Why Huawei is not another Alstom

June 04, 2019 10:26
The United States is waging economic warfare to thwart foreign tech firms such as Huawei and eliminate competition to American firms, says former Alstom executive Frederic Pierucci (inset). Photo: Bloomberg

Frederic Pierucci, a former executive of Alstom, is definitely one of the biggest winners of the US-China trade war.

His book Le Piège Américain, or The American Trap, which was released earlier this year, has become a best-seller in China after photos surfaced of Huawei Technologies founder Ren Zhengfei keeping the tome on his desk.

Alstom, the French power and transportation conglomerate, is one of the world’s top three players in the field, with over 90 years history. The other two giants are Siemens and General Electric. The three compete for mega infrastructure projects across the world.

Pierucci is a former head of Alstom’s energy unit, and had worked for the company for over 20 years.

In April 2013, the Frenchman was arrested as he disembarked from a Cathay Pacific flight in New York.

Pierucci was accused of authorizing bribes to Indonesian officials to win a boiler plant order and was prosecuted under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

He served two years in prison in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, and was put on parole for three years. Alstom ended up paying US$770 million fines to the US.

In 2014, General Electric acquired Alstom’s energy business for US$17 billon.

Pierucci reflected on his experience in the book and accused the US government of using legal tools to target other nations.

Pierucci’s experience mirrors in some ways what happened to Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who was detained in Vancouver late last year.

A Chinese publishing house bought the rights to Pierucci's book, which was in French, and introduced the Chinese version last month.

The book quickly became a bestseller. Pierucci also immediately became a celebrity and was interviewed by Chinese state media like CCTV and Xinhua News Agency.

In the media interactions, he warned that Washington was using law as an economic weapon of war, and suggested that other nations should all unite to counter acts of US unilateralism.

Otherwise, he said, it could be "yesterday Alstom, today Huawei, and tomorrow?”

In the book, Pierucci admitted that “reality is cruel.” There was indeed rampant corruption inside Alstom across a dozen nations in which the company operated. The book has described in detail how the French company had bribed foreign officials to win projects.

Still, Pierucci claimed these activities are “common practice” among multinational corporations. But American authorities have deliberately targeted Alstom.

Such differential treatment leads to speculation that the US government could be assisting General Electric in the American firm's competition with its rival.

Pierucci and Alstom fell into the American trap since they did violate anti-corruption law.

His subordinates bribed an Indonesian official and paid middleman within the US territory. FCPA allows the US to pursue cases overseas if the transaction was made in US dollars or related email passed through US servers.

In this sense, the Alstom case is not really similar to that of Huawei.

The US imposed a ban on Huawei for completely different reason. The telecoms equipment giant was accused of having a close relationship with the Chinese state and installing hidden backdoors, which threaten US national security.

However, Washington failed to give any solid evidence as it laid out the allegation.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 3

Translation by Julie Zhu with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist