Three months ago today, in an article titled "Monsanto Dodges a Bullet," I described agrochemical giant Monsanto's
On Tuesday, TheWall Street Journal ran a "where are they now?" follow-up story on the scandal. It's a fascinating read, describing how Monsanto got into this mess, who the alleged players were (despite Monsanto having already accepted responsibility for the scandal, the actual "money men" continue to claim that they did nothing wrong), and what those people are up to now. It's that last bit I want to address today -- where one of the alleged bad guys went after the scandal broke.
According to the Journal, citing primarily unidentified sources, Monsanto's ex-chief government affairs officer was the "senior Monsanto officer" who told Monsanto's local consultant to hand over $50,000 in cash to Indonesia's minister for the environment. Also according to the Journal, he then allegedly told Monsanto's consultant to prepare a false invoice in order to disguise the purpose of the bribe. And most significantly, this gentleman was quoted by another Indonesian minister as saying: "When the government plays classical music, we play classical music; when it plays jazz, we play jazz; if it plays bribery, we play bribery; but if it plays clean, that is what we like."
So where is this former "senior Monsanto officer" now? He's the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing. In practically every country where U.S. companies do business abroad, they band together to form a local "American chamber of commerce." Despite what the name implies, these are not government agencies; rather, they're private organizations comprising companies working in-country. And the head of each "AmCham" is not appointed by the U.S. government but elected by the members of the AmCham.
My point being: A majority of the U.S. companies working in China voted to elect as their representative a person who was by all accounts allegedly involved in an Indonesian bribery scandal. A person quoted as being willing to pay bribes if that's what the locals want. This is now the head of the body in charge of organizing the local business community, writing position papers, and advising the Chinese government on the consensus opinion of "U.S. business" on any number of issues. That's as astounding as it is disappointing. And as far as confirming U.S. companies' commitment to playing by the rules and eschewing bribery goes, it sends entirely the wrong message.
Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any of the companies mentioned in this article.