The U.S. Department of Justice’ trumpets its so-called “Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative,” which seeks to freeze and seize illicit assets stashed by corrupt foreign leaders in the United States. When Attorney General Eric Holder had introduced the Initiative before the African Union in 2010, he described it as a program for recovering public funds for “their intended – and proper use”. For his audience, “proper use” was no doubt understood as implying return of the looted assets to the victim countries. Yet over the past few years, these expectations have been eroded, as the US has proved reluctant to turn over seized asses, and the DOJ’s public statements regarding asset return now increasingly incorporate qualifying language to the effect that forfeited assets will be returned to the originating jurisdiction “where appropriate“. This is inequitable and harmful to global anticorruption efforts. Continue reading
Although prosecutions under transnational anti-bribery laws like the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act may get more attention, the major multilateral development banks (MDBs) have adopted administrative sanctions systems that significantly contribute to the strengthening of integrity structures in the countries in which they operate. Indeed, the seven large MDBs share an anticorruption strategy that includes harmonized definitions of fraudulent, corrupt and other prohibited practices. The strategy also incorporates shared principles for conducting integrity due diligence in private sector transactions, and a framework for sharing information to address integrity concerns. These sanctioning systems help to deter and prevent corruption in funded projects, thereby helping to ensure that MDBs achieve their development mandates and fulfill their fiduciary duty to guarantee that their loans are used “only for the purposes for which the loan was granted”. In some cases, as in the World Bank’s Macmillan Publishers and SNC-Lavalin debarments, MDB sanctions have preceded criminal charges by national authorities. In this post, I will provide a brief overview of these systems. Continue reading
Nigeria has a corruption problem. Whether described as misuse of public office for private gain, trading in influence, money laundering, or the theft of public funds, this problem is rife, and we know it. There is also a list of scandals that is as long as it is depressing: that fuel subsidy fraud, those egregiously inflated prices for the purchase of vehicles, the disappearing treasury, and a bewildering pardon for an infamous corrupt convict.
Between 2003 and 2007, it looked as if Nigeria had found a solution to the corruption problem, and that solution had a name: Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. As Chair of the Economic and Financial Commission (EFCC), Mallam Ribadu led successful prosecutions of financial crimes, bringing thousands of indictments, over 270 convictions and double that number in arrests. Described by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime as “a crime-buster made of the hardest steel alloy every manufactured”, Ribadu’s work was filled with fearless firsts. Under his leadership, the EFCC conducted investigations leading to the indictment and conviction of the Inspector General of Police (Ribadu was a policeman). The EFCC indicted five governors and secured two convictions – feats previously thought impossible. The EFCC also arrested and prosecuted hundreds of confidence scammers, and served as an effective deterrent to financial crimes. It was also largely due to the EFCC’s efforts that Nigeria was removed from Financial Action Task Force’s list of non-cooperative jurisdictions. Ribadu put a face to the previously mythical dependable and trustworthy law enforcement.
Yet for all his well-deserved praise, Ribadu’s tenure at the EFCC, and what happened afterwards, illustrates the limits of strong individuals in weak institutions. While anticorruption heroes are great, institutions matter more.