DRC Government Members to Post Ethics Code on Office Wall, Resign if They Violate It

The newly installed government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has taken a major, and for the DRC, unprecedented step in the fight against corruption.  At their September 18 swearing in ceremony, each member signed an “Acte d’Engagement,” a one-page letter to Prime Minster Ilunga Ilunkamba containing an ethics code each agrees to observe.  Although the code’s provisions are nothing out of the ordinary, what is out of the ordinary is that ministers of the DRC would publicly commit to them. This represents an important milestone in the effort of the Prime Minister and President Félix Tshisekedi to arrest the corruption that has plagued the mineral-rich but desperately poor nation for so long.

Even more out of the ordinary, the signers pledge to resign if they are found to violate any code provision. Most unusually, they agree to post a copy of the letter in their office and to circulate it to their immediate staff and the civil servant they oversee. The one-page letter with code is written in non-technical, easily understandable prose. Ministers cannot excuse a violation by claiming they did not understand it, and its wide circulation and posting in the ministers’ offices increases the chances they will be held to it.

There is no reason why the governments of other nations where corruption is endemic should not follow the DRC’s lead.  They too should require leaders to publicly commit to a strong ethics code and to post a copy of the code and their pledge to honor it on the wall of their office.  This will remind them and all who meet with them of that commitment.

A translation of the commitment letter/code that each DRC government member signed follows. Continue reading

New Podcast Episode, Featuring Kevin Davis

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this episode, I interview Professor Kevin Davis, of the New York University Law School, about his new book, Between Impunity and Imperialism: The Regulation of Transnational Bribery (OUP 2019). As the book’s provocative title suggests, Professor Davis has a mixed assessment of the current legal framework on the regulation of transnational corruption (a framework dominated by rules set by the OECD countries, especially the United States), recognizing the progress that has been made in ending impunity, but at the same time highlighting the costs and limitations of the current system, especially from the perspective of developing countries. In addition to our general discussion of his critique–including the reasons for his use of the term “legal imperialism”–we also discuss a number of more specific legal questions, including individual vs. corporate liability for corruption, the nullification of contracts tainted by bribery, the asset recovery framework, and victim compensation more generally.

You can find this episode, along with links to previous podcast episodes, at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

If You Don’t Think Trump’s Financial Conflicts of Interest Matter, Consider the Kurds

Yesterday I posted a note regarding the update of this blog’s project on tracking the various ways in which President Trump and his family may be attempting to use the presidency for private financial gain, how the associated conflicts of interest might influence or distort U.S. policy. In light of recent events, I thought that perhaps it might be appropriate to highlight, and elaborate upon, a few items on that list that may be cause of particular concern:

  • President Trump has extensive business interests in Turkey, including a Trump Tower in Istanbul. This is not a new observation; the potential conflict of interest that this might create has been extensively documented (see here, here, and here), though in light of recent events these business connections have received renewed and intensified scrutiny (see, for example, here, here, and here). Indeed, then-candidate Trump acknowledged back in December 2015 that, “I have a little conflict of interest [in Turkey], because I have a major, major building in Istanbul.” Indeed, the Trump Towers Istanbul, which the Turkish conglomerate Dogan Holding developed, pays licensing fees to the Trump Organization. The Erdogan government can, and previously has, imposed substantial costs on Dogan Holding, and there are credible reports that the Erdogan Administration believes that this ability to put “pressure on Trump’s business partner [in Turkey]” gives the Turkish government the ability “to essentially blackmail the president.” Let that sink in for a moment.
  • In addition, entities close to the Turkish government have gotten in the habit of spending heavily at Trump properties in the U.S. Most notably, the American Turkish Council and the Turkey-U.S. Business Council have held multiple events at the Trump Hotel in D.C. (see here and here), attended by senior administration officials, with these events estimated to pay the Trump Organization well over $100,000 per event. (It’s also worth noting here that the Turkey-U.S. Business Council is headed by the founder of the consulting company that paid former national security advisor Michael Flynn $530,000 for lobbying work.)

It’s impossible to prove whether any of this directly affected President Trump’s foreign policy decisions regarding Turkish interests. But as Turkish forces continue to bombard the Kurdish forces in Northern Syria—an assault against loyal U.S. allies that was only possible because President Trump acquiesced in President Erdogan’s request/demand that U.S. forces clear out and make the attack possible—it’s hard not to wonder whether crucial U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS have been betrayed by the American Commander-in-Chief so that he can protect his financial interests.

