Sunday, April 02, 2006

Bribery and firm operations (Hyundai executive questioned in governance probe)

From an article in the WSJ, 3/30/2006:
A senior Hyundai executive was questioned by prosecutors in connection with a widening bribery investigation in which he was accused of creating a 'slush fund' to pay for political favors.
The article says that this incident raises questions about corporate governance at Hyundai.

I'm not aware of any details of the case beyond those reported in the news, but in the absence of any other information, I'm not sure how they make that jump.

Is there a direct association between bribery of outside officials (presumably with the ends of advancing the company's interests, however unethical the means may be) and other unethical corporate actions (say poor governance and managerial malfeasance) which may hurt the company's value?
Bernardi and Vassill (2004) in a Business Ethics paper find that small deviations from ethical behavior lead to even larger deviations from ethical behavior. Participants who are likely to condone a willingness to bribe a police officer to avoid being issued a speeding ticket tend to have lax views on inappropriate behaviour of corporate executives as well.
This would seem to suggest that managers who are likely to bribe officials for example, are more likely to engage in other more important types of corporate wrongdoing like managing earnings, insider trading or timing their option exercises... or maybe even largescale corporate fraud.

My second question does not ask for value judgement, but for data analysis: is it possible to quantify the effect of bribery by company managers of external agents (say, government officials or others who are not directly involved with a company) on firm value?

Perhaps not in the US. The United States prohibits American individuals and corporations from bribing foreign government officials. Legislation enacted in 1976 and 1977 stipulates tax penalties, fines, and even prison terms for executives of American companies that pay illegal bribes.
Hines' 1995 NBER working paper suggests that this legislation weakened the competitive position of American companies vis-a-vis foreign companies (like Hyundai) that were not bound by this rule.

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