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A Tale of Two Cities

Picture a “grandmother” (as the papers emphasise in their headlines) from your local area. She might be sitting down for cake with a friend, pointing out that she still needs to pick up hair dye on her way back home to do her roots. Then picture a former finance minister and party-VIP, possibly in a Porsche.

How could those two contrasting characters end up in the same blogpost on Compliance? The contrast becomes even starker when you find out that the “grandmother” is not out having cake, but awaiting a death sentence for drug trafficking in an Asian jail. In order to appear balanced, I would now have to go into the drug-related aspects of the story, which I won’t. The only aspects of the two “characters” that are relevant to point to a Compliance issue are as follows:

sunglasses in Tales of two Cities

Sunglasses: Can hide a torment. A VIP-face. Could not hide corruption in the case of this jailed official who bribed his way out of jail to go and watch the tennis, see

Newspaper reports on the second character have focused on what gifts or “VIP-conditions” are common (“branchenueblich”, as the CEO of the luxury car company called it) between politicians and companies with at least a theoretical interest in influencing legislation. The side investigating the matter (at first a tax matter) wants to find out whether the company granting the VIP deal profited from the arrangement in any way (no, they say at the company), whereas that very company, ie the side with the friendly letter to the then minister, says that it was only the thinking power (“Querdenker”) of the minister that one was admiring.  So much (or little) on scenario Two, you can dig through the web for more.

Newspaper reports on the first character have questioned why a co-operating and subsequently convicted drug-mule received a death sentence (and a much higher sentence than requested by the prosecution), while others alleged to be involved received far more lenient sentences. This difference in sentences may be purely evidential (she was caught with the drugs on her), but far more unsettling, from a ‘thinking about Compliance perspective’ is the idea, – not ventured with any substance at anyone involved in this case I hasten to add – that you can pay or influence the court system (through your lawyers) for a more lenient sentence.

I hope that I can ‘think about Compliance’ and be respectful to anyone mounting a difficult legal challenge to save their lives (and presumably without any funds, whether for a lawyer or for ‘paying off the system’, if she was given the opportunity- and who wouldn’t consider it if the alternative is facing the firing squad). And I had also hoped I can give you a source for the claim that payment, or lack thereof, influences your prison sentence, at least in this particular country: If you do a ‘find’  of “Manfred Nowak” (Special UN Rapporteur and someone whose lectures at Vienna University I enjoyed) on this page, you get to a sentence referring to that practice. And in the sentence above the prison picture in this article you can read about Kathryn Bonella (the author of the book “Snowing in Bali”) recounting a similar story from her research for the book. This page, around the reference to footnote 123, has a more general comment on corruption.

Leaving aside the endless points to be made on a “War on Drugs” generally (I defer to The Wire /David Simon on that), the concept that those employed by the state to punish drug crimes might be accepting payment of what is likely to be the defendants’ drug money in return for a more lenient sentence strikes me as absurd enough to mull it over, and over, and over.

If there were any corruption aspects in both tales, that corruption would have caused damage, in the form of of the length of the various jail sentences in the first tale and in the form of preferential treatment of a company in the second.There, phew, finally, that’s the link. The link I wanted to point out, between the two stories. Two cities, two tales that can improve our thinking about compliance and non-compliance.  How?

When we convince ourselves that Compliance works, we think of one set of standards and write them down in a Code of Conduct. But when we watch ‘real life’ playing out in front of our eyes, it is full of double standards, not just in distant Bali, but also very close to home.  And why should interactions between companies and politicians be an exception? The claim that a luxury car left with a Minister at a preferential rate is simply ‘industry practice’ could sound to some ears just like the kind of double standard that could remove any beneficial effect of a glossy Code of Conduct distributed throughout the firm. (The employee anxious to complete a project who has just been told not to go for coffee with the local mayor may suddenly be rethinking his approach.)

It should be seen as a ‘gem’ when such a hint of ‘how things are actually done’ coming from a CEO makes it through to the press, to the readers: Working out how one’s own ethics standards apply to such realities can only advance the Compliance discussion, much more so than swapping copies of glossy Codes.

(Picture from shutterstock, all rights reserved.)


Marianne Klausberger is an English lawyer specialising in Compliance topics within German-speaking regions. During her career in private practice in London she focused on dispute resolution and company investigations in, as memories of snow storm, broken air con and varying passport offices tell her, drastically different locations, and gathered experience presenting evidence to the authorities in Washington. After moving in-house, she spent almost three years leading the development of Compliance methodologies in a global chemicals and pharmaceuticals company. She continues to work with companies on such topics on a freelance basis. Approaches to designing the company’s Compliance ‘foundation’ differ widely, yet the hurdles encountered in the implementation show similar patterns. Looking at such obstacles soon becomes the focus of a project. The know-how on FCPA, UK Bribery Act, etc might be there, but it needs to be carried into the organisation; or, wants to be grasped in German, when authorities in the UK or the US may seem far away. A realistic approach remains important to her, – as her t-shirt says: “[I am] easily influenced”, and – probably – so are most of us.

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