Yet Another Misguided Proposal to Solve Corruption with an International Convention

Entrenched corruption is a frustrating problem, so it’s tempting to invent a new international regime that can take bold action against it without relying on or being encumbered by corrupt or incompetent domestic law enforcement. An article published last week in Foreign Affairs by Alexander Lebedev and Vladislav Inozemtsev, succumbs to that temptation by proposing a “universal anticorruption convention” as a solution to grand, systemic corruption (as distinct from low-level bribery). In broad terms, Lebedev and Vladislav envision a convention that would “clearly define the crime of corruption, codify the principles of good governance,” and “establish a supranational governing body, dedicated investigative and police forces, and a specialized court,” with signatories agreeing to “allow[] international investigators to act freely on [their] territory, and permit[] international prosecution of [their] citizens for corruption crimes.”

The article is short on details about these proposed institutions; the bulk of the article is devoted instead to the proposed convention’s enforcement mechanism. And there the proposal is quite radical: Signatories would be required to “radically curb their financial ties” with non-members, to “identify all assets controlled on their territories by the subjects of nonmember states (both individuals and companies)”–regardless of whether the assets are the proceeds of corruption–and, by an agreed deadline, to “monetize[e] and repatriate[e]” all of these assets. Under the convention, citizens of non-member states could not “open[] accounts in member countries’ banks, establish[] companies on their territories, [or] acquir[e] local real estate.” And member states would also be required to bar immigration from non-member states (at least of “young, independent people”), because the “freedom to leave” a corrupt state reduces the pressure to change from within.

I agree with Lebedev and Inozemtsev that grand corruption is a serious problem, and I commend them on their willingness to explore radical new solutions. But their proposal is absurd. I can’t imagine any state signing on to it, and I don’t think any state should. Their proposal would not only be ineffective. Its implementation would be catastrophic.  Continue reading

“The Whole World Can Commit Corrupt Acts” : Petrobras and the Brazilian Election

“There are corrupt people everywhere,” said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. “In my opinion, the whole world can commit corrupt acts.” Brazil’s presidential election is neck and neck, the closest in a generation. As both candidates accuse each other of corruption, two questions come to mind: First, is corruption influencing the outcome of this race? Second, should it? Continue reading

Allegations of Corruption and the Qatari World Cup

Just five days after FIFA voted to award Qatar the 2022 World CupJack Warner, a senior FIFA official (and now a politician in Trinidad), received $1.2 million from a company controlled by the leading proponent for a Qatari World Cup (the proponent, Mohamed bin Hammam, has since been banned from football for life ). Some have argued that this impropriety should cost Qatar the World Cup, and FIFA has created and empowered an ethics committee to investigate potential wrongdoing. The United States FBI is also investigating the payments. If FIFA finds wrongdoing, it might reassign the cup on that basis.

I believe that to reassign the Cup on the basis of corruption in the FIFA vote would be a mistake. The Qatari World Cup is a magnifying glass on unfair labor practices in Qatar, and the Cup’s potential impact on human and labor rights is too great to give up.

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Investigating a Company “As Big as Brazil”

“Petrobras is bigger than all of us,” declared Brazilian President Dilma Roussef. “Petrobras is as big as Brazil.” Brazil’s federal police had raided the state-run oil company’s headquarters three days earlier, on April 11, and President Roussef was defensive. “No one and nothing,” she said, “will destroy Petrobras.” That the probe proceeds despite President Roussef’s warnings demonstrates the power of the Brazilian people. While it is too early to know whether Brazil will prosecute its biggest company, the investigation, and a separate congressional inquiry, may be testaments to the impact that mass public protests — involving more than 1 million protestors over the course of the last year — have had on prosecutors and government officials.

The Petrobras probe’s initiation months before a presidential election, and the political battle surrounding it, however, raise a red flag: are the people speaking, or are powerful political groups?

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Brazilian Anticorruption and the World Cup

The FIFA World Cup is more than “a mere sporting event. It’s a tool to promote social transformation.”  So said Ricardo Teixeira, the President of the Brazilian Football Confederation, after Brazil won the bid to host the 2014 games. Despite initial optimism, however, the buildup to the Cup in Brazil has been marred by widespread protests and accusations of corruption. If there is a basis to these accusations, the World Cup provides an early — and high-profile — opportunity to test Brazil’s new anticorruption law. Maryum’s post earlier this week might be right that the national government has a political incentive to prove that it’s serious about anticorruption, but the World Cup contradicts that narrative. The Cup’s high profile might skew the national government’s incentives: identifying corruption in Brazil’s World Cup could be a national embarrassment.  If the federal government’s incentives are misaligned, the decentralized enforcement powers in the CCA – which Maryum’s post criticizes – offer hope that corruption will be punished. Continue reading

A Cautionary Note on the “World Anticorruption Police”

In an Op-Ed in the New York Times this past Wednesday, Alexander Lebedev, former KGB officer and current owner of the Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta, calls for “an international body to police corruption.” Lebedev astutely describes how “international banks, law firms and accountants” make it far too easy to hide the proceeds of corrupt activities, and far too difficult to bring the perpetrators to justice.  Yet his proposed solution–an international anticorruption police force–is likely to have costs that far outweigh whatever benefits it may have. Continue reading