The heading to this article perhaps says it all.

There’s a lot of bad things going on in the World. Most have something to do with money and power. Is all the Peddling, Diddling, Stealing, Abusing Power, Corruption, Embezzlement, Bribery, Dirty Tricks, Misrepresentation, Lying and finally, HMRC admitting they made a mistake, a fair assessment on how far we are away from a world in which telling the truth, all of it (good and bad) and acting at all times honestly, fairly and with 100% probity?  To remind you (but I’m sure you don’t need reminding, do you, probity means: the quality of having strong moral principles; honesty and decency.)

You tell me.

Take a look at what politicians have been up to (but to be fair, it’s not clear what he is accused of nor whether the claims are true or politically motivated.  In the last few days, our News Reels reported that ex-President Sarkozy of France was put under investigation. BBC News reported this, here, over alleged influence peddling. Mr Sarkozy appeared before a judge in Paris late on 1 July after 15 hours of questioning by anti-corruption police. This is thought to be the first time a former French head of state has been held in police custody. Mr Sarkozy says the charges against him are politically motivated and are aimed at “humiliating” and “defaming” him.

What is Influence Peddling?

Influence Peddling is the illegal practice of using one’s influence in government or connections with persons in authority so as to obtain favours or preferential treatment for another, usually in return for an illegal payment.

One of the most prominent influence peddling cases took place in 2012 when the vice president of Argentina Amado Boudou was accused of being a mere straw owner of the printing house Ciccone Calcográfica, a private company that has contracts to print over 120 million new Argentine pesos banknotes, license plates, and other government issues. The contracts were awarded by Boudou himself when he was the Economy Minister of Argentina.

Politicians who fell out with the law

History is full of politicians who fell out with the law. Here’s a quick run-down on some of them.

  • Israel: Former PM Ehud Olmert jailed for six years for corruption – For the first time in Israel’s history, a former PM was jailed: Judge sentences former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to 6 years in jail for his role in real-estate development corruption affair.Story here
  • Thailand: Thai PM faces legal showdown in power abuse case -Thailand’s caretaker prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, stepped down after a court found her guilty of abusing her power – a decision likely to provoke further street protests after six months of violent political deadlock that has already left 25 people killed and scores injured. In a unanimous decision, the constitutional court ruled that Yingluck had acted with a hidden agenda when she transferred a senior civil servant to another position shortly after taking office in 2011. Story here.
  • Romania: Former Prime Minister Receives Jail Sentence, Again -Former Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase (not the tennis player!) was sentenced to four years in prison for taking bribes. This is his second corruption-related sentencing, reports Radio Free Europe. Nastase, who was prime minister from 2000 to 2004, was released from jail in March of 2013 after serving eight months for a separate case involving illegal fundraising in 2004’s electoral campaign, reports Romania–Insider.com.  According to Radio Free Europe, Nastase was convicted of taking US$858,000 worth of building materials and construction work from Irina Jianu, chief inspector at a state construction company, in exchange for allowing her to keep her job. Story here.
  • Richard NixonUSA: Tricky Dickey – Richard Nixon impeached, but was he guilty? – A break-in occurred on the night of 17 1972, as five burglars entered the Democratic National Committee offices inside the Watergate office complex in Washington. President Richard Nixon’s involvement in the infamous Watergate scandal is a controversial issue, even today. Nixon’s role in Watergate has been under discussion and clouded in suspicious for years. At the time, it was the greatest presidential scandal in U.S. history. Story here.
  • Italy: Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, now approaching 80, was ordered in May 2014 to help out at the Sacra Famiglia centre as part of his one year sentence for tax fraud which also saw him thrown out of the Italian parliament. But up until now, doctors had imposed a news black out on how exactly Berlusconi was getting on after trading his customary late night carousing with young show girls for more sedentary mornings entertaining the elderly. Story here.
  • Iceland: Guilty over 2008 financial crisis -Iceland’s former Prime Minister Geir Haarde was found guilty over country’s 2008 financial crisis. He was charged with failing to hold emergency cabinet meetings in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis. But the court cleared him of more serious charges of bank negligence. Story here.
  • Pakistan: Four Prime Ministers found guilty of Contempt of Court -President Asif Ali Zardari ordered to appoint a new PM after judge rules ‘convict Gilani’ cannot hold the office.  Pakistan’s top judge disqualified the country’s prime minister from office in a move likened to a “judicial dictatorship” by some commentators outraged that the head of government should be deposed by anything other than parliament. Capping months of legal trench warfare between the government led by the Pakistan People’s party (PPP) and the judiciary, Yousuf Raza Gilani was stripped of his office by a short statement read out in a packed courtroom by the chief justice. Iftikhar Chaudhry, the top judge, said Gilani had effectively not been prime minister since April 26 when he had been found guilty of contempt for refusing to comply with a Supreme Court order to reopen dormant fraud investigations against President Asif Ali Zardari. Story here.
  • Egypt: Mubarak sentenced to jail for embezzlement -A court in Egypt has sentenced former President Hosni Mubarak to three years in prison after finding him guilty of embezzling public funds. His two sons, Alaa and Gamal, were also convicted and given four-year terms.  The three were also fined $3m (£1.8m) and ordered to repay the $17.6m they were accused of stealing. Story here.

