The year 2013 brought the anti-corruption compliance world a new situation as the Chinese government aggressively investigated, for the first time, a western company for bribery and corruption of Chinese citizens in China, based on Chinese domestic law. The company, GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK), was convicted of corruption in September 2014. I wanted to put together, in one volume, the background facts, information from the trials and conviction and add some of the most significant lessons to be learned for any compliance practitioner going forward. For these reasons, I am pleased to announce the publication of my latest book, GSK in China: Anti-Bribery Enforcement Goes Global which is now available through Amazon.com.
I believe that GSK will be a watershed in the global fight against bribery and corruption. Behavior and conduct, which was illegal under Chinese law but previously tolerated and even accepted by Chinese government officials, quickly became a quagmire that the company was caught in when charges of corruption were leveled against them last year. David Pilling, writing an article in the Financial Times (FT), entitled “Why corruption is a messy business”, said “Multinationals are discovering that there is only one thing worse than operating in a country where corruption is rampant: operating in one where corruption was once rampant – but is no longer tolerated.” GSK became the first western company to pay the piper when this new tune began to play.
When it began, it was not it clear why China’s Communist Party Chief Xi Jinping began his anti-corruption push. Some speculated that it was an attack on western companies for more political reasons that economic reasons. Others took the opposite tack that the storm, which broke with the bribery and corruption investigation of GSK, was China’s attack on western companies to either hide or help fix problems endemic to the Chinese economic system. My take is that his campaign has a different purpose but incorporates both political and economic reasons. That purpose is that Xi has recognized something that the US government officials, and most particularly the DOJ, have been preaching for some time. That is, the insidiousness of corruption and its negative effects on an economic system.
Xi and China have realized that corruption is a drain on the Chinese economic system. Publications as diverse as the Brookings Institute to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) have noted that one of the reasons for the anti-corruption campaign is to restore the Chinese public’s faith in the ruling Communist Party. Bob Ward, writing in the WSJ article, entitled “The Risks in China’s Push to Root Out Wrong”, said, “China’s anticorruption drive began in late 2012 as a way to cleanse the ruling Communist Party and convince ordinary Chinese that the system isn’t rigged against them. Investigators are targeting some of China’s most powerful officials and disciplining tens of thousands of lower-echelon officials who party investigators contend got used to padding their salaries.” Cheng Li and Ryan McElveen, writing online for Brookings in an article entitled “Debunking Misconceptions About Xi Jinping’s Anti-Corruption Campaign”, wrote, “If there were ever any doubts that Xi could restore faith in a party that had lost trust among the Chinese public, many of those doubts have been dispelled by the steady drumbeat of dismissals of high-ranking officials since he took office.”
There have already been demonstrated economic benefits to China’s anti-corruption campaign. In September, Bloomberg reported that China’s fight against bribery and corruption could boost economic growth, generating an additional $70 billion for the budget, in summarizing economists’ forecasts. An article in the online publication Position and Promotions, reported that the bribery “could trigger a 0.1-0.5 percent increase in the world’s second-biggest economy, equivalent to $70 billion dollars.” This crackdown should also be welcomed by western companies, as “it could also benefit foreign companies operating on the Chinese market, who have experienced the negative effects of the omnipresent palm-greasing, according to Joerg Wuttke, president of European Chamber of Commerce in China.”
GSK’s actions during the pendency of this entire series of events will long be studied as one NOT to follow when faced with allegations of corruption and bribery. GSK sealed its own fate when they, in the face of credible allegations of bribery and corruption by a well-informed whistleblower, performed an investigation and came up with no evidence to support such allegations. It took the Chinese government less than 30 days to not only develop credible evidence but also secure confessions from GSK employees topped off with a very public corporate apology.
As with any good scandal there is a sex angle with a sex tape surfacing involving the GSK China Country Manager. This sex tape and GSK’s attempts to investigate its provenance led to the conviction of a husband and wife investigators, who are a UK and US citizen, in a trial for violations of Chinese privacy laws.
At the close this phase of GSK’s bribery and corruption saga in China, GSK in China – The Book, provides some thoughtful reflection, which you may be able to put to good use in your compliance program going forward. For the compliance practitioner there have been many specific lessons to be learned from GSK’s missteps. I think the clearest lesson is that the only real hope that a company has in today’s world is an effective, best practices anti-corruption compliance program. Whether it is designed to help a company comply with the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or other anti-corruption legislation, really does not matter. It is the only, and I mean only, chance your company will have when an issue in some far-flung part of the world splashes your company’s name across the world’s press.
But there may also be cause for celebration to those who have long preached against the evils of corruption, whether it is for economic reasons or for those who view the fight against anti-corruption as a part of the fight against terrorism. For if China is attacking domestic corruption, I believe that will lead other countries to do so as well. So while GSK may well suffer going forward, the fight against global bribery and corruption may just have moved a few feet forward.
For a copy of my new book GSK in China: Anti-Bribery Enforcement Goes Global in bound version, click here.
For a copy of my new book GSK in China: Anti-Bribery Enforcement Goes Global in Kindle version, click here.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2015