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BIG OIL’s Corrupting Influence in American Politics: Propping up Corrupt Regimes to Prop Up Profits

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Friday, March 7, 2014

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Slick Moves

The SEC could help tackle corruption in resource-rich countries around the world — but the oil industry is getting in the way.

Angola, Africa’s second-largest oil producer, is regarded as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. And American oil lobbyists are only making the situation worse: They are exploiting Angola by seeking to delay and weaken the implementation of a crucial U.S. transparency law.

That law, Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act, also known as the Cardin-Lugar amendment, promises a breakthrough in preventing dirty deals and illicit payments being made for natural resources around the world, similar to the shady transaction recently uncovered by Foreign Policy. If implemented fully, the law would make U.S. oil and mining companies disclose the payments they make to governments across the world, including in Angola. However, oil lobbyists have been making misguided arguments that laws in Angola and three other countries prevent the required disclosures.

Off Shore Oil Drilling Rig

Off Shore Oil Drilling Rig – MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images

Angolan officials secretly profiting from the country’s oil riches is not a surprise. It is only the latest episode in a sad history that goes back for decades. Global Witness, where we work, began exposing the complicity of the international oil and banking industries in the plundering of state assets during Angola’s 40-year civil war in our 1999 report A Crude Awakening. This was followed by our 2002 report All the Presidents’ Men, which called on the oil companies operating in Angola to “Publish What You Pay” (PWYP). Under this rallying call, Global Witness co-launched the PWYP campaign, which is now an international coalition of more than 790 civil society organizations in over 60 countries, including Angola, advocating for transparency laws such as Section 1504.

These efforts are intended to prevent scandals similar to the Trafigura deal covered in Foreign Policy, which provide a glimpse of the endemic corruption in Angola‘s oil industry. Only a few days before Foreign Policy published its story, media reports about leaked documents relating to other corruption claims caused the share price of SBM Offshore, a Dutch oil services company operating in Angola, to plummet 17.9 percent when markets opened. SBM released a statement challenging the validity of the leaked documents, saying that they are partial, taken out of context, contain outdated information, and are not representative of the facts. SBM had also already disclosed to its investors that it was conducting an internal investigation into questionable payments in Angola. However, the dramatic stock drop suggests that SBM investors had not anticipated the scale of the corruption risk exposure.

Another oil services company active in Angola, Weatherford International, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and headquartered in Switzerland, has recently pleaded guilty to violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), including bribery of the executives of Sonangol, Angola’s state oil company. It has agreed to pay fines of $253 million to settle the case, one of the largest FCPA settlements ever.

These cases illustrate the urgent need for transparency in Angola’s oil sector. The successful implementation of Read the rest of this entry »

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