“Combating Grand Corruption: Is International Law the Answer”: The Debate Continues at Harvard law School

As readers of this blog know, U.S. Federal District Judge Mark Wolf has been vigorously advocating for the creation of a new International Anticorruption Court (IACC), modeled on the International Criminal Court (ICC), that would have jurisdiction over grand corruption committed by senior national leaders and their associates. His proposal has attracted a great deal of attention, including a critique that I posted a little while back. The proposal also relates to more general questions about the appropriate role for international law and institutions in fighting grand corruption.

Last week, the Harvard Law and International Development Society (LIDS) organized a fantastic symposium on “Combating Grand Corruption: Is International Law the Answer” to tackle some of these issues. Judge Wolf and Luis Moreno Ocampo, who served as the first prosecutor at the ICC, gave opening and closing remarks.

Fortunately the conference was recorded; here are the links to Part One and Part Two. The whole thing is worth watching, but for those of you who are particularly interested in seeing Judge Wolf and I square off in person, his opening remarks in support of the IACC proposal can be found from 4:26-24:43 of Part One, my critique is at Part One, 1:32:20-1:45:52, and his closing remarks (which include but are not limited to a rebuttal of my critique) are at Part Two, 1:11:14-1:30:12.

Other highlights include:

  • Mr. Moreno Ocampo’s opening and closing remarks (Part One, 25:03-42:37 and Part Two, 1:06:18-1:11:06)
  • Akaash Maharaj, Executive Director of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption, on the range of possible international legal responses to grand corruption (Part One, 1:17:00-1:32:07)
  • My Harvard Law School colleague Alex Whiting, former Prosecutions Coordinator at the ICC, on what we can learn from the ICC experience for the proposed IACC (Part One, 1:46:00-1:58-40)
  • Charles Duross, former head of the FCPA Unit at the U.S. Department of Justice, on how the FCPA helps combat grand corruption and what we could do to make it more effective in doing so (Part Two, 3:33-18:17)
  • GAB’s very own Rick Messick on more practical, achievable measures that could make a difference in reducing grand corruption (Part Two, 18:35-29:39)
  • Robert Leventhal, Director of Anticorruption Programs and Governance Initiatives at the U.S. State Department, on measures that the U.S. government is undertaking that make it harder than ever to be a kleptocrat (Part Two, 29:47-42:40)

Anticorruption Policymaking: The Critical Role of Information

“. . . [S]ound policies require good information – about the existence, nature, and causes of a problem, about the costs and benefits to the affected public of various possible solutions to the problem, and about the effectiveness of current policies.” Peter H. Schuck, Why Government Fails So Often: And How it Can Do Better. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014, p. 162.

Few axioms of policymaking would seem as self-evident as the one above, and few are so often observed in the breach.  Developing the knowledge required for good policymaking can be expensive, time-consuming, and intellectually challenging.  At the same time, policymakers are often under pressure to act; the problem is urgent; the public demands a solution, and they want to address the nation’s ills, or at least appear to address them, quickly.  So policy is made on the basis of incomplete data, hunches, intuition, and plain guesswork. The unfortunate result, as the title of Schuck’s book advertises, is almost always a policy failure.

Anticorruption is an area that seems particularly prone to policymaking on the fly.  In 2007 the U4 Anticorruption Resource Centre examined different countries experiences developing and implementing a national anticorruption strategy.  A major finding: “information, knowledge, and understanding of corruption continue to be a great weakness for the formulation and prioritization of anticorruption initiatives . . . .”  A more recent review of national anticorruption strategies Matthew and I have underway for the UNODC suggests matters have changed little in the intervening years. Countries as different as India, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Thailand have constructed detailed, complex strategies for combating corruption on a thin to non-existent knowledge base.

Given the challenges of building a sound knowledge base for anticorruption policymaking, it is easy to understand why this critical step in the process is so often ignored. Continue reading

More Flagrant Abuse of CPI Numbers by People and Outlets that Should Know Better

As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been (figuratively) pounding my fists on the table for a while now about various misuses and misinterpretations of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), particularly in the context of misleading year-to-year comparisons (see here, here, here, here, here, and here). Perhaps I’m overemphasizing a relatively small issue, but it seems that the problem just won’t go away.

Case in point: A piece in last Friday’s New York Times by Carol Giacomo – a member of the New York Timeseditorial board – on recent developments in Indonesia. Most of the piece is a perfectly fine discussion of recent troubling events involving conflict between the Indonesian anticorruption agency (the KPK) and the Indonesian police.  But near the end, in discussing the broader implications of recent events for anticorruption efforts in Indonesia, Ms. Giacomo writes:

Transparency International, which annually rates countries on corruption in their public sectors, says Indonesia has improved its performance on the organization’s “corruption perception index” from 1.9 in 2003 to 34 in 2014[.]

