Export-Import Bank is a petri dish of corruption and graft


President Barack Obama signs the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank at the White House in Washington May 30, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • If GOP talk on crony capitalism is more than empty rhetoric, then House Repubs will unite to kill Ex-Im, not try yet again to reform it.

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  • The White House and Ex-Im officials undoubtedly will propose ethics reforms in the current reauthorization to prevent future corruption

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  • The common thread in these cases, and many other federal fraud cases, is the US Export-Import Bank.

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Former Congressman William J. Jefferson is in a federal prison in Oakdale, La., until 2023 after federal investigators found $90,000 in his freezer and convicted him on bribery charges.

Federal official Maureen Edu was indicted for taking a $100,000 bribe in the same case as Jefferson.

Federal employee Johnny Gutierrez and three colleagues were recently suspended from their jobs, pending investigations into kickbacks and "attempts to steer federal contracts to favored companies," the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

The common thread in these cases -- and many other federal fraud cases -- is the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

These public officials all used or allegedly used the federal subsidy agency to enrich themselves and their friends. The steady drumbeat of Ex-Im corruption over recent years doesn't signal some cabal of white-collar criminals running the agency. The explanation is simpler: When you give a government agency the power to hand out billions in subsidies to a select few companies, you're inviting self-dealing and graft.

Jefferson, according to a 2007 indictment, secured a steady flow of bribes from a U.S. telecom company called iGate and a company in Nigeria. His indictment stated that Jefferson then "introduced [an iGate executive] and Nigerian Company A executives to personnel of the Ex-Im Bank for the purpose of obtaining financial support for iGate and Nigerian Company A's venture in Nigeria."

When that deal fell through, Jefferson found another Nigerian partner for iGate, and in 2005 introduced heads of these companies to Ex-Im officials to help line up Ex-Im subsidies.

Jefferson was convicted in 2009. That same year, the FBI indicted Ex-Im employee Maureen Njideka Edu "on corruption and tax violations arising from her alleged receipt of a $100,000 bribe while working at the Ex-Im Bank," as the FBI's press release put it.

The latest corruption news at Ex-Im involves four employees dismissed after a recent investigation by the agency's inspector general. The Wall Street Journal, citing an anonymous source, reported that Ex-Im finance official Gutierrez was suspended after he "allegedly accepted cash payments in exchange for trying to help a Florida company obtain U.S. government financing to export construction equipment to Latin America."

Two other officials are being investigated for alleged "attempts to steer federal contracts to favored companies. A fourth Ex-Im official was suspended under suspicion of “accepting gifts on behalf of a company seeking financing."

The odd thing is how similar these activities are to Ex-Im's ordinary operations. "Steer[ing] federal contracts to favored companies"? Ex-Im's purpose is steering federal loans and loan guarantees to favored companies.

The Heritage Foundation analyzed federal documents and found “there have been at least 74 cases since April 2009 in which bank officials were forced to act on the basis of ‘integrity' investigations by the Office of Inspector General.”

Only 42.1 percent of Ex-Im officials in a recent survey agreed that “my organization's leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity” while 29.4 percent disagreed. Only 50.2 percent of Ex-Im employees agreed “I can disclose a suspected violation of any law, rule, or regulation without fear of reprisal.” The Inspector General in 2013 told Congress that Ex-Im suffers “weaknesses in governance and internal controls for business operations.”

Ex-Im's charter expires this fall. Powerful conservatives such as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling want to let the agency die.

The Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers are pushing back, with the aid of an “advocacy dream team” featuring public officials-turned-lobbyists -- former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt.

Hensarling's committee has a hearing on Ex-Im scheduled Wednesday, and he plans to make the corruption investigations a topic.

The White House and Ex-Im officials undoubtedly will propose ethics reforms in the current reauthorization to prevent future corruption. But every Ex-Im reauthorization bill in the past has included "reforms" to guard against various transgressions, such as giving almost all subsidy dollars to big companies or subsidizing foreign competitors with U.S. companies. Past Ex-Im reforms have been feckless, so there's no reason to expect that new ethics reforms will be any better.

If GOP talk on crony capitalism is more than empty rhetoric, then House Republicans will unite to kill Ex-Im, not try yet again to reform it.

Timothy P. Carney, a senior political columnist for the Washington Examiner, can be contacted at [email protected] This column is reprinted with permission from washingtonexaminer.com.

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