Ancient Corruption

By Joseph T. Wells, CFE, CPA

This fraudulent practice - older than time - can be summed up simply in two sentences: "If someone is taking payoffs, then they're doing something they shouldn't officially be doing. Look for what that something is, and you'll find the answer."

Bribery and corruption are two of the oldest white-collar crimes known to mankind. The tradition of the "paying off" of public officials or company insiders for preferential treatment roots itself from the crudest business systems developed. Bribery, it could be argued, is mankind's second oldest profession.

Certainly one of the most infamous cases of bribery in early history was that of Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ. Iscariot was paid 30 pieces of silver by the chief priest and elders of Jerusalem to disclose the location of Christ during the night so that he could be captured and executed; during the day, Christ was readily visible but the elders feared a backlash from the Passover pilgrims in Jerusalem if they attempted to apprehend him. The city elders and political heads saw Christ as a serious threat to their power and ability to preside over the land.

Judas led an armed guard to the garden of Gethsemane, where Christ prayed with the other disciples. He identified Christ by kissing Jesus on the cheek and whispering "Master." The city elders crucified Christ. In most versions of the biblical story, Judas was distraught about betraying Jesus and gave the silver pieces back to the elders and hanged himself shortly after.

In today's society, many turn to the realm of politics when thinking of bribery and corruption. While politicians may not have earned this reputation due to their collective lack of undignified activities, bribery and corruption are not by any stretch of the imagination limited to the political realm. In the business world, kickbacks, bribes, and other forms of corruption are all-prevalent when situations of potential contacts of arrangements are concerned.

Bribery has been associated with government and politics before and after the time of Christ, which isn't surprising considering the relative power that politicians yield over the private sector. Because politicians' decisions can have a profound effect on particular private industries, and thus the fortunes of people in business, it's obvious that the private sector inevitably will attempt to influence the politician. However, attempting to influence a politician is one thing; flouting the law is quite another.

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