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« Guilty Plea In Vietnam Bribery Case | Main | Will Graft Defeat Iraq? »
Sunday
Jun282009

Writing Modern History

An extended interview in this month's Guernica with Michela Wrong is great reading. She's the British journalist who's current book is It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower. In the book and the interview, she uses the story of John Githongo to talk about the root causes of corruption in Africa, digging deep into tribalism, colonialism and western aid. In other words, she's a serious (but never boring) journalist -- we'd call her a "writer and thinker" -- who doesn't fall for slogans and bumper stickers when it comes to the causes of graft and its cures.

We won't spoil the interview. But here's the set up:

On February 6, 2005, John Githongo appeared at Michela Wrong’s London doorstep, on the run and fearing for his life. Githongo, Kenya’s anti-corruption czar, had done his job too well. Over the past two years, Githongo had uncovered a string of shady procurement deals that led directly to the same ministers who had hired him, including President Mwai Kibaki. In the largest of these, a mysterious British firm called Anglo Leasing was awarded government contracts at hugely inflated prices.

When Githongo investigated the company, he was told to back off, eventually discovering that Anglo Leasing did not exist—“Anglo Leasing,” one minister told a stunned Githongo, “is us.” Then the death threats began. Wrong, a long-time Africa correspondent for various British publications and a friend of Githongo’s, had extended the invitation for a London stay at their last dinner together, where Githongo seemed nervous and distracted. That was three months earlier. Now here he was, suitcase in hand, in need of a safe house. . .

Read our prior posts about John Githongo here.

* * *
From Frederic Bourke's Trial. On Friday the prosecution rested its case. The defense called Robert Evans, Bourke's friend since their seventh-grade in Michigan. His account, Bloomberg's David Glovin reported, "contradicted that of Hans Bodmer, [Viktor] Kozeny’s former lawyer, who earlier testified that he told Bourke details of the bribery scheme during a walk around an Azerbaijan hotel at 8 a.m. on Feb. 6, 1998."

Evans said he and Bourke didn't arrive in Baku that day until 9:30 a.m. and didn't talk with Bodmer until hours later. Evans also said Bodmer told them the Azeri president supported Kozeny’s venture and “was in on the deal.” But he said nothing about illegal payments.

Glovin recaps the case this way: "Bourke, who was once married to a member of the family that owned Ford Motor Co., is accused of investing $8 million with Kozeny knowing he was paying bribes. Backed by $350 million, Kozeny wanted to buy Azerbaijan’s state oil company, known as Socar, for one-tenth of what he valued it and to re-sell it at a profit. . . . Bourke denies knowing of the bribes and says Kozeny stole more than $180 million from him and other investors. Azerbaijan, a nation in the Caspian Sea region, never sold Socar, wiping out the investment. Kozeny, who has also been charged in the case, is a fugitive living in the Bahamas."

Why, by the way, do we mention David Glovin so often? Because he's the only journalist publishing regular accounts of Bourke's trial. He's also a great reporter who covers the federal courthouse in Manhattan for Bloomberg. When the Madoff story broke on his turf, his dispatches -- packed with facts, color and analysis that reached beyond daily journalism -- led the international coverage. So we're lucky he's sitting in on the Bourke proceedings, which he thinks might conclude this week.

Read David Glovin's reports on the trial here.

Read all our posts about U.S. v. Kozeny and the prosecution of Frederic Bourke here.
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