Israeli companies placed in the particularly corrupt lower half of 30 countries ranked by Transparency International in the organization's 2006 Bribe Payers Index.
The ranking, based on a survey of 8,034 business people in 125 countries, puts Israeli exporters in 19th place, morally somewhat worse-off than companies from the United Arab Emirates, Portugal, Mexico and Hong Kong, and only slightly more honest than exporters based in Italy, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Brazil.
Businessmen who slipped bills fewer times to promote their interests were concentrated in wealthy countries such as Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Canada, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, the US and Japan (in that order), while companies from emerging export powers India, China and Russia ranked among the worst across most regions and sub-groupings, TI noted.
"Companies from the wealthiest countries generally rank in the top half of the Index, but still routinely pay bribes, particularly in developing countries," TI said, noting that respondents from lower income countries in Africa identified French and Italian companies as among the worst perpetrators.
Casey Kelso, TI's regional director for Africa, accused bribe-happy foreign companies of "undercutting Africa's anti-poverty efforts."
Transparency International Chief Executive David Nussbaum said it was hypocritical that OECD-based companies continue to bribe across the globe, while their governments pay lip-service to enforcing the law.
"TI's Bribe Payers Index indicates that they are not doing enough to clamp down on overseas bribery. The enforcement record on international anti-bribery laws makes for short and disheartening reading," he said since the rules and tools for governments and companies do exist.
"Domestic legislation has been introduced in many countries following the adoption of the UN and OECD anti-corruption conventions, but there are still major problems of implementation and enforcement."
Transparency International Chair Huguette Labelle noted that "bribing companies are actively undermining the best efforts of governments in developing nations to improve governance, and thereby driving the vicious cycle of poverty."
She called on Russia, China and India to join the fight against corruption and commit to the provisions of the OECD Convention against Bribery.
Turkey rated just above Russia despite having signed the convention in 2003, raising "troubling questions" about the country's commitment to the document, TI said, calling it "a crucial result" as the country pursues its bid for European Union membership.
"In the long run," TI argued, "it pays for companies to take proper measures to end corrupt practices," because "companies with a culture of bribery overseas face a heightened risk of being undermined by the unethical acts of their own employees."