Corruption negatively impacts health outcomes. As noted in a previous post, corruption is associated with higher infant, child, and maternal mortality, overall poor health, the spread of antibiotic resistance, and many other problems. When we consider the reasons why corruption undermines health, the most obvious include things like theft or diversion of healthcare resources, or how demands for extra “informal” payments to healthcare providers can deprive poor communities of adequate care. There is, however, another important mechanism through which corruption undermines public health: corruption undermines trust in government and government-run services, which in turn can hinder effective health delivery and thereby escalate the spread of infectious diseases, especially in emergency situations like the recent Ebola crisis. Continue reading
An updated version of my anticorruption bibliography is available from my faculty webpage. A direct link to the pdf of the full bibliography is here, and a list of the new sources added in this update is here. As always, I welcome suggestions for other sources that are not yet included, including any papers GAB readers have written.
GAB is pleased to publish this account of the first day of the Obiang trial by Shirley Pouget, a French lawyer observing the proceedings on behalf of the Open Society Justice Initiative
The worldwide fight against grand corruption took a giant stride forward Monday June 19 with First Vice President of Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue standing trial for corruptly diverting millions from the national treasury. Known to cronies as Teodorin, the case appears to be the first ever where a high-level official, while in office, is called to account for grand corruption before a foreign court. The precedent setting case, the culmination of a decade of determined struggle by French and Equatorial Guinean civil society, is being heard before the Tribunal Correctionnel in Paris.
As the trial opened, the courtroom overflowed with journalists, civil society representatives, and Equatorial Guineans in exile: we were all there to see if indeed a powerful politician whose corrupt activities have left his nation in penury would be held to account. The three judges hearing the case, all women, took their seats at 1:30. The presiding judge opened by recalling that the accused was before the court on charges of misappropriation of public funds, complicity in the misappropriation of public funds, misuse of corporate assets, complicity in the misuse of corporate assets, and the concealment of each of these offences. She explained that the court had jurisdiction because each offense, or an element of each, was committed in France. She then expressed concern that defense counsel had only provided answers to the charges a few days before the trial began.
The defense launched into a series of objections to the commencement of the trial that consumed the entire afternoon hearing. Teodorin’s high-priced lawyers argued that 1) the case should be stayed pending a final decision by the International Court of Justice in a case between France and Equatorial Guinea, 2) the magistrates’ decision to refer the accused for trial was illegal, and 3) a coalition of Equatorial Guineans should not be permitted to participate in the case as a civil party. They also raised an unexpected claim based on a highly technical reading of the charging document. Continue reading
In 2002, billionaire Jeffrey Loria purchased the Miami Marlins, a Major League Baseball team, for $159 million. In May of 2017, Luria agreed to sell the team for reportedly $1.3 billion, earning a profit of over $1.1 billion. Some of that profit can be explained by the increased valuation of all sports franchises in the last decade, but a large reason for the eye-popping jump in value is the Marlin’s new, privately owned—but largely public funded—stadium. In 2011, Miami-Dade County agreed to contribute more than $400 million for the stadium. Including interest, the estimated total cost to the county is $2.4 billion dollars. Prior to reaching a deal for the new stadium, Mr. Loria donated various amounts to local government officials, including $40,000 to the county commission chairman in 2008, and $50,000 to Mayor Alverez. (The SEC conducted a four-year investigation into whether Loria’s donations were unlawful bribes, but ultimately dropped the investigation.)
Such a story is common in sports stadium construction. In the past 15 years, more than $12 billion in public money has been spent on privately owned stadiums. The loans used to pay for such construction, typically tax-exempt municipal bonds, will also cost the federal government at least $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies to bond holders. There’s an ongoing debate about whether taxpayer dollars should be used to fund privately owned stadiums, but that’s not my focus here. Rather, I want to focus on how this system creates opportunities for corrupt deals between team owners and local government officials.