The Good Guy – Prison then Prime Minister

NelsonMThe most famous example of someone who served a prison sentence first and then became Prime Minister of his country is, of course, Nelson Mandela. Charged with leaving South Africa illegally and inciting workers to strike, he was jailed in 1962. After further charges, he was imprisoned for life but was released in 1990 before his inauguration as South Africa’s first democratically elected President in 1994.

Is dishonesty on the rise?

It seems to me, that dishonesty is very much alive and well.

A quick look at some news stories captured by EziaNews (at www.bizezia.com/newsindex) confirms what a thoroughly dishonest and dishonourable place we humans have built for ourselves:

  • Almost half of UK firms believe offering entertainment [as an incentive) to keep business is OK: More than one in 10 firms globally have experienced a “significant fraud” in the past two years, according to a survey. EY’s Global Fraud Survey also found 10 per cent of senior executives had been asked to pay a bribe in a business situation, while nearly 20 per cent of all respondents had been asked to make a charitable contribution by a customer or client. Globally, almost 40 per cent of respondents believed bribery and corruption were widespread in their country, compared with 18 per cent in the UK. Read more here
  • Systematic bribery at GlaxoSmithKline China ‘credible’ says investigator:Allegations that pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) systematically bribed doctors in China are credible, says an investigator hired by the firm.Peter Humphrey (who is due to go on trial next month) was hired only to investigate who was behind a suspected smear campaign against GSK. But after he finished his report, he learned the details of further allegations against the firm and told colleagues he believed they were true.GSK told the BBC it did not tolerate corruption in its business. Read more here
  • Conservative researchers posed as students to record Labour disunity: The Conservatives have been accused of dirty tricks after it emerged that party researchers posed as students to record comments by the Labour policy chief Jon Cruddas, which were then passed to the press.  The Tory press operation handed the Daily Telegraph and the BBC a transcript of a conversation with Cruddas who was approached in the foyer at Saturday’s Fabian summer conference at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. A note from the Conservatives accompanying the transcript made clear that the recording had been made by researchers posing as students, according to an account on the BBC website.Labour is considering referring the transcript of the remarks to the Press Complaints Commission, and the former standards watchdog Sir Alistair Graham has accused the Tories of entrapment. Read more here
  • Lloyds defends recovery letters naming ‘SCM Solicitors’:  The growing scandal of organisations employing non-existent ‘law firms’ to pressure debtors (remember the stories about Wonga?) has taken a new turn with the giant Lloyds Banking Group the latest to come under scrutiny. Meanwhile, the Solicitors Regulation Authority is preparing guidance for in-house lawyers, to ensure they do not give the impression that external law firms are involved in customer transactions where this is not the case.   The Law Society Gazette has been alerted to Lloyds’ use of the name ‘SCM Solicitors’, formerly Sechiari, Clark and Mitchell, in letters demanding repayment of debts. The firm, registered at the SRA under number 62032, was dissolved on 30 June 2011.  SCM Solicitors is now part of the group’s in-house litigation department. The bank maintains that letters issued by the department make it clear that SCM solicitors is part of Lloyds Banking Group.  But Lloyds is still partly owned by the Government isn’t it? Read more here

fightAnd then we come to HMRC who have confessed to making a £1.9bn error. This was reported widely in the last couple of days as HMRC was criticised by the National Audit Office (NAO) after falsely reporting it had exceeded performance targets by £1.9bn. An error in agreed performance targets led HMRC to set the compliance yield baseline £1.9bn too low; thus, targets were easier to achieve and resulted in exceeded performance reports of £1.9bn in 2011-12 and £2bn in 2012-13. Read more here

Of course, as we would expect, HMRC regret the error but what worries me is the reference in the Economia story to “falsely reporting”. That sounds more dishonest than simply making a mistake.  The facts will emerge I’m sure and another Enquiry by MPs will be launched.

With HMRC about to start helping themselves to the contents of bank accounts of some taxpayers who they say either owe them money or may owe them money, it’s all a bit too much to expect that mistakes won’t occur.

What do you think?

Is there a glimmer of hope on the Probity Horizon?

City A.M have reported that the head of Barclays has apparently said, in the wake of a series of scandals which have devastated the bank’s reputation, that the bank is spending tens of millions of pounds on a new tie-up with the Cambridge Judge Business School. It hopes all of its 2,000 compliance staff will take the courses, which range from a two-year class for graduate recruits to regional visits and leadership master classes for the bosses. The establishment of the Compliance Career Academy is the latest step in chief executive Antony Jenkins’ effort to clean up the bank’s behaviour and reputation.

It sounds like a good idea, of sorts, but getting rid of those deceitful, dishonest thoughts will take longer than a few days in a seminar.

Martin Pollins

Martin Pollins

Managing Director at Bizezia
Martin Pollins is a Chartered Accountant with wide experience in corporate finance and business management. He holds a number of directorships and has served on the boards of several companies, including those listed on the London Stock Exchange, AIM and OFEX.

He was a Council member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales from 1988 to 1996.

Martin Pollins ran his own firm based in Sussex and was the first Accountancy firm in the UK to advertise on television and Martin went on to create and launch the CharterGroup Partnership (the UK's first Accountancy network) and then LawGroup UK (one of the largest networks of lawyers in the country).

Martin started work on the Bizezia concept in 1996, developing the broad range of information resources and products over the past 18 years.
Martin Pollins
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