It’s hard to estimate how much corporate bribery takes place each year, but some have put the figure at more than $1 trillion. Because it all takes place in secret, and usually in untraceable cash transactions, bribery is notoriously difficult to document and expose.
That’s why the recent documentary and web feature by Frontline and Frontline World is so impressive.
In 2003, reports Frontline, Per Yngve Monsen, chief-controller at Siemens Business Services in Norway, “noticed some irregularities in the invoices Siemens sent to the Norwegian Department of Defence as part of a large contract for a communications system. Monsen detected an extra $6 million on the bills for the contract that didn’t correspond to any of the services provided. He alerted his superiors in Norway but was told not to worry. Frustrated by their lack of interest in what appeared to be fraud, Monsen sent the documents anonymously to Siemens’ headquarters in Germany. Rather than correct the error, the company allegedly intimidated Monsen and eventually dismissed him.”
That set in motion an investigation into Siemens. Norway wasn’t the only country in which irregularities were found. Siemens eventually ended up paying a $1.6 billion fine, the largest in modern corporate history, in what the FBI called a massive, willful and carefully orchestrated set of corrupt practices around the world.
The Siemens story is just one of many in this important Frontline project. Lowell Bergman hosts much of the reporting, including a full Frontline documentary called Black Money.
The full series, the Business of Bribes, can be seen on the PBS Frontline World website.