This makes the stakes of the corruption concerns related to this presidency, including those implicated in the Emoluments Clause lawsuits brought against the administration, seem all the more pressing. The strategic and tactical wisdom of those suits, and their legal viability, is a complicated question on which my own views have evolved over time (see here, here, and here). But to characterize the issues raised by those suits as a minor distraction, as former New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse did back at the start of the Trump presidency, is a hot take that hasn’t aged well. Here’s what Greenhouse had to say in that January 2017 Council on Foreign Relations roundtable discussion:

I think [the Emoluments Clause] lawsuit is a distraction…. I mean, it seems to me, what we need—we, as concerned citizens—need to focus on are the policy outcomes … emanating from this White House and not, you know, who’s paying the rack rate at the Trump hotel. I mean, that just doesn’t do it for me. (Laughter.) Maybe I’m missing something, but, you know, I think we need to focus on what really matters here.

Note to Ms. Greenhouse: Corruption and conflicts of interest at the highest levels of government “really matters.” Such corruption is often deeply connected to policy outcomes. I’m not sure anyone who follows these issues closely, and who cares about things like our national security policy and our treatment of vital and loyal allies, is laughing much about this now.

Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–October 2019 Update

The recent and still-unfolding scandal involving President Trump’s apparent pressure on Ukraine to investigate and/or provide dirt on his political rivals has to some degree overshadowed many of the other ethical concerns about President Trump’s behavior in office, including a slew of credible allegations that the President, his family members, and close associates have been using the presidency to advance their personal financial interests. (That said, the Ukraine scandal has also drawn greater attention to at least one aspect of this problem, as it did not go unnoticed that in the now-infamous phone July 25 phone conversation between President Trump and President Zelensky, the latter went out of his way to emphasize how much he enjoyed staying in a Trump hotel in New York, which is consistent with longstanding fears that those hoping to influence Trump will give their patronage to his businesses.)

Back in May 2017, GAB began tracking and cataloguing credible allegations of this sort of profiteering by President Trump and his family and cronies. Until May 2019, we’d been updating that report on a monthly basis. The tracker hadn’t been updated for several months since then, partly due to my own lack of organization, and partly because there are now a number of other higher-profile, better-resourced projects with a similar goal. (Among these, I particularly recommend the those from the Sunlight Foundation and from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.) But I think GAB’s somewhat distinctive approach to organizing and describing these concerns might still have sufficient added value that we’re restarting our regular updates to the Trump conflict-of-interest tracker. The newest update is now available here.

A previously noted 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.

Modernizing Legislative Ethics: Costa Rica’s Turn?

The conduct of parliamentarians has not escaped the anticorruption community’s attention.  Ethics codes and parliamentary immunities are everywhere being examined to ensure legislators adhere to the highest standards of conduct and can be held to account if they do not. In Costa Rica, for example, reform-minded parliamentarians recently launched an effort to determine whether their legislative ethics code and immunity rules, unchanged for several decades, need revision.

As a first step, the parliament’s in-house research center prepared a fine summary and analysis of legislative codes of conduct and member immunities in selected European and Western Hemisphere nations. To follow up, I met with reformers to discuss what issues to weigh when amending ethics codes or revising parliamentary immunities. The English PowerPoint Slides for my presentation are here, the Spanish version here. Points emphasized during the discussion: Continue reading

In Their Push for Investigations, Did Trump’s Associates Break Ukrainian Law?

The U.S. political news for the last month has been dominated by the explosive and fast-developing scandal involving reports that President Trump and his associates—including not only U.S. government officials but also Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and other private citizens—have been engaged in an ongoing behind-the-scenes campaign to pressure the Ukrainian government to pursue criminal investigations that would benefit President Trump politically. In particular, President Trump, Mr. Giuliani, and others pushed Ukraine to investigate supposed wrongdoing by Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as alleged Ukraine-based interference in the 2016 election on behalf of Democrats. (There is no credible evidence to support either allegation, and experts in President Trump’s administration repeatedly warned him against these unfounded conspiracy theories, to no avail.) The pressure brought to bear by President Trump and his associates on Ukrainian officials appears to have included not only general statements of interest in these allegations—allegations that the Ukrainian authorities viewed as baseless—but also included implicit or explicit threats that failure to comply would lead to various forms of retaliation, both symbolic (the refusal to invite newly-elected President Zelensky to the White House) and tangible (the withholding of desperately needed military aid).

