I Discovered My Company Was Evil During A Routine Audit
What's the worst thing your boss has ever done? Made you work on the weekend? Sexually harassed the secretary? Gave millions of dollars to an infamous dictator? Jack's boss did that last one, and all of a sudden having to cancel your Saturday BBQ doesn't sound so bad, huh?
Jack was an accountant for SNC-Lavalin, a Montreal-based engineering firm that managed to single-handedly disprove every nice stereotype about Canadians. Between 2001 and 2011, SNC bribed Muammar Gaddafi and friends with millions of dollars in exchange for cushy contracts, and Jack discovered it during a routine audit. He told us all about learning that his bosses were secretly funding supervillains.
Bribery Is Routine In Business, But SNC Sucked At It
Small-scale bribery is normal when working in developing countries, Jack explained: "SNC went to a lot of very impoverished countries, so a lot of bribes would be in the form of common household items, like toothbrushes and deodorant. Whenever I'd look over expense reports from the Congo, I noticed that employees were given cash in advance. If you don't give the Congolese customs officer at least 50 bucks when you walk out of the plane, they won't let you into the country. Considering the doors are manned by people with machine guns, you tend to take their requests a bit more seriously. In Mexico, the police come to construction sites to perform routine inspections. They basically wait around for you to pay them to leave. Depending on the area, you might have a similar inspection from the cartels to collect their bribe."
They don't teach you that in business school, because they don't have to. Bullets help you
figure out what to do real fast.
So companies have to choose between obeying international law that forbids bribery and actually managing to get business done. But while 50 bucks to keep a disgruntled customs officer happy is going to be overlooked, wiring $140 million to a certifiably insane dictator is generally frowned upon (at least if the dictator doesn't like us). So when SNC paid Gaddafi, they disguised the money with fake invoices. That was the smart part. The dumb part was literally everything else, including two people at the top of the company signing every single bullshit invoice.
"I realized that all of the Libya invoices (sent to the client, and also for expenses related to the client) were approved by the same two guys: our senior vice president and the vice president of finance. The thing with VPs is that they love telling everyone that they are too busy to do any actual work," he said. "To see someone running a division that makes over $3 billion a year signing checks to 'caterers' for $5,000, it didn't make any sense."
"Remember Muammar, if anyone asks, the $15,000 was for cold cuts."
That's like if the chairman of the board was personally overseeing the janitor's supply of paper towels, only SNC was doing something far worse than secretly masturbating in the maintenance closet.
Some Libyans Were Paid In Lionel Richie Merchandise
You may remember the scandal when Mariah Carey performed for the Gaddafis, but that was just the tip of the Top 40 iceberg -- Gaddafi's sons were dedicated to turning their one-party country into a nonstop partay country. They paid millions for pop stars to perform, and some of that money came from SNC. Jack told us: "The most common bribes were straight cash, which Libyan officials then used to have pop stars perform for them, including Nelly Furtado, Beyonce, and yes, Lionel Richie. I heard that Muammar Gaddafi modeled his hairstyle after him."
And now that theory's forever stuck on us.
Lionel Richie is strangely beloved in the Arab world, kind of like how Germany loves David Hasselhoff and Canada is just now discovering Right Said Fred. So SNC bribed their way around Libya with Richie merchandise. "The Libyan army council loved Lionel Richie," Jack said. "You get them anything signed by Lionel Richie, and they'll almost give you their children. So whenever an engineer would head over to Libya, they always had a bunch of CDs to hand out as gifts." Great. Now we're imagining them grooving to "All Night Long" as they ordered their own people bombed.
The Gaddafis Were Treated Like Beloved Family
Pretty much every company on the planet has worked with the morally bankrupt. Even we here at Cracked secretly sell your personal information to Russian intelligence agencies, because the massage chairs don't keep themselves on. But SNC didn't hold their nose and bribe Libya's elite so they could make money bringing valuable construction projects to the oppressed masses -- they loved the Gaddafis. And they were extra special buddies with Saadi Gaddafi, one of Muammar's sons. He was doing most of the contract "negotiation" and got a nice little yacht worth about $28.5 million as a bonus.
They christened it the S.S. Short-Sighted.
SNC also allegedly paid for a $2 million trip to Canada. How do you even drop $2 million vacationing in Canada? Like this: They bought Saadi a luxury condo in Toronto, dropped 200 grand to renovate it, then flew him in to join SNC employees at a private 50 Cent concert (that alone cost 550 grand). So now you know how 50's been paying his bills. Maybe he and Mariah can start a support group. And speaking of flying Saadi around. Jack said, "SNC had private jets for top executives, but any division of the company could rent them for a fee. We found out that one plane was part of the plot to smuggle Gaddafi's son Saadi to Mexico."
Presumably to see if the change of scenery would help him quit sucking at soccer.
It turns out that buying yachts and pop stars is not a successful strategy for long-term governance, and the brazen extravagance of the Gaddafis was one of the many reasons that Libya slid into civil war. But while the rest of the world saw a brutal humanitarian crisis, SNC saw a bunch of uppity poor people trying to ruin their bro's lifestyle. They gave his wife a fake job to help with the cash-flow crunch that comes when rebels start blowing up your palaces, they wanted to make Saadi a SNC vice president, and they tried to smuggle his family out of Libya and into Mexico with a fake $740,000 "fact-finding" mission to Libya. But French-Canadian construction companies generally don't produce the best international super spies, and despite securing fake paperwork, the scheme was discovered and broken up.
Cracked Espionage Tip: Don't hire someone who's going to take pictures of himself doing illegal things.
In The End, Justice Was Done (By Outside Forces)
Jack reported all of this, like any good employee who doesn't particularly want to be accused of securing ties to brutal and infamous dictators. This is the part where you'd expect an inspirational montage -- the corrupt big shots being led away by police while a young upstart promises to clean things up -- but no, welcome to the world of business. "Nothing much happened. Top management thanked us for our service, and business went on as usual," Jack said. "I was unexpectedly promoted out of the team, despite not applying for any other job. My boss told me it was in recognition of my diligence. I was never made explicitly aware that I was given this job to quiet me up, but I now realize that I was shifted before I could dig too deeply. I was transferred to the other side of the country, off the beaten path from head office with none of my old colleagues. I was given tasks that didn't appear to amount to anything and had conversations with my boss every three months."
Jack's boss, Riadh Ben Aissa, on his way to make sure nothing else has been diligently recognized lately.
Jack eventually found a better-paying job at another company, and so far he's fairly confident that its CEO doesn't play basketball with Kim Jong-Un on the weekends. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police later discovered SNC's shenanigans, because Mounties really are good for more than riding horses and wearing funny hats.
"SNC was punished pretty harshly," Jack said. "They were banned for an extended period from bidding on any projects monitored by the World Bank. Also, the senior vice president of the construction division was arrested for fraud, money laundering, and embezzlement, while the VP was arrested for that dictator extraction thing."
They should be thankful they weren't punished via anal impalement like their buddy was.
On the other hand, SNC is still a massive and successful company that soldiered through this and an impressive variety of other awful scandals. "Another huge penalty was market correction. Because they were getting so much bad press, the share price was seriously affected, so the top executives, who are often paid with stock incentives, lost a ton of money," Jack said. "Basically, a bunch of rich white dudes were significantly less rich. Still really rich, though."
Each had to wait several months before they could afford a 20th Bentley, and it was the worst.
We guess the lesson is that if a regular person works hard to uncover massive corruption, eventually they'll be quietly shuffled to the side -- but if we're lucky, a large government bureaucracy will coincidentally look into it, and kind of but not really punish the offenders.
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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