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Ericsson fined $1 billion for bribery.

The Swedish telecommunications group Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson (or Ericsson as most people refer to it as and how my spell checker prefers) is an incredibly successful organisation.

The group provides services, software and infrastructure in information and communications technology.

Oh, and they were also recently fined $1 billion to settle bribery charges.

The company was founded in 1876 by Lars Magnus Ericsson and now employs nearly 100,000 people and operates in around 180 countries.

Not all of these employees were ethical though and Ericsson’s Egyptian subsidiary recently pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the US’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

This bribery had been taking place for 17 years and was reported to have netted the group business worth more than $400m.

US attorney Geoffrey Berman was quoted as saying “Through slush funds, bribes, gifts, and graft, Ericsson conducted telecom business with the guiding principle that money talks.” He went to say “Today’s guilty plea and surrender of over a billion dollars in combined penalties should communicate clearly to all corporate actors that doing business this way will not be tolerated.”

The bribery took place in a number of countries. It appointed agents and consultants to bribe government officials in Djibouti, China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Kuwait.

One example of the techniques involved was in Kuwait where an Ericsson subsidiary agreed a payment of approximately $450,000 to a “consulting company”.

No consulting actually took place but a fake invoice for the consulting services was issued to Ericsson.

As a result of this payment, inside information about a tender for the modernisation of a state-owned telecommunications company’s radio access network in Kuwait was obtained.

The end result was that the modernisation contract, which was valued at $182m, was awarded to an Ericsson subsidiary. In return Ericsson paid the $450,000 to the consulting company and improperly recorded it in its books as consulting fees rather than as a bribe.

IRS Criminal Investigation head Don Fort was quoted as saying that “Implementing strong compliance systems and internal controls are basic principles that international companies must follow to steer clear of illegal activity. Ericsson’s shortcomings in these areas made it easier for its executives and employees to pay bribes and falsify its books and records. We will continue to pursue cases such as these in order to preserve a global commerce system free of corruption.”

Exams for sale….

One of the five fundamental ethical principles is Integrity.

Being straightforward and honest is a vital characteristic of being a professional accountant.

Most people who are studying for their professional exams have one thing on their mind. Namely, to pass their exams but four students who were studying for their ACCA exams had other things on their minds and at the same time, were not the brightest individuals out there.

What they planned to do was to register for some Computer Based Exams (CBEs) and then whilst sitting the exams they would use their mobile phones to take photos of the computer screen showing the questions. They would then sell these photos with the questions on them via the internet.

The four individuals involved, Chen Yiyun, Hiujiao Ru, Zehui Gong and Ziying Wang decided to sell the questions on Taobao Marketplace, a Chinese shopping website.

They no doubt thought that this was an extremely clever way of making some money. What could possibly go wrong by taking photos of the questions and then selling them online?

One of the other fundamental ethical principles is that of Professional Competence.

Now, if these individuals had even a minuscule amount of Professional Competence, they would have reviewed the photos before selling them.

Alas for them they didn’t review them.

If they had reviewed them, they would have seen at the top of the computer screen in the photos their ACCA student registration number and the exam centre.

ACCA were made aware of the questions being for sale and made a test purchase on the Taobao Marketplace. Given the student registration numbers were on the screen, they didn’t need a team of top detectives to identify the individuals involved.

Unsurprisingly, the four individuals are now ex-students of ACCA having been found guilty of misconduct and they were ordered to pay costs ranging from £3,500 to £7,000.

You can’t McFlurry Love

Until recently, Steve Easterbrook was the boss of McDonalds. He had been with them for a long time having started working for them back in 1993 as a manager in London.

Mr Easterbrook no doubt had a lot of affection for the company he ran but it turned out that he also had a lot of affection for a colleague as he had started dating a lady who also worked for McDonalds.

Although the relationship with his colleague was consensual, it didn’t go down too well with McDonalds.

According to the company, Mr Easterbrook had “violated company policy” and shown “poor judgement” (by “poor judgement” I assume that refers to him having the relationship rather than the choice of who he had the relationship with).

Now, whilst some people may say that it was a consensual relationship between two adults so let them get on with it, the key thing here is that it was against company policy and the two people involved had agreed to the company policy when they joined the firm so it’s a straight forward case of a breach of that policy.

More and more companies are having either outright bans on any relationships or are requiring individuals to disclose any relationships (I’m not a legal expert here but it does raise some interesting questions as to what is the definition of a relationship and how quickly after reaching that definition you need to notify your employer – is it minutes, hours, days…).

Mr Easterbrook won’t be short of funds to carry on wining and dining his new love as the termination package is pretty significant. He earned nearly $16m last year and will receive 26 weeks of pay on his departure.

Bloomberg estimate that his total leaving package which includes previously granted shares will be in excess of $37m.

