Investigating a Company “As Big as Brazil”

“Petrobras is bigger than all of us,” declared Brazilian President Dilma Roussef. “Petrobras is as big as Brazil.” Brazil’s federal police had raided the state-run oil company’s headquarters three days earlier, on April 11, and President Roussef was defensive. “No one and nothing,” she said, “will destroy Petrobras.” That the probe proceeds despite President Roussef’s warnings demonstrates the power of the Brazilian people. While it is too early to know whether Brazil will prosecute its biggest company, the investigation, and a separate congressional inquiry, may be testaments to the impact that mass public protests — involving more than 1 million protestors over the course of the last year — have had on prosecutors and government officials.

The Petrobras probe’s initiation months before a presidential election, and the political battle surrounding it, however, raise a red flag: are the people speaking, or are powerful political groups?

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India Votes against Corruption, But Not for Its Anti-Corruption Party

For perhaps the first time, Indians set aside community and religious divisions to vote against an incumbent government perceived to be corrupt. Nevertheless, the country’s new anti-corruption party performed poorly in this month’s national elections, picking up only four of the five hundred and forty-five seats in the lower house of parliament.

I have written about the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a political outfit borne out of anticorruption protests, here. I recently expressed hope that the urban, middle-class party would be able to encourage rural, low-income Indians to vote against corruption, rather than along community or religious lines.

I was partly right–but only partly. India’s vast electorate handed a resounding defeat to the corruption-plagued Congress party. Congress—the party that led India’s independence movement and has ruled the country for most of the past sixty years—won only forty-four seats, its worst showing ever. This would not have been possible if India’s voters had ignored issues like corruption and good governance.

However, AAP was unable to take advantage of this anticorruption sentiment. There are two major reasons for this. Continue reading

My Remarks at IBA Mexico City Conference

A few weeks ago, the International Bar Association hosted a conference in Mexico City on the future of anti-bribery law in Latin America and beyond.  I delivered a short, fairly informal keynote speech at the conference.  Although I didn’t prepare a written version of my speech, Matteson Ellis, who runs the very useful FCPAmericas Blog, was kind enough to post a summary of my remarks on that blog.  For those who are interested, you can find the summary here.

Encouraging More Corruption-Related Litigation?

On June 28 the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict and the Open Society Foundations’ Justice Initiative will, with the help of this writer, host a one-day conference at the Said Business School entitled Legal Remedies for Corruption to discuss ways civil society can stimulate corruption-related litigation – either by pressuring prosecutors to file more criminal cases or by bringing their own civil actions for damages.

The question mark in the title is for American readers who might be forgiven for asking why such a conference is necessary.  Isn’t there enough litigation already? The U.S. Department of Justice and Securities & Exchange Commission continue to vigorously enforce the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, while the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section continues to ferret out corrupt federal, state, and local officials.  In 2012, the last year for which data is available, the section charged more than 1,000 individuals with accepting bribes, criminal conflict of interest, and other corruption offenses. And private parties in the U.S. have also been willing to sue alleged bribe payers, with suits brought by a range of injured parties including competitors, suppliers, partners, shareholders, and employee-whistleblowers.  Even foreign governments have taken advantage of American law’s broad standing rules and generous theories of damages: One alleged bribe payer recently paid a company owned by the Government of Bahrain $85 million to settle a claim it had harmed the company by bribing one of its employees to secure a contract, while the government of Trinidad has brought an action under Florida’s version of the Racketeer and Corrupt Organizations Act against the companies that allegedly rigged bids on an airport construction project in Port of Spain.

It turns out that while there is a great deal of litigation — public and private — over bribery allegations in the United States, this is much less true in most of the rest of the world. Continue reading

Klitgaard’s Misleading “Corruption Formula”

I guess I’m engaging in the “ritual slaying of the elders” in which professors often indulge. Having gone after Paolo Mauro in an earlier post, here I want to take on (a small part) of Robert Klitgaard’s work.

Klitgaard, who is one of the giants of academic anticorruption research over the last half-century, once pithily (and influentially) summed up his perspective on the causes of corruption in a “corruption formula”: C = M + D – A, or (to put this back into words): “Corruption equals monopoly plus discretion minus accountability.”  (The formula originally appeared in Klitgaard’s 1975 1988 book, Controlling Corruption.  You can find a more recent version here.)  Much as I respect Klitgaard’s work, I think this anticorruption “formula” is not merely trite, but affirmatively misleading and therefore dangerous.

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Update from Mexico: PEMEX Reform, Private Investment, and the Government’s Anti-Corruption Gamble

Two days before the Mexican government unveiled draft regulations for its ambitious opening of the state-run energy sector to private participation late last month, Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón published a letter posing ten questions to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.  “The reform will result in multimillion-dollar contracts” for private companies, wrote Cuarón. “In a country such as ours with a weak (and often nonexistent) rule of law, how can large-scale corruption be avoided?”  To the surprise of some, the President’s office issued a point-by-point response just a week later, naming a spectrum of anti-corruption measures adopted in the new regulations such as public bidding and agreements, disclosure of contractor expenses, a commissioner code of ethics, and institutional and procedural checks and balances unified under the oversight of the Secretary of Energy.  (Full text in Spanish here.)

The project to reform Mexico’s energy sector – particularly the state oil company PEMEX, which generates one-third of all government revenue and is bestowed of both a powerful workers union and tremendous symbolic importance in Mexican history – was always going to be controversial.  President Peña Nieto’s success in getting the law passed in December 2013 has been his signature achievement, lauded by the Washington Post as turning Mexico into “the Latin oil producer to watch — and a model of how democracy can serve a developing country.”

But both critics and many supporters of the reform recognize that corruption is an elephant in the room. Continue reading

Bharara and the Moreland Commission: Federal Overstep or Legitimate Intervention?

As a reaction to widespread corruption in New York state government, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Scheiderman appointed the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption in July of last year. The members of the Commission were deputy attorneys general with broad powers to investigate violations of bribery, campaign finance, lobbying and election laws. Governor Cuomo disbanded the Moreland Commission last March, purportedly as part of a bargain to pass stricter anticorruption laws made in a larger budget deal. Two weeks later, the federal government stepped in, in a very public way. Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, opened an investigation into Cuomo’s decision to prematurely shut down the Commission and openly questioned Cuomo’s justification for the decision. Last week, the New York Times reported that subpoenas may have been served on the Commission’s former counsel, possibly to root out evidence of interference by the governor’s office in the workings of the Commission.

The federal investigation raises an important question: how involved should federal prosecutors be in corruption at the state and local level? Cuomo’s defensive response to Bharara’s announcement suggests that Cuomo believes involvement in this case is undesirable. However, any umbrage-taking on the part of the governor would be misplaced. For two reasons, Bharara’s intervention stands out as a uniquely well-founded and legitimate example of the increasingly commonplace practice of federal prosecution of state and local corruption.

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