Almost everything about that statement is flawed. Continue reading

Mexico’s Corrupt Mayors: Who Gets Punished at the Ballot Box, and Why

In a democracy, when and why are some politicians electorally punished for corrupt acts, while others get off scot-free? Some answers are commonsense: major scandals generally draw more ire than minor malfeasance; media coverage (and hence voter knowledge) matters; and citizens consider a variety of performance indicators—not just corruption or lack thereof—in selecting politicians. But the details are hazy. Some studies suggest politicians who get caught are more likely face electoral loss, but others find little to no such correlation. Likewise, we know anticorruption candidates often flounder for political reasons, but sometimes they succeed against the odds. So what drives, or contributes to, voter backlash against corrupt politicians?

A recent paper by Harvard scholars Horacio Larreguy, John Marshall, and James Snyder addresses this question in the context of mayoral elections in Mexico. Its conclusions should give pause to anticorruption activists looking for broad-brush solutions. In brief, the paper finds that the devil is in the details: local media coverage can reduce a corrupt incumbent’s vote share, but regional or national media doesn’t seem to matter much; voters do punish corrupt politicians on average, but certain political parties are punished much more than others for the same misconduct; and guaranteeing an audit of public programs reduces malfeasance, but merely threatening a possible audit has little if any effect.

These nuanced findings provide insight into voters’ habits, but they also reinforce the notion that corruption is deeply political—and therefore anticorruption interventions must be context-specific. To unpack this all a bit more, consider the study’s main findings: Continue reading

An Uncommon Victory for India’s Common Man

Indian voters signaled their distaste for corruption last year with the historic defeat of the Congress Party, but never have Indian voters spoken so overwhelmingly against corruption as in last week’s landslide victory for India’s first anticorruption party, the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party in the Delhi elections. The AAP won 67 of the 70 seats, leaving just three for the BJP (Prime Minister Modi’s party), and shutting out the Congress Party altogether. Dubbed a “political earthquake,” this win for the AAP, led by Arvind Kejriwal, is monumental for several reasons. Continue reading

Guest Post: Money Laundering and Asset Recovery in Vietnam

Mathieu Tromme, co-founder of the Partnership for Research in International Affairs & Development (PRIAD), contributes the following guest post:

In 2012, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) placed Vietnam into its International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG) mechanism–often referred to as FATF’s “blacklist”–due to FATF’s determination that Vietnam was not making sufficient progress in addressing deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime. For Vietnam, this blacklisting was most unwelcome news. Like many other countries, Vietnam had suffered from the global economic downturn, and FATF’s blacklisting threatened its tenuous recovery. Landing on FATF’s blacklist increases a country’s risk profile, affects its credit rating, hampers international trade and investment, and impedes access to the international banking system (due to the enhanced customer due diligence which FATF requires). In response, Vietnam enacted a Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Law in 2012 (which took effect in early 2013). After the Asia Pacific Group made an on-site visit to verify Vietnam’s action plan, FATF once more declared Vietnam technically compliant. The country came off the FATF blacklist in February of 2014.

At the same time as this was happening in 2012, FATF issued a revised and consolidated set of 40 AML/CFT recommendations (from an original 40 + 9 “special recommendations” on terrorist financing), which ushered in a number of new standards and evaluation criteria. Of particular interest in Vietnam is Recommendation 30 on “Responsibilities of Law Enforcement and Investigative Authorities,” according to which jurisdictions are now expected to conduct pro-active parallel investigations into both the predicate offence and possible money laundering and terrorist financing offences. Moreover, under this Recommendation, jurisdictions are expected to designate a competent authority which can expeditiously identify, trace, and initiate actions to freeze and seize proceeds of crime. In Vietnam, meeting this new recommendation will be a real challenge, and might again threaten to land it on the FATF blacklist. Continue reading

Guest Post: Zambia’s Director of Public Prosecutions Describes Efforts to Unconstitutionally Remove Him for Prosecuting former President

Below is a February 16 letter Mutembo Nchito, Zambia’s Director of Public Prosecutions, wrote to fellow prosecutors recounting recent efforts to have him removed from office. Links have been added to some of the references cited.

Dear Colleagues,

I trust you are well. I have had an eventful 10 or so days that I feel duty bound to share with you.

As some of you may know Zambia lost its fifth President October 28, 2014. This is the President that requested me to join the public service as Director of Public Prosecutions. My mandate was to transform the Ministry of Justice’s Department of Public Prosecutions into an autonomous National Prosecution Authority. This I embarked on with a reasonable measure of success.

That said one of the main reasons I was hired was my history of anticorruption prosecution. Since 2002 I have prosecuted many cases of high profile corruption that have seen me indict two former presidents, a chief of intelligence,  a Zambia Army Commander, a Zambia Air Force commander and a commander of another defence force called the Zambia National Service. I also prosecuted a former Minister of Finance and his permanent secretaries for corruption and abuse of office among many other high profile individuals.

Except for the first president who was acquitted in very controversial circumstances most, if not all the cases I prosecuted, resulted in convictions. As you can imagine this has earned me very powerful enemies. Continue reading