Ever had to pay a bribe overseas?

Chen Tonghai, the former head of Chinese oil giant Sinopec, was sentenced to death by the Chinese government for bribery this year but given a two-year reprieve. U.S. law isn’t so harsh. (AFP/Getty Images)

So many energy companies have run afoul of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in recent years that one might begin to wonder why it’s so hard to “just say no” to bribes. One editor at Compliance Week shares his story of the sometimes irrestible urge:

“Our story begins in the town of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile’s gorgeous northern desert. San Pedro borders the high-mountain altiplanos region of southern Bolivia, and tourists willing to brave the bad roads and scant bathrooms can take a four-day trek through the mountains to see stunning Bolivian villages and scenery before returning back to Chile.
Assuming, that is, you can get a visa to enter Bolivia.”

Read the rest here.
A few years ago when I interviewed Alexandra Wrage, head of TRACE International, a nonprofit that specializes in anti-bribery due diligence and training, she noted studies that said companies that bribe actually spend more time tied-up with overseas bureaucracies, not less.

“What I find discouraging is companies that say they can’t stop paying them when over half have already successfully abolished such payments,” she said. “You send the message out, ‘We’d love to, but we can’t anymore because our people will go to jail for it.’ And you stop paying them. Most companies say there’s about 30 to 60 days of pain, but to then be bribe-free after that is a pretty good deal. I get comments from the old guard all the time saying I’m naive, but they’re being complicit in their own extortion.”

I’ve never had to “bribe” anyone overseas to get along, although I do remember a friend of the family giving some cash to guards at the home of the late Dominican Republic strongman Rafael Trujillo so we could look inside back in the 1970s.
Have you ever had to make a “special payment” while abroad, for business or vacation? Any tips on how to avoid it or pay less than they ask?