Recovering Damages for Mozambican Victims of the Hidden Debt Scandal: Possible Suits in the United Kingdom

A recent post explained that Mozambicans harmed by the corruption behind the “hidden debt” scandal may well be able to sue the perpetrators for damages in the courts of many nations.  Mozambique, where the harm was suffered, and most probably France, Lebanon, Russia, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom, countries where one or more of the alleged perpetrators is located or does business.  The legal basis would be article 35 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.  It requires convention parties to open their courts to actions by corruption victims against “those responsible” for the corruption “in order to obtain compensation.”

The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crimes reports that all 187 parties accept the principle of compensation for corruption.  Suits for corruption damages are a relatively recent development, however, and in its latest review of the convention’s implementation, UNODC explains that establishing causation and proving damages remain to be elaborated through application of parties’ domestic law principles governing harm caused by intentional acts.  At the same time, it noted that in corruption damage cases article 35 mandates that these principles be interpreted broadly.  There need be no direct interaction between the perpetrators of corruption and the victim; nor is recovery limited to cases where the perpetrators foresaw the injury the victim would suffer.

In a just released paper, London barrister James Mather shows how English law would apply to claims Mozambicans brought for hidden debt damages in the United Kingdom. He opines that recovery could be had on the basis of an unlawful means conspiracy and perhaps too on the tort of bribery and dishonest assistance.  English law, he writes, incorporates the liberal principles of causation of damages enshrined in article 35. “The approach to the award of damages for conspiracy in particular is quite liberal in English law and extends to losses which cannot be strictly proved.”  English law also offers Mozambican claimants a procedural advantage.  Rather than each person having to file a separate suit, a group action could be filed with a single claimant suing on behalf of all those who suffered a similar injury.

Mather, a distinguished member of Serle Court in London, cautions that while based on what has been reported it would appear Mozambicans injured by the hidden debt scandal could recover damages in the United Kingdom, much factual research is required to be sure. His paper is an important step forward in seeing that those who suffered enormous harm thanks to the corruption behind the hidden debt scandal are made whole by the perpetrators.  Click on Mather paper to download a copy of his first-rate analysis.

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