Siemens' management should have known
The Financial Times has an interesting story about the ongoing bribery and fraud scandal involving the telecommunications group at Siemens AG. Management contends they are victims of unscrupulous employees acting on their own, while lawyers for the suspects say bribes were business-as-usual - and they are trying to show that top officials had knowledge of the affairs.
This feels a lot like the WorldCom scandal of a few years ago. The circumstances are different - there, you'll recall, the CFO cooked the books to keep operating margins artificially high. But what everyone wanted to know was whether then-CEO Bernie Ebbers knew what was going on in his own shop. In the end, a jury was convinced that he did, and he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
To be sure, Siemens is a multifaceted engineering firm - telecom is just one of the things it does. But the telecom industry, big as it is, is dominated by a handful of global players. If bribes are in fact, business-as-usual, it wouldn't be much of a secret, and shouldn't have been to Siemens management.
As an accountant, I believe that in a company of any size, it is extremely difficult to be involved with bribery or fraud without other employees noticing. Although the Sarbarnes-Oxley (SOX) Act does indeed put some unnecessary burdens on US companies, the act does however give everyone yet another means to identify fraudulent activity. The bottom line: Siemens' management should have known. At this point in our nations history, ignorance itself is a crime.
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