In an essay published Friday on the whistleblower platform Lioness, former Microsoft executive Yasser Elabd alleged that Microsoft fired him after warning leadership about a workplace where employees, subcontractors and government operators regularly engaged in bribery. He goes on to claim that attempts to escalate his concerns resulted in retaliation within Microsoft by executives, and ultimately his resignation from his role.
Elabd claims in his essay that he worked for Microsoft between 1998 and 2018, overseeing a “corporate investment fund” — essentially a slush fund to “make longer-term deals” in the Middle East and Africa. But he became suspicious of unusual payments to apparently unqualified partners. After investigating several independent audits, he discovered what he believes to be a common practice: After setting up a large sale to entities in the region, a “discount” would be baked in, just for the difference between the full freight cost and the reduced fees are skimmed off and split between the deal makers.
“This customer-side decision maker would send Microsoft an email requesting a discount, which would be granted, but the end customer would still pay the full fee. The amount of the discount would then be split in cahoots among the parties: the Microsoft employee(s) involved in the settlement, the partner and the decision maker at the purchasing entity — often a government official,” Elabd claimed.
The former Microsoft executive gave several examples of suspicious transactions and red flags he saw abroad during his 20 years with the company. In one audit, Microsoft gave the Saudi Interior Ministry a $13.6 million discount that never made it to the doors of the agency. In 2015, a Nigerian official complained that the government paid $5.5 million for licenses “for hardware they did not own”.
In another example, Qatar’s Ministry of Education paid $9.5 million over seven years for Microsoft Office and Windows licenses that went unused. Auditors later found that employees of that agency did not even have access to computers.
“We are committed to conducting business responsibly and always encourage anyone to report anything that may violate the law, our policies, or our ethical standards,” Becky Lenaburg, a VP at Microsoft and deputy general counsel for compliance and ethics, wrote in a statement to The Verge. “We believe we have previously investigated and addressed these allegations, which are many years old. We have worked with government agencies to resolve any issues.”
Elabd claims his attempts to warn executives resulted in him being scolded by a manager, being pushed out of certain deals and being told by an executive that he set himself up to be fired after trying to get CEO Satya Nadella involved. . After he was fired, Elabd wrote that he had brought his documentation to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice. He claims the DoJ refused to hear his case. Under protocol, the SEC dropped the case earlier this month due to a lack of resources.
“As I claimed in my complaint to the SEC, Microsoft is violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and continues to blatantly do so. And why wouldn’t they?” Elabd wrote. “By refusing to investigate these allegations and the evidence I gave them, the SEC and DOJ have given Microsoft the green light.”
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