Would You Do Business With Terrorists?
Trading With the Enemy
Even the mainstream media are occasionally shocked by the double standards being used in the United States to justify terrorism. When a corporation is caught assisting terrorists, why should it be punished less than an individual? Here are portions of a CBS Marketwatch article that asks the right questions.
by Rex NuttingWhen individual Americans are accused of helping terrorists, they're thrown in jail and their names are dragged through the mud.
But when major U.S. corporations are caught trading with the enemy, they get just a slap on the wrist from the government.
In the past two weeks, the government has revealed that 57 companies and organizations have been fined for doing business with terrorists, despots and tyrants.
However, neither the government nor the companies are forthcoming with the public about the details of the illicit trade with rogue governments like Iraq, Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Sudan.
ChevronTexaco hasn't bragged about breaking the sanctions against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Citigroup hasn't issued a press release extolling how it helped finance terrorist groups.
It's not just immoral. With a few exceptions, it is against the law for U.S. companies and individuals to have commercial or financial dealings with several countries as well as dozens of terrorist or drug organizations.
No one wants to be associated in the public mind with torturers, thugs and murderers, even if it's profitable to be associated with them in private. But why are the government's cops so reluctant to tell us about the crooks they've captured? Who ever heard of a shy prosecutor, especially one who can show some success in the war against terrorism?
When deranged American citizens are accused of working with terrorist groups like al-Qaida, Attorney General John Ashcroft holds a press conference and the FBI puts a new name and face on its Top 10 Most Wanted List, even though the allegations have not been proved in court. The suspects can languish in jail for months without any formal charges. And when a Muslim charity is suspected of laundering funds for alleged terror groups, the Treasury Department shuts it down and freezes its assets.
But when multinational corporations like Wal-Mart, Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil and Amazon.com agree with government prosecutors that they have violated laws that prohibit doing business with enemy states, the news is buried on an obscure government Web site.
57 companies fined
In the past two weeks, the Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control has quietly revealed that 57 companies and organizations have been fined more than $1.35 million for civil violations of the sanctions laws. The government has provided almost no information about the civil cases except what country the company traded with and what the penalty was. No dates, no details, no way of knowing if the violations were egregious or inadvertent. No way of knowing if the companies sold brass knuckles to the secret police or baby formula to an orphanage.
"The Treasury is giving in to corporate pressure," said Russell Mokhiber, editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter, who sued the government under the Freedom of Information Act to learn the details of earlier violations of the trade sanctions laws.
"To deter future corporate wrongdoing, [the Treasury] must stop protecting major American companies from the glare of adverse publicity," Mokhiber said at a press conference.
The largest penalty levied among the 59 public cases was $250,000 against Zim American Israeli Shipping Co. of Norfolk, Va., for trade with Cuba. Zim, which is about half owned by the Israeli government, is one of the largest shipping companies in the world.
Nobody at the Norfolk office of Zim knew anything concrete about the penalty. "I think it happened a long time ago," said one official.
But they do know about terrorism. The company relocated from the 16th floor of the World Trade Center just a week before the Sept. 11 attack, sparking speculation in the conspiracy press that the Israeli Mossad had tipped off the company ahead of time.
As for the Cubans, "I think they are very poor," the Zim official said.
Blue chips caught red handed
Other "big" fines:
ExxonMobil was fined $50,000 for exports to Sudan.
ChevronTexaco was fined a total of $14,071.07 for deals with Cuba and Iraq. A company spokesman told the Corporate Crime Reporter that the company bought oil from Iraq under the U.N. Oil for Food program and that a payment was "inadvertently" paid to an Iraqi government port official. [How do you "inadvertently" bribe an Iraqi official?]
Wal-Mart was fined $50,000 for dealings with Cuba. A Wal-Mart spokesman said some pajamas sold to its Canadian operations "might have originated in Cuba." The company paid the fine "voluntarily" after lengthy discussions with government lawyers and there was "never any determination of a violation," he said.
Royal Crown was fined $38,000 for exports to Sudan.
And a couple of minor but intriguing infractions:
Citigroup was fined $2,925 for violating laws against financing terrorism. A spokesman for the financial services giant did not return a phone call seeking comment. It was the only penalty on the government's list for violation of the anti-terrorism financing law.
The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry in Research Triangle Park, N.C., was fined $500 for violating laws against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. A spokesman for the group did not return a phone call. It was the only penalty on the government's list for violations of nonproliferation laws.
Rex Nutting is Washington bureau chief of CBS.MarketWatch.com.
We have yet to hear about any Cuban connection to terrorism, so it is not clear why those events were mentioned in the article. But what about the others? What is your opinion? Tell your views to The Progress Report:
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