SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
James P. Giffen, who has been at the center of the most significant case ever brought under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for a decade now—the so-called “Kazakhgate” scandal—heads back to court today. Bloomberg’s David Glovin offers an interesting discussion of the case:
Giffen, who is scheduled to appear in federal court in Manhattan, worked as an intermediary in Kazakhstan in the 1990s for U.S. companies including Mobil Oil Corp. A resident of the New York suburb of Mamaroneck in Westchester County, he was charged in March 2003 with funneling $84 million to leaders of the Central Asian republic, including current President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Mobil, now part of Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp., isn’t accused of wrongdoing.
According to prosecutors, Giffen paid bribes to facilitate six oil deals, including Mobil’s purchase of a stake in Kazakhstan’s Tengiz field, one of the world’s largest. Prosecutors in 2004 publicly identified Nazarbayev, a U.S. ally, as a recipient of Giffen’s alleged payments.
The case was among the largest FCPA prosecutions ever when prosecutors launched it, signaling the expansion of U.S. anti-corruption efforts worldwide. The American law bars companies or individuals working in the U.S. from paying bribes to foreign officials to win business.
Why is this case languishing? Over the past decade, I discussed the case many times with Kazakhstani officials and businessmen. They were uniformly intrigued by it and keen to learn the details of their government’s darker practices—details that have steadily emerged from the case. They were also all of the same view: this case would ultimately go nowhere because it was not in the interest of the United States to expose damaging information about President Nazarbayev. Moreover, several offered that the Kazakhstani government fully understood how to “spin” the American system by hiring prominent lobbyists and consultants and engaging the right political figures. It would be able to forestall the case, they assured me. I would reply that the American system didn’t work that way—that our Justice Department was independent and that prosecutorial decisions were insulated from such lobbying. Truth is, I was never myself absolutely convinced of that, and I always felt a bit naïve saying it.
Glovin’s article presents some information about the depth of Kazakhstan’s considerable efforts to throw a wrench in this case, quoting Peter Zalmayev in the process. It has hired some of the best lawyers in the country, including a former attorney general, and, as Ken Silverstein has noted, it appears to have made use of the services of a company whose board is heavily populated with FBI alumni. Still, it’s not completely clear that this is the cause of the delay. The dealings in federal court have shown that the U.S. Government is not of one mind about the desirability of this prosecution. The Justice Department is standing behind the prosecutors involved, though it has obviously declined to give them the resources that the case calls for. But the recent hiccups in the case make clear that the intelligence community, led by the CIA, wants this case to go away because it is poised to reveal some embarrassing chapters in their Central Asian playbook. The CIA’s withholding of documents looks almost like an effort to sabotage the prosecution.
Today, Justice Department spokesmen tell Congress that battling corruption in foreign business dealings is a high priority. They argue that corruption is undermining the war on terror, costing taxpayers billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the handling of the Giffen case provides skeptics with plenty of reason to doubt the sincerity of the Justice Department’s claims. Within the government there are no shortage of career personnel who believe that a properly delivered bribe to a foreign government official is a necessary sort of compromise. A government that winks at corruption in the supposed name of national security may have a hard time prosecuting it in a commercial setting.
More from Scott Horton:
No Comment — March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm
On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers
No Comment — November 4, 2013, 5:17 pm
An expert panel concludes that the Pentagon and the CIA ordered physicians to violate the Hippocratic Oath
No Comment — August 12, 2013, 7:55 am
How will the Obama Administration handle Edward Snowden’s case in the long term?
Discussed in this essay:
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert. Henry Holt. 352 pages. $28.
The extinction symbol is a spare graphic that began to appear on London walls and sidewalks a couple of years ago. It has since become popular enough as an emblem of protest that people display it at environmental rallies. Others tattoo it on their arms. The symbol consists of two triangles inscribed within a circle, like so:
“The triangles represent an hourglass; the circle represents Earth; the symbol as a whole represents, according to a popular Twitter feed devoted to its dissemination (@extinctsymbol, 19.2K followers), “the rapidly accelerating collapse of global biodiversity” — what scientists refer to alternately as the Holocene extinction, the Anthropocene extinction, and (with somewhat more circumspection) the sixth mass extinction.
Ratio of husbands who say they fell in love with their spouse at first sight to wives who say this:
Mathematicians announced the discovery of the perfect method of cutting a cake.
Indian prime-ministerial contender Narendra Modi, who advertises his bachelorhood as a mark of his incorruptibility, confessed to having a wife.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
Science’s crisis of faith