Microsoft dismisses allegations of bribing government official

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KARACHI: Microsoft Pakistan has confirmed it sponsored foreign trip for a Punjab government official but denied allegations that it bribed the official to win a government tender.
The trip was a necessary reference site visit for an agreement, it said, without providing details about the official’s spouse who accompanied him on the trip.

On August 21, The Wall Street Journal reported that MS allegedly authorised a consulting firm to pay for a five-day visit to Egypt for a Punjab government official and his wife, who travelled on a business class airfare and stayed in a luxurious hotel.

The company sponsored the trip in order to win a tender worth $9 million, the US newspaper reported.

The report was later quoted by local media prompting the Pakistani subsidiary of the Redmond, Washington-based technology giant to come up with an official version on the matter.

MS Pakistan, in a press release, denied the allegations that it bribed a Punjab government official in return for a lucrative software contract. It, though, acknowledged it had sponsored the visit but clarified that it was a necessary reference visit that complied with the company policy.

“Any government travel sponsored by MS requires approval from the company’s legal department to ensure transparency,” Microsoft Pakistan Country Manager Amir Rao told The Express Tribune.

It’s a mandatory legal requirement of MS for its global operations, he said. “The aforesaid trip was, therefore, in compliance with the company’s policy,” he said.

The press statement released by MS Pakistan said the company conducted a careful investigation into the said trip and concluded that it was a reference site visit, which was necessary and involved reasonable expenses.

It further stated that the company had signed a three-year Enterprise Licence Agreement with the Government of Punjab in January 2012. “We went into a direct agreement with the Punjab government to ensure transparency,” Rao said.

Besides kickback allegations against its Pakistan operations, the American parent company was also informed by anonymous tipsters about similar allegations in other countries.

The US Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to the WSJ report, had been conducting a preliminary investigation into kickback allegations made by a former MS official in China.

They are also investigating the company’s relationships with certain resellers and consultants in Romania and Italy.

The probe was extended further after tipsters said resellers of MS software allegedly gave kickbacks to officials of a state-owned company to win a deal in Russia, the WSJ report said.

It also said officials from MS Pakistan allegedly paid for a December 2009 trip for a Punjab government official and his wife to win a three-year contract to supply the government with MS Office software.

MS Pakistan denied the allegations including the involvement of any consulting firm in the agreement. It was a direct contract between MS and the Punjab government, it said.

During his visit, the Government of Punjab official met different dignitaries from Egypt and studied their IT infrastructure to learn about the benefits his government could gain by legitimising its software, Rao said, explaining the need of the visit.

Responding to a question about whether the official was accompanied by his wife, Rao said the Punjab government should come up with its version and reveal the details of questions related to the official’s spouse.

Asked if MS had paid for the travel and accommodation of the government official’s wife, Rao said, “Microsoft policy doesn’t allow sponsorship for the spouse of government officials.”

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