Most people remember that the Arab
Spring started with a guy who lit himself on fire. What they don’t
remember is that he did it as a protest against corruption: Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit vendor, decided he’d been shaken down by police officers one too many times.
Bouazizi’s death set in motion the biggest political upheaval of the 21st century. The
Arab Spring was “mostly about corruption,” said FBI Special Agent
George McEachern, one of the leading investigators of global graft.
“Corruption leads to failed states, which leads to terrorism.”
That’s what makes the corruption revealed in a new trove of confidential emails from a mysterious Monaco-based company called Unaoil so significant.
On Wednesday, The Huffington Post and
its Australian partner, Fairfax Media — led by reporters Richard Baker
and Nick McKenzie — published the results of a months-long investigation of Unaoil, an obscure firm that helps big multinational corporations win contracts in areas of the world where corruption is common.
Hundreds of major international corporations — including Halliburton,
its former subsidiary KBR, Rolls-Royce and Samsung — counted on Unaoil
to secure lucrative contracts in Iraq, Kazakhstan, Libya, Syria,
Tunisia, and other countries in Africa, the Middle East, and the former
Soviet Union, tens of thousands of internal emails and documents reveal.
It’s common for large multinational corporations to partner with
smaller firms with local expertise to win contracts. But in many cases,
Unaoil wasn’t winning contracts because of its expertise — it was
winning them by paying millions of dollars in bribes to corrupt
How much money? Upwards of a trillion dollars a year in bribes.