A story was reported today in a prestigious Argentinean newspaper regarding corruption involving a UK business. Given the anti-bribery legislation now in place in the UK, the political situation between both countries, and the import restrictions in Argentina (including the reported news that the Argentinean government has business leaders not to buy British), I thought I’d find out a bit more…

The accusations themselves didn’t seem terribly suspicious to me, familiar with both public procurement in Argentina and with company structures and set up in the UK. What did surprise me is that this article got published at all, given the little evidence and the fact that Argentina is known for its corruption levels across all Latin America.

Accusing a British business in Argentina is something I take seriously since it brings up a host of questions:

–          As a business, I deal mainly with British exporters into Latin America – could this make it trickier for them, could it impact on their reputation? When the article came out, I consulted a British colleague who was thinking of setting up a consultancy office in Buenos Aires, he is now wondering if that is a good choice at all.

–          What can exporters learn as a result of this media coverage (whatever the “real story”)?

–          How powerful is the media in Argentina (and other Latin American countries)?

–          What levels of corruption are really present and can British businesses, abiding by UK anti-bribery legislation, actually stand a chance at all in public sector procurement? One of my key clients is exploring supplying a state-owned company in Argentina, what advice can I give it?

I have contacted UKTI in Argentina, who have declined to comment. I also contacted Mr Stephen Chandler, the British Director accused of corruption by this newspaper article. He says “it is a work of fantasty” and has written to the editor to make his point heard. Things will no doubt change and the story will be rectified. But a lot of damage has been made.

Whatever the “truth”, however complex that is, British businesses should watch out. And British media should be quicker to report, please. If this British businessman has a great success story to tell, and some tips about working in Argentina, I would like to personally invite him to write for my blog. Let’s all hope it is just bad and naive journalism. British businesses are well-known abroad for their honesty. Long it may continue.

Doing business in Argentina (video)

Update: official version of the story and the reasons why the British business won the tender can now be found here.