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Friday, June 24, 2011

Tyson's Mexican bribery scheme; why no charges?

Posted by on Fri, Jun 24, 2011 at 6:09 PM

Tough analysis from the New York Times' James Stewart of Tyson Foods admitted payments to influence veterinarian inspectors in Tyson Mexican facilities. Only Tyson, as a corporate actor, was penalized, however, not the people who participated in the scheme, Stewart discovered.

It would seem self-evident that if Tyson engaged in a conspiracy and violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, then someone at Tyson did so as well. The statute specifically provides for fines of up to $5 million and a prison term of up to 20 years for individuals, as well as fines of up to $25 million for companies.

I assumed the names were withheld because the investigation was continuing and further charges might be forthcoming. I was wrong.

When I called this week, press officers for both the Justice Department and S.E.C. said the investigation was over and no one would be named or charged. This seems to reflect the belief that the deferred prosecution agreement, penalty and S.E.C. settlement largely achieved the government’s objectives, which were to stop the illegal conduct at Tyson and deter future instances. The decision not to pursue cases against individuals seems also to reflect budgetary constraints at both agencies (cases involving foreign witnesses can be especially costly) and, for the Justice Department, the burden in a criminal case of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But surely bribery, not to mention other forms of corporate wrongdoing, would be more effectively deterred if someone was actually held accountable for it.

When the scheme was first reported, Tyson offered a variety of excuses — the practice began before they owned the plant, payments to vets were once legal in Mexico, they voluntarily reported the scheme (eventually).

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