Mounties probe Calgary-based mining firm
Accused of bribing Mexican mayor to halt local protests
A Calgary-based mining company is under investigation by the RCMP over allegations of bribery in Mexico.
Blackfire Exploration Ltd.'s properties include a mine in Mexico where it's alleged the company made monthly payments to a local mayor to prevent protesters from interrupting the mine's operation.
An outspoken critic of Blackfire's mine was killed in Mexico in 2009, which led to a temporary shutdown of the mine. However, that homicide is not part of the RCMP investigation.
In a statement the company has said it did not knowingly bribe anyone, believing the money was being used for public works in a nearby town.
A critic of the mining industry applauded the RCMP's decision to begin investigating this type of allegation. The Mounties formed a special corruption unit three years ago to investigate Canadian companies operating abroad. Its 14 members are currently working on more than 20 cases.
However, Mining Watch Canada spokesman Jamie Kneen says Canada's foreign corruption law is weak compared with other developed countries.
"The problem with the Canadian law is that it has some escape hatches built in," Kneen told CBC News. "Say if somebody was providing services and it's usual to pay somebody off to provide a service then that might be considered legal."
There's another loophole in the law, Kneen said.
"If the company can say, you know, well that was our man in Mexico that made that decision, we here in Canada didn't know what he was doing, then there's no accountability whatsoever under the existing law," Kneen said. "That's a real shortfall."
James Klotz, the head of Transparency International Canada, says the internet and globalization has led to greater scrutiny of corruption complaints.
"There seems to be a recognition that it should not be tolerated," Klotz told CBC News. "Perhaps it is a reaction to the social activism that comes from the world being better connected now. People will not stay quiet on the subject of corruption."
Companies need to be clear about the rules with their employees, Klotz added.
"There are a lot of ways of conferring a benefit on a public official," Klotz said. " You can buy a public official a meal, [but] at what point does it become a problem? Without a compliance program and rules it's very hard to expect people on the frontlines of international business to understand where the criminal aspects of their conduct might lie."
Earlier this year a Canadian company, Niko Resources, was fined $9.5 million for bribing an official in Bangladesh.