"There was much talk of the special relationship between the UK and the US this week; both David Cameron, UK prime minister, and Barack Obama, the US president, kept mentioning it at the White House. But the more intriguing relationship is that between BP and Libya.
"There is no evidence that the oil company directly lobbied the British government for the release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, but it admits to backing a prisoner transfer deal with Libya in 2007. Two years later, Mr Megrahi was home and BP had its offshore drilling rights. Crude oil indeed.
"Even if Mr Megrahi had been released in a direct quid pro quo for BP obtaining the contract, rather than on dubious health grounds, no law would have been broken. Had BP bribed Libyan officials with hard cash, it would have been in trouble under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, but commercial realpolitik is not illegal.
"This makes no moral sense. The US senators outraged at the alleged link between the release and the oil contract, denied by both BP and Mr Cameron, will be ethically correct if any damning evidence emerges. What difference is there between a company paying a bribe and a government striking a dirty political deal on its behalf? Surely none.
"The gap between the justice meted out to corrupt companies under the FCPA or the new UK Bribery Act and the relative immunity enjoyed by politicians is an incentive for large companies to use governments as corporate shields. It reinforces the military-industrial complex (now the military-energy-industrial complex) of which Dwight Eisenhower warned.
“'Bribery hurts the least powerful. It is not consistent with human dignity for business to be conducted one way in America, and another way in Africa or Latin America,' says Mark Brzezinski, a partner of law firm McGuire Woods.
"That also applies, although he does not say it, to political palm-greasing. It has the same effect of entrenching the elite in corrupt economies. Yet little can be done about it and the US has been no stranger to dubious deals with foreign governments that benefit both its strategic interests and US companies."
- by John Gapper, 'Financial Times'.