Looking Where They Shouldn’t: China’s Crackdown on Due Diligence Investigators

As Meng suggested in a recent post, there is something admirable about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anticorruption crusade. With nearly 182,000 party members reprimanded during his first 18 months in office, President Xi’s program appears both more ambitious and enduring than those of his predecessors. Unfortunately, though, the core of corruption surrounding China’s senior leadership remains largely untouchable. Even as China cracks down on the abusive practices of low-level officials, billions of dollars in “suspicious” funds sit in the foreign accounts of that nation’s “princelings,” protected by the fact that, as Matthew notes, discussion of the corruption of China’s senior leaders remains “absolutely taboo.” After all, shedding too much light on the misbehavior of the nation’s elite threatens to defeat the leadership’s paramount concern: maintaining the legitimacy that undergirds China’s political stability. And this leads to what it is that positive accounts of President Xi’s battle against corruption often overlook: the contemporaneous willingness of China’s senior leaders to crack down on anticorruption efforts whenever those efforts threaten to step on the wrong political toes.

One of the best examples of this phenomenon is the Chinese government’s recent crackdown on investigative companies who perform due diligence. Continue reading

Putin’s “Power Vertical”: Blanchard and Shleifer Revisited

In 2000, Olivier Blanchard and Andrei Shleifer wrote a seminal paper comparing the impact of federalism on economic development in Russia and China. Blanchard and Shleifer aimed to solve the puzzle of why federalism–and, in particular, inter-jurisdictional competition–fostered economic growth in China but hampered it in Russia. Simplifying somewhat, their key conclusion was that the absence of political centralization in Russia was the culprit. With no strong national government to act as a disciplinarian, Russian localities were prone to a particular form of corruption–capture by local special interests–and localities competed for rents instead of competing for firms by making improvements we associate with open governments and economies. In Meng’s recent post about political decentralization in China, she endorses Blanchard & Shleifer’s analysis, and advises against granting Chinese regional and local governments more autonomy from the center. Implicitly, her post is a caution against moves that would make China in 2014 look like Russia looked in 2000.

But what about Russia? Fourteen years after Blanchard & Shleifer wrote their paper, political centralization is a reality in Russia — in terms of the strength of the ruling party, Russia resembles China much more closely now than it did in 2000.  So one might expect, if Blanchard & Shleifer’s analysis were correct, that local corruption in Russia should have abated, and competition between Russia’s different regions should now be growth-promoting rather than growth-retarding.  Alas, Russia’s experience over the past 14 years suggests that this has not come to pass.

Continue reading

The Importance of Personnel Selection in Promoting Government Integrity: Some Evidence from India

Much of the focus in combating corruption in government bureaucracies focuses on creating the right incentives for public servants after they’ve assumed their positions.  The goal is usually to create a system of rewards and punishments – and perhaps also a professional culture – that incentivizes honest behavior and deters wrongdoing.  Creating those incentives is obviously crucial, but it’s also important not to neglect the selection process – choosing who gets to become a civil servant or public official in the first place.  After all, it’s probably a lot easier to help a basically honest person to resist temptation than it is to discourage a venal opportunist from abusing her position.  Moreover, selecting the wrong people into public service can create a vicious cycle: a government agency with a reputation for corruption will tend to attract individuals who more interested in abusing their positions, while an agency with a reputation for probity will be more likely to attract individuals interested in serving the public good.

Continue reading

Corruption Risk Assessments: Some Observations on Private Sector Analyses

As the pressure to curb corruption has grown, so too has the demand for “corruption risk assessments,” efforts to predict what form corruption in a public agency or private firm is likely to take and what can be done to reduce if not to eliminate it.  In the private sector risk assessments have been fueled by national laws that reduce penalties for corruption violations if a firm has a risk management program in place.  In the public sector risk assessments help assure citizens that their money is not being stolen and provide an agency leader unlucky enough to be at the helm when a corruption scandal breaks at least a partial defense to charges of incompetence or venality.

Public sector assessments come in several varieties: those which examine the risks faced by a single organization, say the Albanian tax agency, others which assess risks in a publicly-funded program, for example a de-forestation project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and still others which consider overall risk in a sector with a large public presence such as water or education.  While public sector assessments are almost always readily available, private sector assessments are not, presumably for proprietary or competitive reasons.  What is available on private sector risk assessment are hundreds (thousands?) of tomes advising firms on how to conduct a risk assessment — often written by those looking to assess the corruption risks a corporation faces for a fee.

