The largest, most important anticorruption conference of the year is underway this week in the United Arab Emirates. Formally known as the eighth session of the Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, the 186 nations that have ratified UNCAC are convening to examine how they can strengthen the fight against corruption. They have not said why they chose to meet in the UAE, a collection of seven tiny, wealthy monarchies. Perhaps it is because the Emirates’ location on the eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula makes it an easy place to reach from anywhere on the globe. Or perhaps it is because of its top-notch conference facilities and first-rate restaurants and hotels.
Or perhaps something more subtle is at work.
It’s no secret that the UAE and the governments of its seven federated emirates, especially Abu Dhabi and Dubai, have repeatedly flouted their UNCAC obligations. In researching The Despot’s Guide to Wealth Management, author Jason Sharman was told by staff from the World Bank/UNODC Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative, the IMF, and the governments of Switzerland and the United States that “the UAE and particularly Dubai . . . were the leading haven for international corruption funds,” a conclusion Susan Hawley confirmed on this blog, writing that an “increasing numbers of corrupt money trails lead” to the UAE. Mozambique’s Prosecutor General reports that the UAE has stonewalled her request for help in prosecuting the accused in the “hidden debt” scandal, and evidence presented in the recently concluded U.S. trial of one of the accused revealed numerous violations of its anticorruption laws that the UAE has ignored.
Perhaps the other 185 parties to UNCAC hope that holding the meeting in the UAE will persuade its government to finally meet the nation’s obligations as an UNCAC party. Five indicators of whether their stratagem is succeeding:
1) Help on asset recovery. Will the UAE direct the federated emirates to search for monies and assets deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and other corrupt Arab strongmen have stashed in their banks? The seven emirates shouldn’t just help neighboring Arab states recover stolen assets. What about Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Malaysia, and Ukraine, all countries whose corrupt leaders, sources say, have also hidden money in an emirate or two.
2) Ratify the extradition treaty with South Africa; cooperate with its investigation of the Guptas. Members of the Gupta family, which captured the South African state during Jacob Zuma’s administration, live in the UAE. An extradition treaty between South Africa and the UAE that would ensure the Guptas could be returned to face trial in South Africa for corruption offenses awaits final approval by the UAE. It should be ratified immediately. In addition, the banks in the Emirates should be directed to help locate all Gupta assets they hold.
3) Clean up Dubai’s real estate market. Investigations by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Centre for Advanced Defense Studies confirmed what had long been suspected: that buying real estate in Dubai is a prime way corrupt officials launder money stolen from the citizens. Despite being called out by Transparency International, Dubai has done nothing to stop the flow of dirty money into its property market. Last month, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that relatives of two former Afghan presidents, a presidential candidate, and a senior intelligence official all owned mansions in Dubai. Will Dubai ever get the message?
4) Respond to the mutual legal assistance requests filed by the United States and Mozambique. Both the United States and Mozambique have asked the UAE to provide evidence and information to help in the prosecution of the hidden debt scandal. Neither has received a response.
5) Investigate and if warranted prosecute Privinvest, its CEO Iskander Safa, CFO Najib Allam, and chief salesman Jean Boustani for bribery and related crimes. As this blog explained December 4, evidence adduced at a U.S. trial implicates shipbuilding giant Privinvest and its top executives in a massive bribery scheme involving tens of millions of dollars in payoffs to Mozambique public officials. The company and the three individuals are either resident in the UAE or have significant enough ties to the UAE to be subject to its law. That law makes the bribery of a foreign public official a crime. The UAE should commence an investigation at once. If, as the company and the individuals have said, they are being falsely accused, they should welcome the opportunity clear their name.
Much of value is likely to come from the eighth session of the Council of State Parties. But surely the most valuable result would be if the UAE were to at last take UNCAC seriously. For the sake of corruption’s victims everywhere, let’s hope it does.