May 2, 2010:
A long investigation into French firms paying Malaysian defense officials over $150 million in bribes, to insure the sales $1.1 billion worth of submarines, is being denied all around. The accusations are probably true, and only the efforts of clean government groups in both countries, along with courageous prosecutors in both countries has kept the investigation alive. Normally, officials in both nations are inclined to look the other way in these matters. But some recent convictions of high French officials for taking defense related bribes, and more visible corruption in Malaysia, has made it easier to get the submarine bribery scandal out in the open. This despite the fact that the guy accused of getting most of the bribes (as defense minister), is now prime minister.
The bribes are seen as a key tool in selling weapons. Last year, France saw its arms exports to increase nearly twenty percent, keeping it firmly in fourth place among international arms exporters. To achieve this, France cut a lot of the red tape and bureaucracy arms exporters have to put up with. France is keen on moving ahead of Britain, which has long exported more weapons, and Russia, which has been struggling of late. By virtue of a major aircraft sale to Saudi Arabia, Britain was the world's largest arms exporter in 2007, when they sold $19 billion worth of arms, passing the perennial leader, the United States. But over the past five years, the U.S. is still in the lead, with Britain second, and Russia third.
Russia, Britain and France have one big advantage over the U.S., in that they are not shy about paying bribes. Britain achieved many of its large sales recently via bribes, and attempts by British legal authorities to investigate bribery in places like Saudi Arabia, are openly suppressed by the government (the Saudis threatened to take their business elsewhere, and cut off counter-terror cooperation otherwise.) France has a similar attitude towards anti-bribery laws. But throughout Europe, and in many other parts of the world, such bribery, and corruption in general, is being attacked more frequently, openly and successfully.