While the main ramifications of this scandal are political rather than strictly legal, the U.S. media extensively discussed whether President Trump and his associates may have violated any U.S. laws, and commentators have suggested a number of potential legal violations. For example, asking a foreign entity for dirt on a domestic political rival might violate the provision of U.S. campaign finance law that makes it illegal to “solicit … a contribution or donation [to an election campaign] … from a foreign national,” where “contribution or donation” includes not only money but any other “thing of value.” President Trump and his associates may also have violated domestic anti-corruption law (the federal anti-bribery statute and/or the anti-extortion provision of the Hobbs Act) in conditioning the performance of an official act (such as the transfer of military aid) on the receipt of something of value from Ukrainian government officials (investigations into political rivals). Private citizens like Mr. Giuliani may have violated the Logan Act, which makes it illegal for private citizens, without the authority of the United States, to correspond with any foreign government or foreign official “with the intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government …. in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States.” And of course, the attempts to conceal all of these interactions may have amounted to obstruction of justice.

The focus in the U.S. media on whether President Trump and his associates may have violated U.S. law is entirely understandable, but seems incomplete. Strangely absent from the conversation is any mention, let alone sustained exploration, of the question whether any of President Trump’s associates may have violated Ukrainian law. At least this seems strange to me. Imagine that the situation were reversed. Suppose, for example, that a Chinese businessman, nominally a private citizen but known to have close ties to President Xi, approached the U.S. Attorney General and said something like, “We know your administration is anxious to cut a trade deal and would also like China’s assistance in addressing the North Korea situation. I’m sure President Xi could be persuaded to help you out. But you should help China out too. There’s a dissident, now an American citizen, who’s been writing a lot of damaging lies about President Xi, and he’s gaining a following in China and stirring unrest. Why don’t you publicly announce that the U.S. government is investigating him for running a ring of child prostitutes? That would really help us out.” If a story like this came out, I’m quite sure the U.S. media would be abuzz with discussions about which U.S. laws this businessman might have broken, and whether he might be prosecuted in U.S. courts if U.S. authorities managed to arrest him. But in the Ukraine case, we may have something similar—a private citizen (Giuliani) with close ties to a foreign political leader (Trump) apparently told senior political and law enforcement officials (the Ukrainian President and Prosecutor General) to pursue a bogus criminal investigation in exchange for that foreign government’s cooperation on important issues—and nobody seems to be even raising the possibility that this might violate Ukrainian law.

By the way, when I say nobody is talking about this, that apparently includes Ukrainian media and civil society. I don’t read Ukrainian and I’m by no means a Ukraine expert, but I have some friends and other contacts there, and they tell me that while the story is big news in their country, there hasn’t been any discussion about whether Trump’s associates may have violated Ukrainian law. That gives me pause, and makes me think that perhaps I’m totally off base in thinking there’s even an interesting question here. Nonetheless, at the risk of looking foolish (something that’s happened plenty of times before, I admit), I want to use this post to float this topic and see what others think. Continue reading

Guest Post: Indonesian Anticorruption Institutions at Risk, Part 2: Legislative Amendments Spell Disaster for the KPK

GAB is pleased to welcome Simon Butt, Professor of Indonesian Law and Director of the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law, the University of Sydney, to contribute a two-part series on recent developments in Indonesia. Today’s post, the second of the two, is a revised and expanded version of an article that Professor Butt originally published on Indonesia at Melbourne.

As I discussed in yesterday’s post, Indonesia’s anticorruption commission (the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi, or KPK) has found itself under serious attack since it began to pursue powerful political figures. Members of the national parliament, many of whom have found themselves in the KPK’s sights, have long threatened to use their legislative power to weaken the KPK and undermine its independence. For many years the KPK has managed to stave off such threats, thanks mainly to strong leadership and public support. But the KPK has found itself in a weakened state in recent months. It lost its first case in its 17-year history, and more significantly, the KPK’s leadership team has been replaced with a new group of problematic commissioners, whose terms commence next year. And last month, on September 17th, the parliament took advantage of this vulnerability and finally made good on its threat to amend the 2002 statute that established the KPK. These amendments, which attack the very institutional features and powers the KPK has used to build its impressive track record, are disastrous for the KPK and Indonesia’s fight against corruption. Continue reading