That should buy a few romantic meals at Burger King for the two love birds.

Don’t sweat your exams

Most people enjoy it when the weather gets warmer. Sunny weather often makes people happier but some recent research indicates that a heatwave may not be good news if you’re taking an exam.

Researchers from Harvard Chan School of Public Health found that students who were exposed to hotter temperatures did significantly less well in cognitive tests than those students who lived in a temperature-controlled environment.

The research involved a group of students who had already been allocated accommodation on campus. Half of the rooms had air conditioning and half didn’t.

The students were followed during a 5-day heatwave where temperatures exceeded 26C.

Before, during and after the heatwave, the students had to perform a number of cognitive tests which measured the speed they processed matters as well as their working memory. The results showed that the scores of these students in the hotter accommodation fell by 13% compared to their colleagues in the air-conditioned temperature stable environment.

The researchers said that it was not clear what was behind the drop in performance during an increase in temperature. It could have been because the brain was working harder on maintaining critical body functions such as thermoregulation or it could have been due to a poorer quality of sleep due to the heat.

Either way, let’s hope it’s not a heatwave the next time you sit an exam…

How to impress over a business lunch…

Picture the scene. You’ve got an important business lunch coming up. You want to make a good impression on the person you are meeting with. What should you eat for lunch?

A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology has some interesting findings which indicate that if you have an important business lunch, there are various benefits to ordering the same food as the person you are trying to impress.

Scientists from the University of Chicago studied nearly 500 people to identify whether eating the same food helped them agree in negotiations.

The researcher’s conclusion was that people who are served the same food are more likely to trust each other, smooth out problems and make deals.

As part of the study, participants in the research were told to imagine they were “investors” who had to decide whether to invest in funds operated by their “fund manager” eating partners. The researchers found that those people who were served similar food invested more money.

Another interesting finding in the study was the link between food consumption and the effectiveness of advertising. The authors said that “consumers are more trusting of information about non-food products – e.g. a software product – when the advertiser in the product testimonial eats similar food to them”.

Back to the business lunch though and although the research found that there are benefits to ordering the same food as the person you are trying to impress, I’m not sure that if you’re wearing a nice clean white shirt to the lunch meeting you should necessarily follow the other person in ordering that “tricky to eat tidily spaghetti with the sloppy tomato sauce”…

I never emailed you…

Sometimes it’s the simple scams that can cause the most damage.

We hear all the time about ignoring scam phishing emails where fraudsters are pretending to be banks to get online bank account log in details but there’s a new scam involving email which is costing some people a lot of money.

The Art Newspaper reported that at least nine art galleries and art dealers have been caught up by the fraud. The amounts lost to the fraudsters have been significant with amounts ranging from £10,000 to £1 million.

The fraud itself is fairly simple.

The fraudsters hack into an organisation’s email system and look out for emails sending invoices to clients.

For example, if an art dealer has made a sale of a piece of art and then emails the invoice through to the customer for payment, the fraudsters send another email straight after the original email.

This second email looks like it’s come from the art dealer and includes an identical invoice with the only exception being it has a different bank account on it for payment of the invoice. Yes, you’ve guessed it but the bank details on the second invoice are not those of the art dealer but instead are details of a bank account in the name of the fraudsters.

The customer innocently pays the invoice as it looks genuine and as soon as the money is received the fraudsters withdraw the money, close the bank account and are never heard of again.

As far as the art dealer is concerned they are waiting for the payment to be made but the customer has already paid the money but to the fraudster. By the time the fraud is discovered it is too late.

There’s a fairly simple solution to this and ensuring that anti-virus programmes are up to date and email passwords are changed regularly will go a long way in preventing this sort of fraud.

Will auditors become more like Tom Cruise in the future?

Gone are the days when auditors were manually checking and ticking lots of pieces of paper. Today’s auditing techniques involve significant use of computers.

But how far can this computer use go? Will they be able to predict when accounting fraud is going to take place as opposed to tracking transactions that have already occurred?

The film Minority Report starring Tom Cruise was based around software that could predict when a crime was going to happen and the culprits would be arrested before they actually committed the crime. Although this film seemed well and truly within the realms of science fiction, two police forces in the UK have undertaken trials of a sophisticated computer software package which aims to predict where and when future crimes are likely to occur.

The software is known as Crush (Criminal Reduction Utilising Statistical History) and is used to identify potential crime hotspots based on a variety of data including crime reports, offender profiles and strangely enough even weather forecasts.

Once these upcoming crime hotspots have been identified then the police can allocate resources accordingly.

The system is produced by IBM and the UK tests are based on a successful roll out of the software in the US by the Memphis police force which resulted in a reduction of serious crime by 30%.

