Odebrecht or the Moral Bias of Corruption

The investigations conducted by the United States Department of Justice on the payment of bribes to Latin American politicians by the Brazilian transnational Odebrecht, have had an overdramatic and sensationalist approach. As if corruption is a recent invention, or born in 2016.

What the media tries to make seem as a one of a kind case, cause and motivation of global indignation, in fact has a long history of corporations that control the world and especially those which have dominion over its most strategic resource: oil. These are the true masters of corruption.

Although capitalism’s history is saturated with corrupt-operations (described by Karl Marx as the origin of capital accumulation, the first great act of corruption of the bourgeoisie), there are recent cases that tend to eclipse others, both in terms of their magnitude and their programmed silence, by the companies that lead them.

In this case we’re not talking about just any company, but a monster of global capitalism: Exxon Mobil the American oil company. Although the never ending incidents of corruption within transnational corporations can result in hundreds of books, for the moment we will be dealing with one of the best-developed (and most effective) influence peddling and bribery schemes outside the United States.

The cases

According to documents obtained in June of last year by Britain's The Guardian, oil company Exxon Mobil is being investigated by Nigeria's economic and financial crime unit, for bribery in order to renew their lease or license on valuable oil wells in the African country, approved for the first time in 2009.

Exxon Mobil's offer to the Nigerian oil authorities for the use and exploitation of the rich oil fields of Oso, Ekpe, Edop and Ubit for 20 years amounted to US $ 1.5 billion, all together these oil fields counted with a production capacity of 580 thousand barrels of crude daily, a third of the country's total oil production.

Global Witness an international transparency and anticorruption group referred to these wells as "the crown jewels" of Nigeria. It’s an all-around business.

According to Global Witness this is what led to suspicion and further probing of Exxon Mobil’s bribery scheme: Chinese Oil Company CNOOC offered $ 3.7 billion for the same wells, more than double what Exxon Mobil offered. After several meetings, the price requested by the Nigerian government fell from $ 4 billion to $ 2.5 billion, and then again to what was finally paid by the US oil company. According to the aforementioned organization such a disadvantageous contract had to have been mediated by the payment of bribes to the civil servant in charge of the tender.

Proving this, Nigeria's former oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, in the midst of complaints of other Nigerian government officials, was arrested and then released by British authorities in 2015 for his link to the Exxon Mobil bribe scheme for the license renewal on the wells mentioned. The case was hushed up and Exxon Mobil was never legally implicated, other Nigerian officials paid for the broken dishes.

Perhaps the bribes are not so peculiar, but the underlying issue here is how Exxon Mobil managed to exploit oil wells in Nigeria for a tiny price compared to their real value. A savings of over 2 billion dollars compared to the initial price of the tender. Here lies the core of the fraudulent scheme and the theft of a nation's main resource.

But this isn’t new at Exxon Mobil. In 2003 the oil company used front men to bribe more than 120 million dollars to Kazakhstan officials, in order for them to give exclusive access to large oil reserves, as they did in other countries in Asia and the Middle East, with the objective of preventing competition to tender a bid on oil exploitation projects. The fact that most of these cases are taking place in poor and peripheral countries (including Latin American countries) provides an indicative: the despondency spawned by these oil companies spices up the broth for the ruling class (reflecting that situation) to accept more easily payments and prebends of all kinds by this and other corporations, which expedite the exchange of national resources or exclusive business for a minimum profit.

What they call "institutional weakness" or "failed state" is the consequence of how the capitalist means of production shaped the distribution of surplus value at the global level and its framework of survival beyond the ruling class, leaving countries that produce energy and labor-intensive resources kidnapped by corporations through blackmail and extortion. In the United States and Europe corruption is different, so far as to what and how much gross comes in, it is already a product of what has already been stolen from these poor nations. The conflict of interest surrounding these superpowers revolves around how to maneuver and speculate the monstrous amounts of surplus value extracted. While these are crimes of excess, in poor countries they take can be considered bits and pieces.

