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.