Furthering Cross-Border Cooperation to Fight Corruption

Some of the best news on the corruption front is the growing cross-border cooperation among domestic law enforcement agencies.  The French firm Alstom’s December 18 agreement to pay R$ 60 million, US$ 16 million, to Brazil to settle bribery claims nicely illustrates the pay off from such cooperation.  Thanks to information supplied by French and Swiss authorities, Brazilian prosecutors showed that Alstom had bribed officials of Sao Paulo’s state government to win a contract to supply electrical equipment to the state’s power company.  A critical element in the case was evidence that the officials had deposited large sums in Swiss banks around the time the contract was awarded.

Although Brazil, France, and Switzerland are all bound by domestic legislation and treaties to help one another investigate and prosecute corruption cases, law alone is not enough to produce the kind of cooperation that resulted in the Alstom settlement.  As Silvio Marques, one of the Alstom prosecutors, explained the other day in a note to colleagues, the key element is –

trust among those working in different agencies.  In the Alstom case, French and Swiss authorities had to be sure the information they provided the Brazilians would not be misused, say to extort money from Alstom or the state officials in return for not prosecuting the case.  Some of the information provided may have been quite sensitive, information that would help Brazilian prosecutors develop evidence but that itself could not be revealed because it might reveal the identity of a confidential informant or the methods by which it was obtained.  Had French and Swiss officials not trusted their Brazilian counterparts, they could have found many ways, notwithstanding their legal obligations, to avoid helping them.

The trust and confidence on display in the Alstom case was the result of personal ties among French, Brazil, and Swiss police and prosecutors built up over several years.  These relationships are the product  many factors  — meetings where parties to UNCAC, the OECD Antibribery Convention, and other international conventions review each other’s compliance, gatherings of professional associations such as that of the International Association of Prosecutors, and conferences supported by the World Bank and other multilateral organization.  An important one in Alstom was the Corruption Hunters’ Network, an informal group of prosecutors and investigators supported by the Norwegian government that meets twice a year to discuss common problems and simply to get to know one another.  There Brazilian prosecutor Marques met a key Swiss official who was instrumental in helping him make connections with European investigators and prosecutors.  (Full disclosure: I have been a member of the network since its beginning in 2005.)

Given the critical role of international cooperation in combating not only corruption but tax evasion, money laundering, human trafficking and the illegal drug trade, the international community would be well-advised to look for more ways to foster ever greater collaboration among domestic law enforcement agencies.

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