Back to auditing though and will the next step be predicting when a fraud is likely to occur using statistical analysis based on industry, profit movements, director’s personal life and spending habits (plus the weather of course)?

Given the reliability of some computers though, one thing for sure is that if you happen to live in a town called “Syntax Error” then you may have a surprise visit from a Tom Cruise lookalike with a briefcase and a calculator…

Working from home?

Let’s be honest now – have you ever had a day off work when you really shouldn’t have? Have you ever called in sick when you were actually feeling ok?

Well, even if you have taken a day off work when you should have been in the office then you are nowhere near as bad as Mr Joaquin Garcia.

Mr Garcia was a Spanish civil servant who was paid €37,000 a year by a water company run by a local authority in the Spanish city of Cadiz.

He had worked for the organisation for so long that he became eligible for a long service award. The deputy mayor was due to award Mr Garcia a plaque for 20 years’ service but unfortunately Mr Garcia was not in the office.

Further investigation led to the discovery that despite being paid €37,000 a year the Spanish civil servant had failed to turn up for work for “at least” 6 years. Yes, he was employed and was being paid but hadn’t turned up for work for at least 6 years and nobody had noticed!

The water company thought that Mr Garcia was being supervised by the local authority whilst the local authority thought that the water company was supervising him. The end result was that Mr Garcia was not in the office, was not working but was receiving his full salary.

The local authority was understandably not that happy at paying somebody a full salary when that person was at home enjoying life and took Mr Garcia to court. The court found in favour of the local authority and ordered Mr Garcia to pay a fine.

Despite the local authority paying Mr Garcia for doing no work for at least 6 years, the maximum amount of fine that the company could legally reclaim was equivalent to one year’s salary.

Mr Garcia has since retired. No doubt to take it easy after all of his hard work over the last 6 years…

Would you do this for a bit of chocolate?

What’s one way of increasing the chances of getting hold of someone’s password?

Does it involve the use of the very latest supercomputer? Does it involve some clever IT geeks hacking into a computer for you?

Or does it involve chocolate?

A bit of research published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour attempted to find out how people are obligated by the kindness of others. Or in other words, if someone does something nice for a person, how likely is it that the person will be nice back to them?

The researchers in Luxembourg conducted a survey of random people in the street asking them about internet security including questions about passwords.

Some of the people interviewed were given chocolate and some weren’t.

30% of those that were not given chocolate revealed their passwords which to me is a surprisingly high percentage and just goes to show that quite often human stupidity is the weakest link in internet security.

For the people who were given chocolate at the beginning of the interview the figure rose to 44% and if the chocolate was given just before the question on passwords was asked an incredible 48% gave their passwords! Yes, nearly half of the people asked their passwords as part of a survey told a complete stranger their password if they had been given chocolate.

Andre Melzer, the author of the study said that “when someone does something nice for us we automatically feel obliged to return the favour”.

So, in conclusion, if someone walks up to you in the office and offers you a piece of chocolate be careful what you say…

The 3 person honeymoon and Belbin team roles…

Picture the scene. It’s the first night of your honeymoon. You’ve just married a beautiful Italian Signorina called Marianna. You’re Italian and Italian men have a reputation for being some of the most romantic men in the world.

Now, even though some may say this reputation has largely been self created, there are still certain things you should do on your honeymoon and certain things you should definitely not do on your honeymoon.

Due to Italian privacy laws the individuals concerned can only be identified by their Christian names but what did Stefano do on his honeymoon that led to his new wife divorcing him one month into their marriage?

From a project management point of view there are various tools and techniques that can be used to ensure a project runs smoothly. One of these is to ensure that the team is made up of the right type of person as well as the appropriate number of people.

A well known theory behind what makes a good team is Belbin’s team role models.

In simple terms, Belbin’s theory says that people are born with certain characteristics. Belbin gave names to the different types of people. For example, a “plant” is a person that likes to come up with ideas and is usually quite creative. A “Monitor Evaluator” is somebody with a logical eye who can make impartial judgements.

Back to the one month marriage though and Stefano decided that rather than the traditional 2 person project team that goes on the majority of honeymoons he would make his a 3 person team.

To his wife’s understandable annoyance, Stefano’s 3 person honeymoon team included himself, his new wife and his mother.

The project team first started showing signs of a split when the mother-in-law turned up at the airport for the flight to the honeymoon destination of Paris.

A honeymoon in Paris sounds great until you realise that your mother-in-law is staying in an adjoining room at the hotel you’re staying at and accompanying you to every meal and romantic boat trip along the Seine.

One month after the wedding and Marianna left the marriage home they shared in Rome and returned to her home town of Naples leaving the 39 year old Stefano without a wife.

Maybe Marianna is more of a Belbin’s “Completer Finisher” than Stefan and his mum may have thought.