"Frontline" offers peek inside corporate bribery

After criticizing a recent PBS Frontline episode on U.S. healthcare for ignoring the single-payer option despite the vocal objection of the story’s reporter, I must commend Frontline for its latest episode, Black Money.

Black Money offers a depressing glimpse inside the global world of corporate (and CIA) bribery, especially of government officials.

The show examines only a few cases already known to the public (BAE, Siemens, etc.) but demonstrates that bribery is far more widespread and substantial and salacious than I — naively — had imagined. Some firms apparently can’t sell their products and services without handing out very large bribes (like chartering a 747 for a bribees' lovely ladies and all the things they can buy that can be bought for them during their London shopping spree). And many firms fear they must bribe because everyone else is offering bribes. The show also makes clear that governments are perfectly willing to cover up illegal bribery, even after firms are caught red-handed. And journalists from different countries all agree politicians in their countries took bribes but were never punished.

One fact cheered me up: the largest bribes discussed were “only” several billion dollars. Given that we’re discussing multi-trillion-dollar taxpayer bailouts of failed banks, who could begrudge our friend “Bandar Bush” (former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. and long-time Bush family friend) a few billion dollars for greasing a military jet purchase from British Aerospace?

Former French magistrate Eva Joly nailed the truth when she said, “We are successful in fighting petty corruption and… probably medium corruption… But there [is] one rule for the powerful and other rules for other people. And the rule of law is not complete.” The same two sets of laws apply to failed small American banks (which are forced into bankruptcy) and failed mega banks (given trillions in taxpayer bailouts).

Posted by James on Wednesday, April 08, 2009