Magazine article New Internationalist

Lies and Videotape: Stephanie Boyd Asks How Corporate Malefactors Avoidedjustice in Peru When the Evidence Was Right There for All to See on Peruvian Reality TV

Magazine article New Internationalist

Lies and Videotape: Stephanie Boyd Asks How Corporate Malefactors Avoidedjustice in Peru When the Evidence Was Right There for All to See on Peruvian Reality TV

Article excerpt

Stephanie Boyd asks how corporate malefactors avoided justice in Peru when the evidence was right there for all to see on Peruvian reality TV.

THREE years ago a candid-camera extravaganza in Peru gave the public a never-before glimpse of corruption in action - a prime time smoking-gun broadcast throughout the country which incriminated political and corporate elites. But the keepers of justice seem to have forgotten they weren't watching prime-time TV baddies, but reality TV. More than 1,000 videotapes - known as the Vladi videos - documented bribes, influence-peddling and corrupt dealings between Vladimiro Montesinos, former President Alberto Fujimori's chief advisor, and an assortment of politicians, media moguls, foreign embassy officials and corporate bosses.

Montesinos used a secret camera to film his shady transactions believing the videos would serve as a pact between thieves: if he went down, they would all go down. In late 2000 Fujimori's Government did come crashing down; the catalyst was one of Montesino's own leaked videos. Three years later Fujimori is self-exiled in Japan, suspected of stealing more than $180 million. Montesinos is on trial for close to 60 offences including drug-running, swindling an estimated $1 billion and directing a death squad. The corporate bad guys in this mutual love affair of reaping and plundering, however, remain at large.

Corruption in the corridors of South American business is nothing new. Transparency International's Global Corruption Report for 2003 warned that South America is `one of the most - if not the most - corruption-plagued regions in the world.' In Colombia bribes are handed out in 50 per cent of state contracts and $2.6 billion (an amount that could pay off 60 per cent of the national debt) is lost to corruption each year. But rarely has such corruption been caught so dramatically on camera as in Peru.

Despite the glaring exposure, the big corporate fish, especially the exotic, foreign variety, have evaded capture. The most damning case implicates a major US transnational and US Government officials. A Vladi-video made public in January 2001 shows Montesinos in his spy headquarters, seated on a plush leather sofa and chatting amiably with a Peruvian judge. Montesinos tells the judge to cast the deciding vote in favor of a US company embroiled in a legal dispute with a French firm for shares of Peru's Yanacocha gold mine. The year was 1998 and the company, Newmont Mining Corporation, headquartered in Colorado, would later win the case and gain control of the multi-billion-dollar mine - a holding it refers to as the `jewel' in its global mining empire.

Gold fever

After his capture, Montesinos confessed that the US ambassador and the then Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, Peter Romero, asked the Peruvian Government to intervene in Newmont's favor. Romero insists that he just wanted to ensure `a level playing field'. In an interesting coincidence, Romero was hired as a private consultant for Newmont after resigning his government post.

Newmont's alleged boo-boo is more than just a slip of ethics. If proven, bribing or influencing foreign officials is a criminal offence for US corporations under the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Provisions of this law require companies to conduct internal investigations and report findings when allegations of bribery surface. To date, however, the company has not been penalised by either the Peruvian or US justice systems. Not even a public wrist-slapping.

In March 2002 Newmont held a swanky news conference at a five-star Lima hotel to celebrate a merger that made them the world's largest gold corporation. I took the opportunity to ask Newmont's CEO Wayne Murdy if the company had investigated the corruption scandal. Flush with the success of creating a global gold kingdom (and earning a cool $2.5 million per year, not including stock options or bonus), Murdy evaded the question. …

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