A Dull, Boring, Humdrum, Unimaginative, Prosaic Proposal to Combat Corruption

David took Alexander Lebedev and Vladislav Inozemtsev to task in a recent post for a scheme they proposed in an on-line issue of Foreign Affairs to combat corruption.  Ignoring the several international anticorruption conventions now in place and the slow but steady improvements these agreements have produced, the authors called for a brand new convention that would grant extraordinary powers to a supranational team of investigators, prosecutors, and judges to arrest, prosecute, and try those suspected of corruption no matter where they are.  The harebrained idea is so full of holes and so unrealistic that David labeled it “absurd,” a conclusion with which any serious analyst would surely agree.

In closing David urged the anticorruption community to stop advancing unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky proposals that waste readers’ time and scarce space in learned journals in favor of more realistic, if less catchy, ones.  In that spirit I offer the following dull, boring, humdrum, unimaginative, prosaic proposal — one not likely to capture the uninformed reader’s imagination or gain space in Foreign Affairs or another prestigious policy journal. On the other hand, my proposal will help crackdown on corruption, particularly corruption by powerful officials in developing states.  It is simple.  Developed nations should copy a program the British government began in 2006.

Since then the Department for International Development has funded a unit in the Metropolitan Police dedicated to helping developing states find and recover money hidden, or laundered, in the United Kingdom.  Although anti-money laundering laws in all nations give law enforcement the power to investigate allegations that foreign officials have stashed money in their country, fighting terrorism, street crime, and corruption at home is what voters, and the legislators they elect, expect their police forces to prioritize.  DfID funding ensures that one unit in the U.K. law enforcement establishment prioritizes helping developing countries.  Help that indirectly but surely deters crime in the U.K.

Scotland Yard’s Proceeds of Corruption Unit has enjoyed some spectacular successes, most notably the apprehension and successful prosecution of James Ibori, a former Governor of the Delta state in Nigeria. Ibori had been one of Nigeria’s most powerful political figures. Nigerian authorities had pursued him for many years but his wealth, and consequent influence among senior Nigerian politicians, had rendered him untouchable.  After Nuhu Ribadu, chair of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, arrested him in 2007, Ribadu was removed from office and all charges against Ibori dismissed.  Ibori enjoyed no such influence in the United Kingdom, however, and in April 2011 he was extradited to the U.K. and a year later sentenced to 13 years in prison for a variety of charges arising from laundering tens of millions of pounds in the U.K.  The case not only resulted in the immediate return of over $10 million to Nigeria but sent a powerful message to Nigeria’s citizens that crooked officials were no longer immune from prosecution.  (The Ibori story, other successful prosecutions by unit, and details on its funding and the activities of other U.K. law enforcement agencies receiving DfID funding are nicely recounted in a 2012 U4 piece by Alessandra Fontana available here.)

Other developed countries should copy the U.K. model.  If they are not money laundering havens, they can find other ways a dedicated police unit can help developing states – say by working with developing country investigators on bribery cases involving individuals and firms over which the developed state has jurisdiction.  Or by assisting them in speeding responses to MLAs.  The recommendation that other nations ape a successful U.K. program may not grab the attention of the editors of learned journals but I suspect it will do much more to combat corruption than those that have.

9 thoughts on “A Dull, Boring, Humdrum, Unimaginative, Prosaic Proposal to Combat Corruption

  1. Thanks for the constructive post, Rick. I definitely agree with you and David that we ought to focus attention on realistic – some might say boring – initiatives. But I can’t resist the urge to extrapolate from your proposal and add a supranational element. I am thinking of a coordinating body along the lines of Eurojust (one of the EU’s least sexy institutions, which is saying something). Such a body would have a very limited, functional mandate – to facilitate information exchange between police authorities investigating transnational misconduct. The institution’s role could be as simple as providing translation services, identifying points of contact in the countries’ investigating offices, collecting/storing documents to create a complete case file, etc. To make it even duller, the coordinating institution(s) could have a regional – rather than global – purview. Perhaps this structure adds an unnecessary layer of complexity but I think, as the Eurojust experience shows, it would quietly add significant value.

    • Great Post Rick. In fact, DFID has been working closely with many Arab spring countries. While other countries kept paying lip service to condemning corruption. I also like Elizabeth‘s idea of building a regional coordinating bodies. However, I have a question regarding her proposal on adopting regional instead of international bodies. I believe this might prolong the procedures. Given the transnational nature of corruption the crime may be investigated in three countries falling within different three regions. In such a case each domestic body will contact the regional body it follows then regional bodies have to coordinate their work afterwards before they get back to the domestic ones. Would not be more time-efficient to rely on one body instead of regional bodies? Another factor to keep in mind that it seems less costly to build one body instead of five.

  2. This is an interesting debate which points out a need to do something more about the international cooperation against corruption. There are sufficient number of regional and global anti-corruption conventions (OAS; AU; CoE; EU; OECD; UNCAC and UNTOC) and sub-regional protocols (e.g. SADC and ECOWAS in Africa) each of which envisage mechanisms to facilitate international cooperation including against money laundering,MLA, extradition, confiscation and asset recovery. UNCAC specifically calls for the establishment of specialized investigative units as those mentioned in UK as well as a nationally centralized body for MLA and extradition requests.
    One of the problems is that a number of provisions as envisaged by those conventions have not been implemented and that here is a lack of political commitment and will to promote international cooperation and make it more efficient. The best way to prevent international corruption and safe heavens is to make efficient international cooperation predictable and stable. International legal security and predictability are the most efficient modes of preventing and fighting international and domestic corruption.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on a post with the title “A Dull, Boring, Humdrum, Unimaginative, Prosaic Proposal to Combat Corruption.” If you think that one is all the title advertised it to be, wait until you read this coming Wednesday’s. It will make the post in question look thrilling, exciting, innovative, gripping. . . .

    International coordination is critical even if, as Elizabeth says, it too is not a headline grabbing proposal. An initial focus on sub-regional organizations is best as the fewer countries involved, the easier it is likely to be get members to cooperate. Coordination among the five members of the East African community will surely be easier to effect then coordination across the 54 members of the African Union.

    I continue to hear complaints about the lack of cooperation on MLA, intelligence sharing, and extradition from anticorruption agencies in several regions. Naming and shaming is one (the only?) way to “encourage” cooperation, but there are of course difficulties with it. The state requesting help may not want to antagonize the state from which help is requested, and it may also want to keep the request confidential to avoid tipping off the suspect or his or her cohorts. As the number of requests grows, this may be less of a problem. All members of a regional or sub-regional organization could report aggregate numbers of requests made, requests denied, or requests pending longer than a given period, perhaps six months on an annual basis. The deniers and the delayers would know who they were and would face peer pressure to improve their performance — perhaps with a threat of exposure hanging in the air.

  4. Hi Rick!
    I just read this and wanted to share an even much more* boring idea: monitoring that will ensure the funds are not transferred in the first place and FIUs that report. I also wanted to push back on the DfID-Ibori case as model given CDC the context. I am also slightly nervous about using a $10m of $250m return as a standard.

    *Yes, yes, I brag!

  5. The British government could make it compulsory to declare who are the beneficial owners of companies and property in the United Kingdom. It could demand that banks report to the Financial investigation units (FIU) funds being moved by politicians as well as government officials and their family members. The FIU could then trace the origins of the funds and take action if found to be from corrupt sources. It can lobby its fellow G7 countries to do likewise. Some of what I said has been started but perhaps we have the wind in our sails and we can demand acceleration of the efforts.

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