James Giffen

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James Henry Giffen (March 22, 1941 – October 29, 2022) was an American businessman and an authority on American-Soviet trade.[1] He was the founder and chairman of Mercator Corporation.[2] Giffen was the prime suspect accused in the $80 million Kazakhgate bribery scandal, which was at one time the largest U.S. investigations ever into an overseas bribery case; but which went nowhere.[3][4]


Giffen was born in Stockton, California, on March 22, 1941.[2] He had ties to the USSR dating back to the 1970s. After graduating from college, he worked for a subsidiary of Armco Steel, developing a relationship with Armco boss and future US commerce secretary C. William Verity, Jr.[5] During the Cold War, Giffen was instrumental in setting up the multi-company American Trade Consortium (including large corporations such as RJR Nabisco, Chevron, Eastman Kodak, Johnson & Johnson and Archer Daniels Midland) to negotiate entry into the Soviet market with representatives of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.[6]

Kazakhgate trial[edit]

In the Kazakhgate trial, Giffen asserted that he was acting with the approval of the Central Intelligence Agency, which refused to release secret papers relating to these activities.[7] His defense said Giffen had merely been following orders from the Kazakh government, which as a foreign state had the right to define legality according to its own views, and serving the interests of the United States.[8]

Giffen eventually pleaded guilty to a tax misdemeanor and paid $25; the other charges, which could have carried a penalty of several decades in prison, were dropped.[7] The case concluded in November 2010; U.S. District Judge William Pauley, who said he had been able to refer to classified documents that had not been made public in the trial, ordered neither prison time nor a fine for Giffen.[8]

Personal life and death[edit]

Giffen died in Manhattan on October 29, 2022, at the age of 81.[9]




  • "Developing a Market Program for the U.S.S.R." Columbia Journal of World Business, vol. 8, no. 4 (Winter 1973), pp. 61–68. ISSN 0022-5428.
  • "US-Soviet Trade: Political Realities and Future Potential," with Michael V. Forrestal. Columbia Journal of World Business, vol. 18, no. 4 (Winter 1983), pp. 29–35. ISSN 0022-5428.


  1. ^ Deutsch, Claudia H. (Jul. 31, 1988). "Taking a Team Approach to Soviet Trade." New York Times. Archived from the original.
  2. ^ a b LeVine, Steve (2007). The Oil and the Glory: The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea. New York: Random House (2007). ISBN 978-0375506147. OCLC 427557496.
  3. ^ Macalister, Terry (May 7, 2003). "Swiss Join Oil Bribery Inquiry." The Guardian.
  4. ^ Cassin, Richard L. (Nov. 22, 2010). "No Punishment for 'Hero' Giffen." The FCPA Blog.
  5. ^ Stodghill, Ron (Nov. 5, 2006). "Oil, Cash and Corruption." New York Times. Archived from the original.
  6. ^ Kraar, Louis (Jul. 31, 1989). "Top US Companies Move Into Russia." Fortune. Republished on CNN Money. Archived from the original.
  7. ^ a b Winnett, Robert (Aug. 13, 2010). "George Clooney Film Inspiration 'Mr. Kazakhstan' Finally Brought to Justice." The Telegraph. Archived from the original.
  8. ^ a b LeVine, Steve (Nov. 19, 2010). "James Giffen Telling the Truth?" Foreign Policy. Archived from the original.
  9. ^ Clay Risen (November 4, 2022). "James Giffen, Who Was Embroiled in 'Kazakhgate,' Dies at 81". The New York Times. Retrieved November 4, 2022.

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