been criticized for overbilling the U.S. government for providing food, fuel and other services to U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Last year, Halliburton spun off KBR into a separate corporation. KBR spokeswoman Heather Browne said the company has not yet reviewed the plea agreement. "KBR does not in any way condone or tolerate illegal or unethical behavior. The company stands firm in its unwavering commitment to conduct business with the utmost integrity,'' Browne said in a prepared statement.
Halliburton spokeswoman Cathy Mann declined to comment, saying the company had not yet reviewed the plea agreement. Earlier this year, Halliburton reported that the SEC was dramatically widening the scope of the investigation to cover projects built during the past 20 years in multiple countries.
Those investigations may focus on Stanley's activities in other countries. Court documents show that Stanley worked with another consultant, identified as a dual-national Lebanese and American citizen, in an elaborate kickback scheme.
Under the scheme, Stanley hired the consultant to help Halliburton and its predecessor firms arrange deals to build liquefied-natural-gas projects not only in Nigeria but also in Egypt, Yemen and Malaysia. From 1991 to 2004, the consultant directed $10.8 million of the proceeds back to Stanley through a Swiss bank account. These deals involved Stanley's original employer, M.W. Kellogg, as well as KBR.
This story is part of a joint reporting project by PBS's Frontline and ProPublica on international bribery, the subject of an upcoming documentary. Marlena Telvick and Oriana Zill de Granados reported from Houston. Additional reporting was contributed by Lowell Bergman, Jake Bernstein and T. Christian Miller. The story was written by Miller.