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Foreign oil corruption seeping into the US: Senate examines evasion of anti-corruption laws

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WASHINGTON, DC – The Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held a hearing today examining how foreign government officials, their relatives, and associates have used US financial institutions and professionals – including lawyers, realtors, escrow agents, lobbyists, and bankers – to circumvent US regulations and bring millions of suspect dollars into the country. International aid agency Oxfam America commends the committee for shedding light on these instances of corruption, which often occur in countries with oil, gas, and mineral wealth and robs governments of money that could be used to fight poverty.

The hearing, “Keeping Foreign Corruption Out of the United States: Four Case Histories,” looked at cases involving officials and individuals from Angola, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon – major African oil producers and important suppliers of energy to the United States. A long history of oil revenue mismanagement and corruption among political elites has left these countries with high rates of poverty, internal conflict, and instability.

“We commend the committee for examining how US policies and practices can be strengthened to combat foreign corruption and money laundering,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “Corruption and mismanagement thrive in environments characterized by secrecy, so the promotion of transparency and accountability is central to a reform agenda that will truly address these issues. An important start is passing the Energy Security through Transparency Act.”

The Energy Security through Transparency Act of 2009 (S.1700), introduced in September 2009 by a bipartisan group led by Senators Lugar and Cardin, aims to reduce corruption and insecurity in the oil, gas, and mining industries by requiring companies to publicly disclose payments to foreign governments. A companion House bill is expected to be introduced shortly.

Citizens of resource-rich countries usually have little or no information about how their governments use natural resource revenues. The United States receives significant amounts of natural resources from these often corrupt or unstable regimes – not to mention millions of suspect dollars coming into the country as highlighted at today’s hearing. The Energy Security through Transparency Act would require disclosure of all payments made to foreign governments by oil, gas, and mining companies registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Opening the books on oil, gas, and mining payments from the start will go a long way to combat the corrupt activities of foreign officials that the committee has examined today. This legislation would foster accountability in nations where secrecy has undermined development, democracy, and human rights – secrecy that has seeped into the United States as corrupt officials bypass our regulations, posing a long-term threat to national security, foreign policy, and economic interests of the United States.”

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