I am writing this post just one day after a California jury awarded a husband and wife over $2 billion. Jurors found that the couple probably contracted an aggressive form of cancer because of their exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer. The jury verdict follows two other huge awards against the company.
During the trial, jurors heard just how aggressive the company was in trying to persuade the U.S. Environment Protection Agency that its glyphosate based herbicide was safe.
Today we learned that Monsanto may have kept secret dossiers on European lawmakers and journalists. It allegedly did so in the hopes of “influencing” Europeans on the safety of their herbicides. [We can think of better ways than spying if you are trying to win hearts and minds!] The French are pissed at the revelations, so angry that French federal prosecutors have launched an official investigation.
Bayer acknowledged the spying but claimed no laws were broken. That remains to be seen but their behavior is still unethical and immoral.
According to a company spokesperson, “It’s safe to say that other countries in Europe were affected by lists … I assume that all EU member states could potentially be affected. There have been a number of cases where — as they would say in football — not the ball was played but the man, or woman, was tackled. When you collect non-publicly available data about individuals a Rubicon is clearly crossed.”
The company also claims it does not tolerate unethical behavior. Keep reading, that is not the first time Monsanto gave such assurances.
The spying revelations come on the heels of other reports that the “independent” labs Monsanto hired to performing their safety testing were subsequently convicted of fraud and that the company ghost wrote several independent scholarly reviews regarding glyphosate safety.
We now are asking, did Monsanto bribe foreign government officials to approve glyphosate or other of the company’s products?
Why do we ask? Because glyphosate is the most widely used weed killer in the world. Although banned in many places, it is still the number one herbicide globally and that means it brings in billions of dollars of revenues each year.
U.S. law forbids companies or executives from bribing or attempting to bribe foreign government officials. Although today Monsanto is owned by Bayer, a German company, the U.S. bribery laws still apply.
We have seen dozens of cases where U.S. companies or international companies with nexus to the United States have bribed foreign officials. Mining companies do it. Energy companies do it and so do pharmaceutical companies. That doesn’t make it right, of course.
In fact, bribery of foreign government officials makes it more difficult for legitimate companies to do business. There are dozens of honest herbicide manufacturers, why should their workers and investors be punished simply because a giant chemical company can pay bribes? And think of the safety aspects of that!
Monsanto’s History of Bribery
A little over a decade ago, Monsanto paid a $1.5 million fine after admitting one of its employees bribed a senior Indonesian official. The $50,000 bribe was disguised as a consulting fee. An investigation later revealed that was the tip of the iceberg.
The bribes were paid to help grease the wheels in Indonesia where the company was facing stiff opposition to its plan to introduce genetically modified cotton. Monsanto, which manufacturers Roundup, has an entire line of genetically altered crops that are tolerant to glyphosate. This allows farmers to spray their fields with Roundup without worrying about harm to their crops. The farmers have a good crop and Monsanto has a monopoly since only their modified seeds will now grow in soil sprayed with Roundup.
According to the BBC, in a twist of irony, despite paying the bribe, the Indonesian official still refused to grant Monsanto a waiver of environmental impact study. There is apparently no honor among crooks!
[Interesting side note. The prosecutor in the 2005 Monsanto foreign bribery case was Christopher Wray, today the embattled director of the FBI.]
Did Monsanto learn its lesson?
The company says yes, “Monsanto strictly prohibits bribery and maintains dedicated people who focus on the diligence necessary to monitor and mitigate these risks in every region where we conduct business. Monsanto acknowledges this failure in Indonesia 10 years ago and works very hard every day to make sure this kind of mistake never happens again.”
Their answer may be technically correct, at least they have not been caught yet. Monsanto’s parent company, however, also has a record of anti-bribery compliance.
In 2015, Greek prosecutors claimed that Bayer bribed hundreds of state doctors to promote Bayer’s products.
Cash Whistleblower Awards for Foreign Bribery Information
The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is one of two agencies charged with enforcing the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The Commission has the authority to pay cash awards of up to 30% of whatever they collect from wrongdoers.
Although several countries restrict the use of Roundup and glyphosate based herbicides, Monsanto does business in virtually every country in the world. We believe the company has bribed or attempted to bribe foreign government officials.
The FCPA prohibits any payment (cash, gifts or other things of value) to a foreign government official made with the intent to influence that official to assist the company to obtain or retain any sort of business advantage.
Common examples of illegal bribes and payments include those made to obtain favorable tax treatment, to reduce or avoid tariffs, to speed up licenses, to influence regulatory actions, secure government contracts or to secure permits.
A second provision of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act mandates that companies keep proper books and records. Rarely are bribes paid as cash in a brown paper bag. Today they are disguised as consulting fees or payments for bogus invoices.
If the government can’t prove the bribe – most corrupt foreign officials aren’t eager to cooperate – it can often still prove the books and records violation.
Seeking Monsanto Whistleblowers
The FCPA Anti-Corruption lawyers at Mahany Law are actively seeking corporate insiders with direct knowledge of bribery or other misconduct by Monsanto. Even if you are covered by a confidentiality agreement, call us. The SEC and Congress say that corporate privacy policies can’t be used to shield companies from their illegal actions. And retaliation is strictly prohibited.
To learn more, visit our FCPA foreign bribery and books and records whistleblower page. Ready to see if you qualify for an award? Contact us online, by email or by phone at (direct). All inquiries are confidential and protected by the attorney – client privilege.
Editors Note: We have dozens of posts about Monsanto, Roundup and glyphosate. Visit our Monsanto resources page for a complete list of all our stories on this topic.