An investigation by the Huffington Post suggests that this same pattern of bribery payments from Exxon Mobil and other corporations have been replicated for decades in countries such as Tunisia, Cameroon, Iraq, the Republic of Congo, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa, among others. And without a doubt in Latin America, where Exxon Mobil managed to take possession of large amounts of oil reserves in southern countries until the arrival of progressive governments, who put an end to the looting.

Ken Silverstein, author of The Secret World of Oil, unveiled Exxon Mobil's bribe schemes with utmost precision: "It's not always a flat bribe ... Let’s suppose you were a company that wanted a concession in Nigeria. Well, you would go and give Stakeholder A, for example, one million dollars. Stakeholder A would go to his friends from the Nigerian government and send half a million dollars to a few Swiss bank accounts, or you know, just offer a suitcase full of money, that’s all. Stakeholder A kept his half a million, government officials had their half a million, and the company (Exxon Mobil) got their oil concession. Quite simple really, fairly straightforward."

That's how it works

We could lounge in the comfort of moral analysis and claim that Exxon Mobil is an evil company. As we all know, it’s an oil exploiter of poor, delinquent and corrupt countries, but that’s the essence of capitalism. Or do we seriously believe that capitalism and business function on the basis of solidarity and legal respectability?

If Exxon Mobil did not pay these bribes to Nigerian or Kazakhstani officials, or any other country, they would surely have lost the possibility of buying those wells, since the competing companies, whether Chinese or other Americans, were willing to pay them and stay with that oil. It’s a war where the most criminal company wins and this ethic proliferates throughout the entire global economy, in all shapes, sizes, dimensions and places, including governments as legal leverage. No company can escape this if it wants to stay alive.

It’s the principle of global business competition, without moral complexities or ethical dilemmas; the problem is money and accumulation. A company’s success lies there, not in its righteousness. Whoever pays more bribes and is willing to transgress the laws will impose their power on the others in the economic jungle. However, those laws, rather than regulations, are political instruments used against other companies.
The mechanics of Exxon Mobil (like any other transnational) is natural to the capitalist system. Basically, the explanation is, if they don’t use these practices in order to get hold of a particular business, someone else will. The capitalist system is run by one basic principle which consists in obtaining maximum profit whatever the cost may be. If a company, regardless of who it is, fails to achieve that goal or aspires to be law-abiding, it will surely be crushed by a much smarter and more skillful one, without dwelling on ideological discrimination of who’s to knock on offering a briefcase of dollars.

So the problem of private or public corruption isn’t a moral or ethical, but how the system works and how its logic is reproduced on a planetary scale. It’s indispensable for the continuity of the capitalist system and for settling inter-company battles.

That is why the Odebrecht case, beyond the global indignation that the media tries to manufacture, is neither special nor the only one, neither the first nor the last.
In that case, they were following the steps of a successful company like Exxon Mobil, which has been able to shape its path, the only way that exists, governing countries by enforcing bribery, influence peddling and commercial extortion, positioning itself as the world's leading oil company.

How else could Odebrecht be the Exxon Mobil of construction in Latin America, if it was not fully complying with that instruction manual? What company doesn’t want to be big and powerful? What is a company founded for then? Everything that surrounds the Odebrecht case is made in the image and likeness of tactics applied by worldwide corporations, following examples taught by the conduct and behavior the elite.

It’s not by chance or the product of concern by the United States that this corruption case has been "disclosed", they have vigorously defended Exxon Mobil, their hen with the black golden eggs. This explains is the interest these same corporations have in removing Odebrecht from their path. Making it very clear that they rule in Latin America and they are the only ones entitled to pay bribes and commit fraudulent practices enabling them to grow as companies. The masters of corruption don’t want to be outdone by their students; there is a lot of money at stake.

It can also be considered a declaration of war. So the rest know what to expect, as an exemplary punishment for all those who want to infiltrate the realm of the global market.


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