As China battles indigenous corruption, it’s also spotlighting foreign and especially U.S. companies that are importing illegal practices into the PRC. A story in the Chinese press in December 2007 said, “According to a report by local consulting company Anbound, of the 500,000 bribery cases investigated in China over the last 10 years, 64 percent involved foreign companies.” It mentioned allegations involving Lucent Technologies Inc., IBM, Cisco and NCR. Four of Lucent’s employees in China, the story reported, were apparently fired in 2004 for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The story quotes a Beijinger as saying: “I cannot understand after many foreign companies complain about corruption and bribery in China, then why are they doing similar things?”
Official statistics about corruption from the PRC can be dodgy. But any discussion about foreign companies involved or suspected of being involved in corrupt payments, and the naming of some U.S.-based headliners, may mark an important new strategy. Presumably, China will use the foreign companies’ names to defend itself against charges from the U.S. and OECD that its anti-corruption enforcement is lax. Most of our corruption, China will argue, actually came from you first. We’re the victim here.
One result is that foreign companies — particularly those subject to the FCPA — will be very attractive targets during the PRC’s Olympic-year anti-corruption campaign. That means it’s a good time to put China-related compliance programs on high alert.
Meanwhile, Chinese President Hu Jintao told leaders of the Communist Party that the country’s anti-corruption drive remains a top priority. President Hu — who also serves as general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee — spoke at the organization’s important three-day plenary session in mid-January. “Anti-corruption measures and the upholding of integrity should run thoroughly through the nation’s economic, political and cultural makeup and the Party’s ideological, organizational, work style and institutional building,” he said. In typical PRC practice, President Hu’s speech became a “guideline document to enhance the work of anti-corruption and upholding of integrity,” the communique said.
By June 2007, some 24,879 cases of official corruption had been investigated in the PRC, the communique said. The cases involved bribes totaling more than 6.156 billion yuan (US$860 million). Government employees were involved in 5,523 bribery cases, accounting for 22.2 percent of those caught, the communique said. For example, He Minxu, former vice-governor of eastern Anhui Province, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve for taking bribes of 8.41 million yuan (US$1.12 million) from 27 organizations and individuals, the latest senior official to be brought down in a corruption scandal. Another case cited was that of Zheng Xiaoyu, former director of China’s State Food and Drug Administration. He was executed in July 2007 and was the fourth senior official to be sentenced to death since 2000. Zheng was found guilty of taking 6.49 million yuan (US$910,000) in bribes. When he was sentenced, the Supreme People’s Court said his dereliction of duty undermined China’s drug monitoring and supervision, endangered public life and health and had a very negative social impact. Speculation in China and elsewhere is that some of the bribes Zheng took came from foreign companies.