Holding Relatives Hostage: China’s Newest Way of Pressuring Fugitives to Return to Face Corruption Charges

China’s latest tactic in Operation Fox Hunt, its campaign to force those who have fled abroad to return to face corruption charges, has had the extraordinary, if unintended, consequence of uniting America’s bitterly divided political elite.  Last June, the American wife and children of accused fraudster Liu Changming were detained in China after a brief visit; his wife held in a “black site” and his children barred from leaving.  The ostensible the reason for holding them is because they are being investigated for “economic crimes,” but almost surely, as the family claims, the real reason is to pressure paterfamilias Liu to return to China to stand trial for corruption offenses.  Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton, avowed Trump opponents Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III, and leaders of Harvard and Georgetown universities are all demanding the Americans be permitted to leave China at once (accounts here and here).

Holding family members hostage to force a relative to surrender to authorities is a species of collective punishment, a patent human rights’ violation universally condemned by the world community. No wonder the Boltons, Warrens, Kennedys, Harvards and Georgetowns find themselves on the same side of the issue.

Reporting by the New York Times, however, suggests that there could be more to the case than appears at first glance.  That there may be reason for both the Chinese government and the strange bedfellows its policy has created in opposition to examine their actions in view of the global fight against corruption. Continue reading

Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–December 2018 Update

Since May 2017, GAB has been tracking credible allegations that President Trump, as well as his family members and close associates, are seeking to use the presidency to advance their personal financial interests, and providing monthly updates on media reports of such issues. The December 2018 update is now available here.

As always, we note that while we try to include only those allegations that appear credible, we acknowledge that many of the allegations that we discuss are speculative and/or contested. We also do not attempt a full analysis of the laws and regulations that may or may not have been broken if the allegations are true. For an overview of some of the relevant federal laws and regulations that might apply to some of the alleged problematic conduct, see here.

Getting State Anticorruption Commissions to Work

In the elections last November 6, citizens in New Mexico and North Dakota voted to amend their state constitutions to establish state anticorruption commissions. In doing so, they joined the vast majority of American states (currently 44 out of 50) that have created similar (or at least similarly-named) commissions—starting with Hawaii back in 1968. The impulse to create a special commission to deal with a significant problem like public corruption is certainly understandable. Indeed, many state commissions were created immediately after a major public corruption scandal, when public frustration was running high. At the same time, though, the record of such state-level anticorruption commissions in the US is mixed at best (see, for example, here, here, and here). And despite the similarities in their names, many of these commissions actually do quite different things—with some functioning like ethics commissions that publish quasi-legislative standards and others functioning more like mini-prosecutors’ offices. Indeed, it’s not entirely clear that voters in New Mexico or North Dakota knew exactly what they were voting for when they went to the ballot boxes. In New Mexico, the referendum measure left to it to the state legislature to determine how the commission would operate, while the language in the North Dakota referendum suggested that the commission’s duties would be largely optional.

Despite their diversity and admittedly mixed track record, state anticorruption commissions have many potential benefits. They can provide clear reporting channels for individuals who have witnessed corruption; they can evaluate systemic corruption risks by sector and recommend more targeted reforms to state legislators; and they can enhance accountability by investigating ethics complaints and corruption allegations, and referring appropriate cases to state prosecutors’ offices. But in order to be effective, state commissions need to have certain institutional features and safeguards.

Continue reading

An Interesting Collection of Corruption Posts at the Public Administration Review’s Blog Symposium–Worth a Look!

