In 2005, federal authorities concluded that a Monsanto consultant had visited the home of an Indonesian official and, with the approval of a senior company executive, handed over an envelope stuffed with hundred-dollar bills. The money was meant as a bribe to win looser environmental regulations for Monsanto's cotton crops, according to a court document. A few years earlier, in the age of Enron, these kinds of charges would probably have resulted in a criminal indictment. Instead, Monsanto was allowed to pay $1 million and avoid criminal prosecution by entering into a monitoring agreement with the Justice Department.
In a major shift of policy, the Justice Department has put off prosecuting more than 50 companies suspected of wrongdoing over the last three years, reports the New York Times. Instead, many companies have avoided the cost and stigma of defending themselves against criminal charges with a so-called deferred prosecution agreement, which allows the government to collect fines and appoint an outside monitor to impose internal reforms without going through a trial. In many cases, the name of the monitor and the details of the agreement are kept secret. Deferred prosecutions have become a favorite tool of the Bush administration. But some legal experts wonder if the policy shift has led companies to test the limits of corporate anti-fraud laws.