A Google search for “corruption risk assessment” produced 300,000 hits, one for “assessing corruption risks” 48 million!  I won’t pretend to have read even a representative sample of the reports or “how to” manuals, but the many I have read so far have been a disappointment. Continue reading

The Irrelevance of an FCPA Compliance Defense

The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) exposes corporations to criminal (as well as civil) liability for acts committed by the corporation’s employees, pursuant to the standard principle of U.S. law the corporations are liable for the acts of their employees, if those acts were committed in the course of employment and for the benefit of the employer. This principle, in the FCPA context and elsewhere, has familiar advantages and disadvantages. The most straightforward advantage is that this “vicarious liability” gives corporations an incentive to establish robust compliance programs and to monitor their employees. The main disadvantage is that, because no compliance system is perfect, corporations might find themselves faced with substantial liability for acts committed by “rogue employees”. Moreover, precisely because of this concern, corporations might over-invest in anticorruption compliance, or might forgo certain transactions or investments, because of worries about FCPA exposure. This may be bad for society, not just the firm.

In the FCPA context, a range of critics have argued that the FCPA should be amended to add a “compliance defense,” so that a corporate defendant would not face criminal liability for the acts of its employees, so long as the corporation maintained an adequate system for promoting compliance with the FCPA’s restrictions. (The United Kingdom’s 2011 Bribery Act has such a defense.) Advocates of an FCPA compliance defense have suggested a range of possible forms the defense might take; critics have pushed back, arguing that the existence of the defense would undermine the fight against corporate corruption. My take on the debate over the compliance defense is somewhat different: I think the addition of an FCPA compliance defense, under current conditions, would have no significant effect on FCPA enforcement actions. A compliance defense would probably be neither good nor bad, but rather (mostly) irrelevant. Here’s why:

Continue reading

Is China’s Anticorruption Crackdown Really a Crackdown on Anticorruption Activists?

In my last post I noted that political decentralization, and the inter-jurisdictional competition it fostered, could potentially suppress local corruption and promote economic growth. My enthusiasm was fanned by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) aggressive anticorruption campaign. Since President Xi Jinping took power, there has been a wave of anticorruption purges against powerful military and government officials. The very public purge of Zhou Yongkang, a retired official described as “the most powerful man in China,” seems to be an indication that Xi is fulfilling his promise of zero tolerance against “tigers” and “flies.”

However, my optimism has been tempered by recent news that two more anticorruption activists have gone on trial in China. The fact that the two activists from New Citizens MovementDing Jiaxi and Li Wei—campaigned for officials to disclose their assets, a cause that echoed CCP’s official aspiration (see here and here) only made the arrests more perplexing.

This seems like a glaring contradiction.  Why does the Chinese leadership continue to trumpet on about anticorruption and simultaneously arrest anticorruption activists?

Continue reading

Why FCPA Opinion Procedure Releases Are Broken and How to Fix Them

A couple months ago there was a rare sighting in the world of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA): a Department of Justice (DOJ) opinion procedure release. If you have no clue what an opinion procedure release is, don’t feel bad – if you aren’t an FCPA specialist, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of them. Under 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-1(e), the DOJ is required to establish a procedure to provide advisory opinions to companies on whether contemplated conduct would conform with FCPA requirements. Regulations promulgated under this provision established “opinion procedure releases” – non-binding, public guidance opinions that provide companies with an indication of how the DOJ would treat a particular action. The releases are quite rare, however. Only 38 have been issued since 1993, and only four have been issued since 2012.

It’s probably fair to say that opinion procedure releases aren’t serving the purpose Congress originally intended for them. Congress presumably recognized that because the FCPA’s provisions are vague and consequences of violation can be severe, businesses require a way of ensuring that their contemplated conduct is within legal bounds. These concerns are even more pressing in 2014 as they were when the FCPA was passed in 1977, given that the DOJ and SEC are attempting to expand the FCPA’s reach through creative legal arguments, and multinational companies expanding into emerging markets that present new cultural and legal challenges. Companies constantly complain about legal uncertainty under the FCPA, yet the statutory mechanism designed to alleviate this problem is hardly used. Why? Continue reading