Ana Maria Salazar
El Universal. 07-13-2012.Another case of government officials' corruption came to light in the U.S.: the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) revealed Tuesday that the medical equipment company Orthofix International, based in Lewisville, violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).
The SEC added that the bribes included cash, laptop computers and television sets, which resulted in illegal profits of $5 million. Orthofix agreed to pay a fine of $5.2 million in exchange for dropping criminal charges and commercial sanctions against the company. In addition, they sought dismissal of charges in the U.S. against their affiliate in Mexico, Promeca, who had bribed officials of the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS) (Mexico's social security administration) to sell orthopedic medical equipment.
The big question is why these accusations come to light in Europe or in the United States and not in Mexico. Also, why are there mechanisms in place in other countries to prosecute this kind of corruption, but in Mexico, where these acts of bribery took place and where the damage to the public resources and institutions' image actually happened, corrupt officials are not punished? Finally, why has no effort been made to recover compensation for damages from these foreign companies?
Let's look at other recent cases: Siemens entered into agreements with the United States and the European Union to pay approximately $1.6 billion in fines for bribes it paid to government officials all over the world, including bribes paid to Pemex officials. Walmart's Mexican affiliate paid up to $24 million in bribes to obtain licenses and construction permits to maintain its market dominance.
ABB paid more than $50 million in fines for bribes it paid Nestor Felix Moreno, operations director of the Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE), to obtain contracts that made ABB more than $81 million dollars. Lindsey Corporation was convicted with ABB of conspiracy to pay bribes, also to the FCE, and is appealing the conviction in a U.S. Federal Court.
Early this year, Tyson foods admitted it had paid bribes to Mexican veterinaries for the past ten years and agreed to pay $5.2 million in fines.
Another case is that of Paradigm Geotechnology, which paid a million dollars in fines for paying bribes to a Pemex official.
The U.S. Department of Justice revealed a network of corruption that involves Bizjet and several Mexican government officials, who had received more than $20 million in bribes.
These cases represent more than one billion dollars in fines. Yet, in Mexico, the public agencies charged with obtaining compensation for damages have not received even one peso. Is this a legal problem or (a lack of) will? I would say it's both.
How is it possible that, in every case, the companies admitted publicly that they violated the law in Mexico, and --to reach a settlement-- had to identify the government officials that received the bribes. Furthermore, these fines benefit the U.S. Treasury and not the citizens of our country, who are the real victims of these corrupt practices.
The problem is that this information is located in another country. To be able to prosecute these companies, the Mexican government would have to create mechanisms to allow it to obtain evidence against these companies and prosecute them criminally. On the other hand, Mexico's public institutions must have the political will to prosecute these cases, despite how this may affect the public image of the actual officials involved. And, there is probably a serious problem if one opens this Pandora's box, because it is not known who else, and at what level, could be involved in (public)corruption.
In Mexico, according to Coparmex (Confederacion Patronal de la Republica Mexicana; an industry association), businesses allocate up to 10% of the Gross Domestic Product (PIB; Producto Interno Bruto) for the payment of bribes. In an interview with Contralinea, Gerardo Gutierrez Candiani, president of Coparmex, pointed out that many businesses "believe, mistakenly, that they have to engage in some issue like this [the payment of bribes], because if they do not, they will not have access, they will not be given an opportunity".
For the new administration, this will be one of the great challenges, because these cases severely impact the international image of Mexican public institutions. But in addition, while it develops international mechanisms to facilitate, prosecute and punish these corrupt companies, this should also be one of the easiest ways to clean up those institutions that are most susceptible to greater corruption in this country.