Dimitris Dimitriadis digs into the scandals linked to a number of firms participating in a flagship global anti-corruption initiative

While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has cast a shadow over this year’s G20 summit – with delegates staging walk-outs in protest at Russia’s participation – a group of companies with controversial track-records are being allowed by the World Economic Forum (WEF) to “set the global anti-corruption agenda” and possibly influence global discussions from the sidelines.

The WEF’s Partnership Against Corruption Initiative (PACI) describes itself as the “leading business voice on anti-corruption and transparency” and brings together some 90 companies that “actively shape the B20 policy agenda”. The B20 is a select group of businesses that delivers proposals to the G20, the world’s 20 richest countries.  

However, several members of PACI – the same initiative that touts its role in promoting efforts to tackle global corruption – have faced scandals and significant public scrutiny, while others are controlled by states with poor human rights records. 

Saudi Basic Industries Corporation and Saudi Telecom Group are both majority owned by the Saudi state, which recently executed 81 people in one day. But they both get a seat at the table of PACI – the “principal CEO-led platform in the global anti-corruption arena” and one of the WEF’s “strongest cross-industry collaborative efforts” – a boon to their reputations and credentials. 

Also among PACI’s signatories is Infosys, an Indian multinational IT company which is backed by Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murthy, and which was shamed by Western media into pulling out of Russia after the invasion. In response to the scrutiny, Infosys, which reportedly has strong historical ties to Russia and President Vladimir Putin, said that it was “urgently closing its Russia operations”. 

Commodity trading and mining giant Glencore, whose UK subsidiary was recently charged by the Serious Fraud Office with seven counts of bribery in connection with its oil operations, is also listed as a PACI member. While the company has condemned the invasion of Ukraine, it continues to hold substantive interests in Russia including a stake in aluminium and hydropower group EN+ from which it concluded “there is no realistic way to exit” at the moment. In its latest annual report, Glencore says “we actively participate in PACI”, adding that it has incorporated its guidelines into its business. 

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Oil major TotalEnergies, another PACI member, was recently criticised by climate activists for being too slow to announce that it would phase-out of Russia, lagging behind its rivals, and for its refusal to stop purchasing Russian gas. The company has denied any accusations of complicity in the conflict, adding that it has condemned the invasion and that it will “ensure strict compliance with current and future European sanctions”, as it gradually suspends its activities in Russia. 

A recent sustainability report from TotalEnergies states that it is “exposed to corruption risks due to its presence in certain countries that have a high perceived level of corruption according to the index drawn up by Transparency International” and that it applies a principle of zero tolerance of corruption for all its employees and suppliers, while also encouraging a culture of speaking up among its workforce. 

TotalEnergies has also faced scrutiny from green groups and a probe over an alleged conflict of interest involving its chief executive, Patrick Pouyanné, and Ecole Polytechnique. This came after the prestigious university voted to allow TotalEnergies to build a research and innovation centre on its Saclay campus – a decision that complainants including the French arm of Greenpeace, anti-corruption group ANTICOR, and La Sphinx alleged was unduly influenced by Patrick Pouyanné, France’s TotalEnergies CEO, who is also on the university board. 

Pouyanné has denied the allegations, saying that the launch of the research centre pre-dates his position as a member of the university board and that there had been no “crossover” between his two roles. 


Gatekeepers

Yara International, a state-backed Norwegian fertiliser producer, was caught up in one of the country’s highest-profile corruption scandals after it acknowledged in 2014 that it had paid bribes to officials in India and Libya and was fined $36 million by Norwegian authorities.

Prosecutors originally accused four of its former top executives, including its CEO, of paying the bribes, but only its former chief legal officer was convicted and received a seven-year sentence by an appeals court. The others were acquitted. In addition to being a PACI signatory, Yara International is a WEF strategic partner

A spokesperson for the company said that the case referred to is more than a decade old and does not reflect the firm and what it stands for today, adding that since the scandal Yara has worked on “strengthening knowledge, attitudes and systems (routines and regulations) to prevent the recurrence of such an event”. 

PACI says that it is driven by the “needs” and “interests” of member companies. 

Other signatories include Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras), a state-run oil Brazilian oil major which in 2018 agreed to pay the US Department of Justice, Securities Exchange Commission and Brazilian authorities a total of $853.2 million to end a long-running corruption probe following which the company “successfully rejoined PACI”.

Since then, the company says it has “finally turned the page” and has a “robust control system and anti-corruption measures that go beyond those required by law”. 

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In 2019, Standard Chartered, another PACI member, was ordered to pay US and UK authorities £842 million to settle allegations that it had breached sanctions against several countries including Iran. The bank, which is listed as a ‘gatekeeper’ – a special subgroup of PACI signatories that are “strategically positioned to prevent or interrupt illicit financial flows” – was also fined more than £21 million in 2020 separately for allegedly breaching sanctions against Russia. 

The WEF initiative states on its website that members gather at “bi/annual meetings to discuss business integrity while looking at progress in terms of implementation of collective action on anti-corruption.” It also boasts that PACI gets to “actively shape the B20 policy agenda”. 

According to its website, PACI last year “co-chaired the taskforce under the Italian presidency, representing the business voice on anti-corruption towards the G20”. It also “continues to act as a networking partner of the B20 for the 2021-2022 term under the Indonesian presidency” which refers to this year’s G20 summit. 

Meanwhile, the summit, which is still in progress, has seen finance ministers from various countries including the US walk out of a closed-door session when a Russian official began delivering his remarks – a move that was made in protest of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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