How do I bribe thee? Let me count the ways.

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In China, “elegant bribery” means using artwork to pay off officials. Photo shows a Tang dynasty copy of a famous work of calligraphy (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

I’m leafing through an interesting little book called, How to Pay a Bribe. It’s a compilation of articles written by journalists, lawyers and private investigators. Intended largely for companies operating overseas, the book provides tips on how to avoid being prosecuted for corruption. It’s worthwhile reading for journalists if only because it documents the various forms of state-of-the-art bribery. If there’s food porn, this is corruption porn.

Here’s a titillating quote from an unidentified oil middleman interviewed by the journalist Ken Silverstein;  “You used to give a dictator a suitcase of dollars; now you give a tip on your stock shares, or buy a housing estate from his uncle or mother for ten times it’s worth.”

There are other ways to pay a bribe. Some are tried and true, and have been seen in various places; others are country-specific, like the very discreet “elegant bribery” practiced in China, described more fully below. Here are some of the juiciest examples – both crass and elegant – of the various forms of bribe-giving chronicled in How to Pay a Bribe:

1. Steer contracts to well-connected local companies. If you need a security firm to guard your facilities, give the job  to a member of the president’s family or inner circle. Same thing if you need a local firm to handle construction work. This is what oil multinationals do in Angola.

2. Make donations to foundations or charities set up by, or close to, the powers that be. Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos’s foundation, for example, has accepted donations from U.S. oil companies, a South African diamond firm, an Israeli arms dealer and a Brazilian construction company.

3. Make a powerful official a shareholder in your company so that it gets preferential treatment in the awarding of government contracts. You can then submit inflated bids for government projects, knowing that your patron and shareholder will award you the contract.

4. Buy an asset for an inflated price, such as a house or car owned by an official. A U.S. defense contractor bought the house of then California Rep. Randall ‘Duke’ Cunnngham, and paid hundreds of thousands more than its true value. The businessman also bought a vintage Rolls Royce for Cunningham, who was a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Cunningham then sold the Rolls Royce back to the original owner in a fake transaction. In return, the businessman was awarded tens of millions of dollars in defense contracts.

5. Co-sponsor a nonexistent conference hosted by a government agency. This is a practice that’s been used in China. A company offers to sponsor a conference that never takes place. Instead a travel agency is contracted to generate invoices for the fake event or to pad the invoices of a real event (by listing fake attendees, for example). The travel agency takes a 10 to 15 percent cut; the rest is pocketed by officials of the agency.

6. Pay a monthly retainer to an official and book those payments as “entertainment expenses.” The example is from a government ministry in Indonesia,

7. Pay bribes and book them as “consulting fees.” This is apparently a practice among customs brokers in Indonesia.

8. Finally, indulge in “elegant bribery.” This one is my favorite. It involves payments in the form of artwork that “make people involved look cool and sophisticated.” As Anthony Ou writes:

The bribed officials amass their own private collections of certain famous painters or calligraphy works of ancient dynasties. To be seen as a private collector of fine art is to have attained the most dizzying heights on the social scale. The inflated vanity of the corrupt collectors is even better served when sellers flatter them with knowledge of the officials’ taste s in art. Indeed, it is quite common for bribe-givers and their agents to be thoroughly familiar with the artistic tastes of the intended recipients of the bribe.

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2 Comments on “How do I bribe thee? Let me count the ways.”

  1. […] Coronel says the book is a compilation of articles written by different people, including journalists and lawyers. Read Coronel’s blog here. […]

  2. I was reading through some of your posts on this site and I think this web site is real informative! Keep posting.


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