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US corporate bribery, with t-shirts

Titan Corporation, an American defense contractor, has pled guilty to charges of bribery. The bribery involved the government of Benin – Titan paid $2.1 million dollars to an agent of President Mathieu Kerekou, evidently to buy t-shirts for Kerekou’s re-election campaign. Shortly after Kerekou was re-elected, his government agreed to quadruple the management fee Titan was receiving for a telecommunications project in Benin.

Titan has agreed to pay $13m in criminal penalties, as well as an additional $15.5m to settle a suit with the Security and Exchange Commission. These sums are likely to be a major financial hit for Titan, which reported revenues of over $2 billion, largely in US government contracts, last year. Titan reported 15% annual revenue growth earlier today. The press release from Titan on the subject makes it very clear that Titan will continue to be eligible for US government and military contracts while it is on a “three-year term of supervised probation.”

If the name “Titan” rings any bells, it may be because Titan supplied two of the translators named in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.

Transparency International’s 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index gives Benin a “3.2″, tying it for 77th place with Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and Mali. In other words, while Benin has rampant corruption, it’s better than major economies like India and Russia, and vastly better than neighbors Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire. It makes you wonder just what sort of US corporate bribery one might find going on, say, in the Nigerian oil sector…