The Public Administration Review recently published a blog symposium on corruption, edited by Liz David-Barrett and Paul Heywood. (As some readers might recall, GAB published the announcement and call for submissions last April.) The broad-ranging symposium includes an impressive lineup of contributors and a diverse set of topics–and in keeping with blogging norms, the pieces are short and to the point, and often provocative. Worth checking out. You can find the full table of contents at the link in the first line of this post, but I’ll also copy it below so readers can jump directly to posts that look particularly interesting:

Corruption: A Bully Pulpit Symposium

Introduction

  1. Why re-think anti-corruption? An introduction to the symposium, Elizabeth Dávid-Barrett and Paul M. Heywood

A systems approach to corruption

  1. Learning to understand corruption as a systemic problem, Johannes Tonn
  2. Eradicating Corruption: You Can’t Just Pin Your Hopes on Democracy, Elisabeth Kramer
  3. Informal networks: the invisible drivers of corruption and implications for anti-corruption practice, Claudia Baez-Camargo, Saba Kassa and Cosimo Stahl
  4. What ‘hidden’ success stories tell us about anti-corruption policy and practice, Heather Marquette and Caryn Peiffer
  5. Pressure to change: a new donor approach to anti-corruption? Phil Mason

Broadening the definition of corruption

  1. Fighting corruption through strengthening financial integrity: Reflections on Pakistan’s experience, Tom Keatinge and Anton Moiseienko
  2. Add women and stir? Exploring the gendered dimension of corruption, Rrita Ismajli and Miranda Loli

Moving away from compliance-based, regulatory approaches to anti-corruption

  1. Fighting Corruption with Insights from Behavioral Science, Johann Graf Lambsdorff
  2. Focusing efforts and blurring lines: the OECD’s shift from ethics to integrity, Sofia Wickberg
  3. Rethinking corruption risk management for global health programmes: from compliance-based approaches to informed programme design, Sebastian Bauhoff, Sarah Steingrüber and Aneta Wierzynska
  4. Interpreting anti-corruption within a public ethics of accountability, Emanuela Ceva and Maria Paola Ferretti
  5. Using a social norms approach to tackle corruption in Nigeria, Abdulkareem Lawal

New roles for the private sector in tackling bribery and corruption

  1. Market for Bundles: A New Stage of Foreign Anti-Bribery Enforcement, Branislav Hock
  2. Towards a system of compensation for the victims of foreign corruption, Friederycke Haijer
  3. Public/private partnerships – an opportunity or risk for anti-corruption? Nick J Maxwell
  4. Communicating with SMEs on anti-corruption, Brook Horowitz and Jan Dauman
  5. Charting a New Path of Anti-Corruption in Africa: Bringing the Private Sector in from the Cold, Tahiru Azaaviele Liedong

Engaging more local and community partners in anti-corruption

  1. “Bottom Up” Corruption Prevention, Jennifer Widner and Tristan Dreisbach
  2. Look beyond the nation-state: Local-level success stories may reflect different power dynamics, Tom Shipley
  3. Nuevo Leon’s Anticorruption System: Taking Stock of an Ongoing Experiment in Fighting Corruption at the Local Level, Bonnie J. Palifka, Luis A. García and Beatríz Camacho
  4. Can Customary Authority Reduce Risks of Corruption and Local Capture? David Jackson and Jennifer Murtazashvili
  5. Every Penny Counts: Exploring Initial Strategies for Successful Open Contracting Initiatives in Challenging Environments, Tom Wright, Eliza Hovey and Sarah Steingruber
  6. Empowering Agents of Change, Phil Nichols

OECD Nations Should Criminalize the Unexplained Wealth of Politically Exposed Persons

Today’s guest post is from Hamid Sharif, Managing Director, Compliance, Effectiveness and Integrity, for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.  Writing in his personal capacity, he urges OECD countries to enact laws like that giving the British government the power to demand public officials from another nation explain how they acquired assets held in Britain.  If the official cannot show the assets were purchased with honestly-obtained monies, they are confiscated.  The laws Mr. Sharif advocates would provide that if the official were from a developing country, the seized assets would go to development projects in the victim state.  The views expressed in no way reflect or represent those of AIIB, its Board, or Management.

Since 1996, when then World Bank President James Wolfensohn condemned corruption as a “cancer” which stood “as a major barrier to sound and equitable development,” combating corruption has figured prominently on the international development agenda. In 1997, the OECD nations agreed to make it a crime to bribe a foreign public official, and in the early 2000s the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the other multilateral development banks (MDBs) introduced corruption prevention policies into their procurement rules, adopted anti-corruption policies, established procedures for investigating corruption in their operations, and instituted systems for sanctioning firms and individuals found to have engaged corruption. Beyond ring-fencing their own projects against corruption, both the MDBs and bilateral development agencies have worked to strengthen institutions to prevent corruption in developing countries. Civil society in both developing and developed states has also stepped up its efforts to fight corruption.

