One of the less visible goals of the Trump administration is that it wants to allow American corporations to bribe foreign governments to win business.
Trump expressed this goal in a discussion with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as reported in the New Yorker. Tillerson, the former head of Exxon Oil, countered that this was not a goal worthy of American business, even though it has been an available tool for some global U.S. corporate businesses for years. Bribery to non-U.S. officials was made illegal in 1977 when the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enacted the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
This Act “generally prohibits the payment of bribes to foreign officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business. The FCPA can apply to prohibited conduct anywhere in the world and extends to publicly traded companies and their officers, directors, employees, stockholders, and agents. Agents can include third party agents, consultants, distributors, joint-venture partners, and others.”
American corporate corruption is not new, but injecting corruption, bribes and paying off-the-books payments to government or private officials is also a goal the Vladimir Putin’s regime. This common goal—making corruption legal again—is shared by Putin and Trump, and it is not a coincidence.
Dirty Business is Less Risky Business
In an interview, Anne Applebaum, a columnist for the Washington Post, said on the radio show Fresh Air (Oct. 9, 2017), that the Russians want to encourage corporate corruption to make it easier for the Russian Oligarchs, including Putin (reported to be one of the world’s richest men) to gain access to major global corporations. Not only would they gain access, they would also seek to win business by paying anyone who had any power to grant contracts easy access to cash or whatever else they demanded to deliver the contracts.
Over $1.5 trillion in bribes are paid annually worldwide and
Trump and Putin want a bigger piece of that action.
Corruption is global problem because it appeals to a human flaw. The U.S. has a great history in corruption, ranging from war profiteering to elevated pharmaceutical prices for life-needed medicines. In a Forbes article, columnist Richard Levick wrote that the World Bank estimates businesses and individuals pay an estimated $1.5 trillion in bribes annually. This huge sum is “the rough equivalent of 2% of global GDP—and a staggering ten times the value of overseas development assistance.”
Trump and his companies have contributed to this huge sum by their business practices. An article in the New Yorker by Adam Davidson found “Trump-branded buildings in Toronto and the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan were developed in association with people who have connections to the Kremlin. Other real-estate partners of the Trump Organization—in Brazil, India, Indonesia, and elsewhere—are now caught up in corruption probes, and, collectively, they suggest that the company had a pattern of working with partners who exploited their proximity to political power.”
The article goes on to list a business deal in Batumi, a city on the Black Sea in the Republic of Georgia, “reportedly paid a million dollars, involved unorthodox financial practices that several experts described to me as “red flags” for bank fraud and money laundering; moreover, it intertwined his company with a Kazakh oligarch who has direct links to Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. As a result, Putin and his security services have access to information that could put them in a position to blackmail Trump.”
Seeking to lower the ethics of U.S. business back to the gutter, Trump said in a February 2018 meeting with Tillerson that Trump “began fulminating about federal laws that prohibit American businesses from bribing officials overseas; the businesses, he said, were being unfairly penalized.
As reported in a New Yorker article written by Dexter Filkins, “Tillerson disagreed. When he was an executive with Exxon, he told Trump, he once met with senior officials in Yemen to discuss a deal. At the meeting, Yemen’s oil minister handed him his business card. On the back was written an account number at a Swiss bank. “Five million dollars,” the minister told him.” Tillerson rejected the offer and said Exxon did not believe in bribery.
The irony here is that both men–one a political leader who became a billionaire by corruption, the other a corrupt businessman who became the leader of the free world–now have one more common goal.
People who have any conscience should be rooting for both of them to miserably fail.