A New Globo Cop For Crooks In High Places

There was a time when business executives, bankers, and aid officials from the industrialized world held their noses, forked over bribes to officials in places from Kenya to Argentina, and told themselves: At least these leaders are on the right side of the ideological divide. The end of the cold war changed all that. Now, the economic costs of corruption are apparent to everyone--even, increasingly, to many Third World figures who may be tempted by corruption--and there's no excuse for protecting the bad guys.

This change of spirit is behind a new, nonprofit group, Transparency International, dedicated to combating "grand" corruption involving corporations and holders of public office in countries around the world. TI wants governments and corporations to behave in a more "transparent," and hence, honest, fashion. It counts among its founders and directors former World Bank officials and anticorruption experts from Africa and Asia, and it has already sent a team to Ecuador, at the government's request, to devise a program for fighting graft. Modeled on Amnesty International, Berlin-based TI, founded last May, is receiving support from European aid agencies and a few multinationals such as General Electric Co. and Boeing Co.

Since the 1977 passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, U.S. multinationals have been at a competitive disadvantage with foreign companies, many of which may deduct bribes as a cost of business. But TI representatives think foreign multinationals can be convinced that corruption's damage is so great that they must join the battle. "This is a problem that raises moral, economic, and political issues," says Fritz F. Heimann, associate general counsel at GE and head of the new U.S. chapter of TI. "It's not an issue that can be fought on the basis of competitive advantage or disadvantage."

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