Before government officials vote on whether to approve public funding for a new stadium, the team’s billionaire owners often make “campaign contributions” to the responsible government officials. It is difficult to prove that these donations are unlawful bribes, as doing so would require proving a quid pro quo exchange. Yet when billionaire owners donate to local government officials, who then happen to approve hundreds of millions of dollars in public funding for the billionaire’s stadium—which directly increases the value of the owner’s assets by hundreds of millions of dollars—it looks a lot like bribery. The example of Mr. Loria making donations to Miami-Dade officials is hardly unique. Consider the following additional illustrations: Continue reading
Many critics, including on this blog, have argued for abolishing judicial elections, partly on the grounds that judicial elections open the door to judicial corruption. These critics worry that elected judges cannot apply the law neutrally because they will be influenced by those who got them to their position and by the desire to stay there. But these risks are both exaggerated and fairy easy to control. Judicial elections actually promote legitimacy and responsiveness, and reduce opportunities for political gamesmanship. Ultimately, judicial elections can help curb judicial corruption.
Recently Jimmy McEntee criticized the anticorruption provisions that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had added into its standard Host Country Contract (HCC), arguing that the revised HCC language fails to represent genuine progress in fighting Olympic corruption. I might quibble with a few of his arguments, but McEntee’s larger point is essentially correct. For example, while I think McEntee erred as a technical legal matter in asserting that the HCC contains no legal enforcement mechanism, he’s right that as a practical matter, the IOC may not be able to credibly threaten to enforce the anticorruption provisions against a host city, or host National Olympic Committee (NOC) that violates them. Although the IOC is entitled to terminate the HCC and to withdraw the Games from the Host City if there is a violation of or failure to perform “any material obligation pursuant to the HCC or under any applicable law,” this threat is not very credible, given the high stakes involved for the IOC, the demanding timeline on which Olympic Games are prepared, and the fact that termination may invite burdensome and uncertain litigation over what counts as a “material obligation.” For similar reasons, the less extreme remedy of retaining or withholding funds from the host city or NOC or Host National Olympic Committee (NOC) is also not very appealing, and therefore not very credible, in light of the IOC’s strong interest in making the Olympic Games a success and the fact that withholding funds which would weaken the local hosts.
But perhaps McEntee’s most important point—and the one I want to explore further here—is his argument that the HCC’s anticorruption languate is excessively vague. He argues that “a meaningful anticorruption provision – one consistent with best practices for such provisions – would need to include language that requires the host city to ensure that its agents, contractors, suppliers, and consultants do not participate in any corrupt practice” (emphasis in the original). It is here, especially with respect to the failure to deal clearly and adequately with third-party corruption, where the revised HCC lags behind most, and where comparison with another international sporting association’s approach to the same issue—the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Tournament Requirements for the EURO 2024 tournament—is most enlightening. Continue reading
This Monday, June 19, a case against Equatorial Guinean First Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue for looting the nation’s oil wealth opens in a Parisian criminal court. In partnership with the Open Society Foundations Justice Initiative, GAB will provide readers with regular reports on the case’s progress. Although the Vice President is unlikely to appear in person, the case nonetheless is an important milestone in the world wide struggle to bring to justice rulers who rob their citizens on a massive scale. It marks the first time, to GAB’s knowledge, a sitting kleptocrat has been called to account.
The case, one of several collectively known as “bien mal acquis” or “ill-gotten goods,” has gone through several twists and turns. It is a tribute to the hard work, persistence, and dedication of CCFD-Terre Solidaire, Sherpa, TI-France and other individuals and NGOs that it is now finally set for trial. Vice President Obiang could be sentenced to up to 10 years’ in prison and fined millions of euros if convicted. While he would surely remain holed up in Equatorial Guinea to duck prison, conviction would likely carry an order confiscating all property he owns located in France, which today is known to include a Parisian mansion valued at 107 million euros along with a collection of Ferraris, Maseratis, and other luxury cars like worth over five million eruos.
The French case is not Obiang’s first brush with the law. In October 2014, to settle a U.S. case based on his kleptocratic ways, he forfeited a mansion in California and other property worth $30 million. Obiang is also under investigation in a number of other jurisdictions.
Monday’s hearing begins at 1:30, Paris time. For those fortunate enough to be in Paris, additional hearings are scheduled for 9:00 am, June 21; 1:30, June 22; 1:30 pm, June 26; 1:30, June 28; 9:00, June 29; 1:30, July 3; 9:00 July 5; and 1:30 July 6. For those who are not, GAB is the next best alternative.