Corporate Bribery War Has Hits and a Few Misses
PRISON is the last place Albert J. Stanley seemed destined for. But on Feb. 23, Mr. Stanley, a legendary figure in the high-octane world of Big Oil, was sentenced to two and a half years for his role in one of the biggest bribery cases in American history.
Lanny Breuer, an assistant attorney general, says the government “can’t just pick the easy cases” to pursue.
It was a stunning downfall for a man who had spent his career clinching deals in far-flung corners of the world. But it turns out that Mr. Stanley, known as Jack, also played dirty: he pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe officials in Nigeria in return for $6 billion in business contracts.
“I am truly sorry,” Mr. Stanley, the former chief executive of the engineering giant KBR, told a court in Houston last month. “I lost touch.”
The particulars of his case aside — Mr. Stanley said alcoholism played a role — perhaps the most surprising aspect of this story is that it might have unfolded at any number of big corporations. Graft is alarmingly commonplace in global business today, so much so that the Justice Department is waging an aggressive — and controversial — campaign against it.
At least 78 corporations are under investigation for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a 35-year-old law that bans American companies from paying bribes to government officials abroad. Among those companies are such well-known names as Alcoa, Avon, Goldman Sachs, Hewlett-Packard, Pfizer and Wal-Mart Stores, although none of these companies have been charged.
And, last week, it emerged that News Corporation, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch and has been trying to contain the damage from a long-running phone-hacking scandal in Britain, is the subject of an F.B.I. inquiry into possible bribery there and in Russia. A spokesman for the News Corporation, Jack Horner, declined to comment.
Until recently, federal prosecutors had won settlements in nearly every battle involving charges of foreign bribery by multinational corporations and their executives. But in late February — indeed, the very week that Mr. Stanley was sentenced — the Justice Department had an embarrassing setback: it abruptly withdrew the biggest case ever brought against individuals under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.