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When Siemens, Europe's biggest engineering firm, adopted the slogan "Be inspired" in the mid-1990s, bribery was not what it had in mind. But no one can accuse its managers of lacking inspiration in devising ways to pass generous backhanders to corrupt officials and politicians around the world. On December 15th Siemens pleaded guilty to charges of bribery and corruption and agreed to pay fines of $800m in America and 395m ($540m) in Germany.The brazenness of the firm's bribe-paying points to a rotten corporate culture pervasive across Germany at the time. "The great majority of companies operating in the international market were well aware that German law--and the law of most OECD countries--allowed foreign bribery and even subsidised this," says Peter Eigen, the founder of Transparency International, an anti-corruption group.
That, at least, has changed. Pieth thinks about half of the 30 biggest German and French firms are being investigated or prosecuted for bribing foreign officials. And Germany has steadily improved its rank in Transparency's "Bribe Payers Index", moving from ninth-least corrupt in 1999 to fifth in 2008.
Source: The Economist
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