COMMENTS: Graft

Corruption, mundane and mindboggling, made news on NBC and ABC. First the mundane: ABC's John Cochran (subscription required) offered a hat tip to Florida's Naples Daily News for his Your Money investigation into a $10m federal highway project on Interstate 75. Cochran called it "mysterious" because the local congressman had no interest in it, local environmentalists opposed it and "many residents do not want it." So who wants to build the Coconut Road interchange? The money was set aside by Rep Don Young, a Republican from Alaska, after he received a $40,000 in campaign contributions from those connected to a Florida developer "who owns property along the road" and who attended a Young fundraiser two weeks before the contributions were made. Cochran quoted Young's side of the story: "At this time is has been decided not to release a statement."

The mindboggling was covered by NBC's Andrea Mitchell. It concerned the relationship between BAE Systems, a British defense contractor, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi Ambassador to Washington DC. The Prince had reportedly deposited "more than $1bn in kickbacks" into the Riggs Bank in the nation's capital. Those involved in the alleged scheme did not even seem to bother to deny it. BAE Systems declared that its payments were made "with the express approval of both the Saudi and the UK governments." British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that he had halted an investigation because of "the strategic interests of our country." And Mitchell dug up a clip of the Prince himself on PBS' Frontline in 2001 responding to questions about graft: "So what? We did not invest corruption."

Mitchell consulted her anonymous spook sources about whether illegal kickbacks are paid by American defense contractors. This was their reply: "Padding contracts to reward Saudi princes is routine. The Saudis even order weapons systems they do not need just to make a personal profit."


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