Both the MDBs and bilateral donors have urged developing nations to operate with greater transparency and accountability and funded projects to strengthen anticorruption agencies, judiciaries, and other domestic institutions responsible for combatting corruption. Today there is far more information on corruption and how to fight it available to citizens of the developing world than 20 years ago. The result has been a multitude of reforms aimed at preventing or deterring corruption, from the spread of right to information laws to more effective anticorruption laws and agencies.

Despite this progress, in most developing countries institutions are not yet strong enough to investigate and successfully prosecute the corrupt acts of senior government officials whether elected or appointed, individuals who in antimoney laundering parlance are, along with their relatives and close associates termed “politically exposed persons” or “PEPs.”  In many countries, investigating and prosecution agencies as well as courts lack the independence, security, and institutional capacity to instill public confidence in their ability to deal with high-level political corruption perpetrated by PEPs. Continue reading

Carr Center Conference on Human Rights and Corruption: Full Video

There’s been a great deal of recent interest, in both the anticorruption community and the human rights community, about the connections between these topics. Back in May 2018, the Carr Center for Human Rights at the Harvard Kennedy School held a conference on this topic (entitled “Corruption and Human Rights: The Linkages, the Challenges, and Paths for Progress”). I posted a link to the written summary report of the conference last summer. I’m now pleased to report that a full video of the all-day conference is available here.

It’s long (over 4 1/2 hours), so here’s a quick guide to what speakers and presentations you can find where: Continue reading

The Case for Abolishing Police Commissioners’ Extendable Terms in Israel

The investigations into corruption allegations against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have received massive attention from the media in Israel and around the world ever since they began in late 2016. In one of the most recent developments, last September Israel’s Minister of Public Security, Gilad Erdan, officially announced his decision not to extend the three-year term of the current head of the Israeli Police, Commissioner Roni Alsheich, by an additional year. Therefore, Alsheich is expected to complete his tenure at the end of this year. Erdan ascribed his decision not to extend Alsheich’s tenure to “differences of opinion and divergent approaches on various issues, some of them substantial and weighty, and which had a significant impact on the public’s trust in the police.” Opposition members and commentators, however, claimed that this decision was driven by the fact that Alsheich has been (or has been perceived as) leading the investigations into Prime Minister Netanyahu. According to the critics, Erdan, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, was acting to please influential senior members of the Likud, as well as Netanyahu himself – an allegation that Erdan denied.

The facts of this particular case are murky. There is no solid evidence to show that Erdan’s decision not to extend Alsheich’s term was related to the latter’s involvement in the Prime Minister’s corruption probe. (In fact, even critics of Erdan’s decision do not seem to claim that Alsheich’s commissionership was flawless.) Nevertheless, this incident highlights a larger institutional flaw in Israel’s current practice of appointing police commissioners for three years with the option for extension.

Israeli law does not actually specify a fixed length for a police commissioner’s term, nor does it mention anything about the potential for term extension. In fact, Israel’s Police Ordinance says only that the commissioner is to be appointed by the government, per the recommendation of the Minister of Public Security. However, over the years it has become an accepted practice (though not without exceptions) that the police commissioner is appointed for a term of three years, and toward the conclusion of that term, the Minister of Public Security decides whether to recommend that the government extend the commissioner’s term by approximately one additional year. This practice should be abolished. Instead, the law should be amended such that the commissioner would be appointed for a fixed, non-extendable term (except in certain emergency situations) – a proposal that has been advocated by commentators and some members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), but so far has gone nowhere.

There are three strong arguments, from the perspective of anticorruption policy, for giving the police commissioner a fixed non-extendable term (at this point, regardless of its exact duration): Continue reading