Global Corruption Roundup

Companies and cases in the news

January 4, 2010
The International Fight Against Bribery; An interactive map examining the world's biggest corruption cases

Interactive Timeline: Corruption in the Crosshairs: A brief history of international anti-bribery legislation

Tax Justice Network ranks most secret financial places in the world
When foreign officials are bribed, the money is almost always channeled through a maze of offshore accounts to obscure the money trail, so that prosecutors have to work across several jurisdictions to prove a crime took place. And countries like Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, with their bank secrecy laws, are generally considered to be the first places people go to hide their money.

But according to recent research from the non-profit Tax Justice Network (TJN), there are other locations that are even more financially secretive. TJN's Financial Secrecy Index was calculated using 12 key financial secrecy indicators, including public records of ownership, formal bank secrecy treaties and bilateral treaties regarding the exchange of banking information with other countries. The index showed that the U.S. state of Delaware and Luxembourg are more secretive than Switzerland and the Caymans. These were followed on the list by the city of London and the island of Bermuda.

Former Willbros consultant pleaded guilty to paying bribes in Nigeria
Although a subsidiary of the Houston-based oil and gas services company Willbros agreed in May 2008 to pay more than $22 million in a deferred prosecution agreement after accusations of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the individuals who arranged and paid the bribes are still facing punishment.

In November 2009, former Willbros consultant Paul G. Novak pleaded guilty to paying $6 million to Nigerian government officials between 2003 and 2005 to help obtain a $387 million contract for a natural gas pipeline system in the Niger delta. Two of Novak's co-conspirators, Jim Bob Brown and Jason Steph, also pleaded guilty in 2006 and 2007 respectively. All are scheduled to be sentenced in early 2010. Three employees of the German construction company Julius Berger are also accused of paying bribes, as is the U.S. citizen Kenneth Tillery, the former president of Willbros International, who remains a fugitive in Nigeria.

Controversial Blackwater case dismissed
The shooting in Nisour Square was one of the most controversial and deadly incidents in he Iraq War involving the private security firm Blackwater. On September 16, 2007, the company's security guards opened fire in a crowded square. Seventeen Iraqis were killed and many more injured. The attack caused a wave of anti-American sentiment and put the private contractor and its role in Iraq under intense scrutiny.

In November, The New York Times reported that former Blackwater executives claimed company officials subsequently authorized bribe payments of about $1 million to Iraqi government officials to silence criticism regarding the shooting. Blackwater needed the support of Iraqi officials to secure business licenses so that it could continue to operate in Iraq as a U.S. government contractor, the report said.

Just before New Year, a federal judge dismissed all charges against the U.S. contractor in the Nisour killings saying that the Justice Department had built evidence on statements given under the promise of immunity, and called the government's explanations of events "contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility."

Not long after the attack, the prosecution came under criticism for how it was building the case against Blackwater and the admissibility of the evidence. Last week's 90-page ruling leaves open the possibility of bringing new indictments against Blackwater, now called Xe Services, and gives the prosecution 90 days to appeal.

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