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Bangladesh fights rampant corporate corruption

It charged the son of a former leader with laundering kickbacks and is investigating other prominent figures.

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For years corporate corruption has thrived as an open secret in this poor congested nation, a force as destructive as the cyclones that ravage the coastline and the arsenic that poisons people's drinking wells. Last week, Bangladesh's newly elected government took its first high-profile swipe at the problem.

Arafat "Koko" Rahman, the son of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and a prominent businessman, was formally charged with laundering nearly $2 million in kickbacks, including $180,000 from Siemens Corporation, the German electronics giant. Mr. Rahman and his brother Tarique, although allegedly at the center of many corrupt deals in Bangladesh, were considered untouchable between 2001 and 2006, when their mother held office. The charges against Arafat Rahman are the first involving foreign bribery and could result in a jail sentence of seven years if he is found guilty.

The case highlights a determined move by Bangladesh's government to root out corruption at the highest levels, while tracing its sources through financial institutions and multinational companies abroad. In so doing, it also sheds light on the little studied dark side of international business: the practice of foreign bribery, whereby some of the world's richest companies directly contribute to instability in the developing world by paying off corrupt governments.

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