A former Microsoft employee has made the stunning accusation that the company actively engages in bribery to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Yasser Elabd claims corruption within Microsoft goes to the top and has published an exposé on Lioness.
Elabd was an employee with Redmond software giant from 1998-2018, a two-decade stint where he would sell contracts, products, and licenses to customers in African and the middle east.
He says Microsoft works with more established partners in those regions to get deals done, including making bribery payments. One instance Elabd points to is a $40,000 payment request to a customer in Africa. He says he was suspicious of the deal because the customer was not on Microsoft’s own internal list of potential clients.
Furthermore, the partners handling the deal was no longer with the company. He raised his concerns with the services architect who made the payment request and was given corporate jargon and general dodging of the subject.
Reporting the Matter
Taking the matter further, Elabd reached out to his manager, the Microsoft legal division, and human resources. Eventually the transaction was stopped, but there was not investigation into what happened.
As for the services architect who made the request, he became Elabd’s manager. The former employee details how the first meeting went with this manager:
“He immediately scheduled a one-on-one meeting, in which he told me our job is to bring as much revenue as we can to Microsoft. He added, “I don’t want you to be a blocker. If any of the subsidiaries in the Middle East or Africa are doing something, you have to turn your head and leave it as is. If anything happens, they will pay the price, not you.” When I said I would not block anything unless it violated company policy, his tone took a sharp turn. He shouted that I was not capable of doing this business and couldn’t close deals. But my 18-year track record spoke for me.”
Once again, Elabd went through the chain of command. He spoke with a vice president, but nothing happened. He then returned to HR, and he says even reached out to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. This pushed the vice president into action, and he claims he was told he would essentially be removed from the company.
After this, Elabd says he was unable to participate in deals and travel requests to generate deals were denied. He claims to have been a consistent performer during his time with Microsoft but found himself on a “performance improvement plan.” In other words, Microsoft was evaluating him on the basis his work performance as not up to scratch.
Elabd rejected this plan, and he was fired in 2018.
Ongoing Corruption and Microsoft’s Response
So far, so interesting. However, there is more to the story. One Saudi Arabia-based colleague continued to send him emails and documents highlighting Microsoft’s ongoing bribery and corruption.
“Examining an audit of several partners conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, I discovered that when agreeing to terms of sale for a product or contract, a Microsoft executive or salesperson would propose a side agreement with the partner and the decision maker at the entity making the purchase. This decision maker on the customer side would send an email to Microsoft requesting a discount, which would be granted, but the end customer would pay the full fee anyway. The amount of the discount would then be distributed among the parties in cahoots: the Microsoft employee(s) involved in the scheme, the partner, and the decision maker at the purchasing entity—often a government official.”
Elabd sent his investigation to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DoJ). Neither agreed to investigate Microsoft, although both acknowledged the evidence. That meant the last course is for Elabd to go public.
Becky Lenaburg, Microsoft VP and general counsel for compliance and ethics told The Verge the company has already addressed this issue:
“We are committed to doing business in a responsible way and always encourage anyone to report anything they see that may violate the law, our policies, or our ethical standards. We believe we’ve previously investigated these allegations, which are many years old, and addressed them. We cooperated with government agencies to resolve any concerns.”
Disgruntled former employee looking for revenge or a real tale of scandal and corruption? I’ll watch this one closely to see how it plays out.
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