|25 September, 2019

White House tests corporate corruption firewall

Donald Trump has pushed the boundaries of ethical norms as president

U.S. President Donald Trump looks on during a bilateral meeting with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019.

U.S. President Donald Trump looks on during a bilateral meeting with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019.

Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

SAN FRANCISCO  - Companies are ahead of the White House when it comes to anti-corruption efforts. From withholding Ukrainian aid to making money out of lodging visiting dignitaries, the U.S. administration has muddied the waters on acceptable behavior. While there’s a risk that companies exploit the murk, it’s more likely they’ll end up defenders of the higher ground.

Donald Trump has pushed the boundaries of ethical norms as president. He refused to divest his business and has visited his hotels more than 360 times as commander-in-chief, according to an August report by an ethics watchdog. The Washington Post reported that Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday will call for an impeachment inquiry over allegations Trump withheld $391 million in aid to Ukraine, in his attempt to nudge that country into investigating his potential 2020 presidential rival and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump says he has done nothing wrong. It’s clear though that the lines between public and private interest have become blurred under the current administration. More than 100 overseas officials from 65 governments have visited Trump’s properties nearly 140 times, the watchdog said. For example, Kuwait has held its National Day celebration at the Trump hotel in Washington for three years in a row. Profit from foreign governments is supposed to go to the U.S. Treasury but there’s no way to verify whether that has happened.

By contrast, companies are facing tougher accountability for their dealings with other countries’ nationals. Goldman Sachs is under a U.S. Justice Department investigation over its work for Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, from which billions were looted. A former executive pleaded guilty in 2018 and forfeited $43 million. Wall Street banks were also hit with fines for hiring the children of Chinese government officials. Last year, U.S. authorities slapped a record $3 billion in fines on companies accused of foreign corruption.

Whatever the tone from the top, companies have reason to keep up the good behavior. Penalties and criminal indictments for corruption often take years to resolve, and could easily outlast the current administration. America’s tough extraterritorial rules on foreign corrupt practices remain firmly in place when it comes to corporate executives. But the gap between the behavior of the business world and the U.S. government is widening – which suggests it will fall increasingly to companies to defend America’s global reputation.

CONTEXT NEWS

- U.S. President Donald Trump on Sept. 24 blamed inadequate financial support from European nations for a delay in U.S. aid to Ukraine. He denied that he withheld $391 million to pressure Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, who is running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. He later said he would release an unclassified transcript of the call.

- Trump, who has said he did nothing wrong, accused Biden of trying to stop a corruption probe involving his son’s business dealings in Ukraine. Seven moderate Democrats on Sept. 23 joined a growing group of party members calling for Trump’s impeachment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to announce an impeachment inquiry in the afternoon of Sept. 24, the Washington Post reported.

(Editing by John Foley and Amanda Gomez)

© Reuters News 2019

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