Alstom of France is being investigated in Europe for allegedly paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to win contracts in many countries including Venezuela, the Wall Street Journal reports. Alstom currently has major maintenance contracts at the Guri Dam with state-owned hydro-power utility Edelca in Bolivar state. Alstom also was contracted to build most of the Caracas-Los Teques metro line, and for years it has been the lead contractor at the La Vueltosa expansion of Cadafe’s Uribante-Caparo hydro-power project in Venezuela’s Andes region.
In 2007, Alstom was accused paying energy ministry and Cadafe officials tens of millions of dollars in bribes to “win” the La Vueltosa contract. Alstom officials in Caracas say “non, non, non” when asked to respond on the record to the allegations in the Wall street Journal’s article. But of course, they’re not being truthful. If Alstom is under criminal investigation in Europe for alleged bribery in the developing world, there must be substantial probable cause. And if one lives in Venezuela, there’s no doubt whatsoever that Alstom may have skirted some European laws relating to corruption.
But here’s the rub: It’s not a crime in Venezuela to pay bribes – unless the government doesn’t like you. But if you’re a friend of the Bolivarian government, there’s “no problemo, mon ami.” President Chavez and his Bolivarian National Assembly have made numerous reforms to Venezuela’s criminal code since 2003, including reforms which explicitly decriminalize bribery because state entities and enterprises are exempted from laws meant to prevent bribery, corruption, money laundering, etc.
This means the European police officials investigating Alstom should not expect any help from the government of Venezuela, because under Venezuelan law Alstom has not paid any bribes – even if it might have paid some Venezuelan government officials “commissions” to land multi-millionaire public works contracts. But who can blame Alstom, when everyone from Beijing to Moscow, and from Tehran to Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Quito, La Paz and Managua, Cuba and most of the Caribbean are hustling Hugo Chavez for all the cheap oil and cash they can squeeze out of the great Bolivarian leader.