Will the Swiss Government Heed Civil Society’s Advice When Returning Stolen Assets to Uzbekistan?

Readers of this blog know the Swiss government faces a dilemma in returning several hundred million Swiss francs of stolen assets to Uzbekistan (here and here).  Although the current government has taken small steps towards reform, it remains dominated by the same clique of Soviet-era apparatchiks whose corrupt ways were behind the theft of the assets. Returning the money thus runs a high risk that it will go right back to the culprits or their cronies.

At the same time, the Swiss government has an obligation under the UN Convention Against Corruption to return the assets. Moreover, thanks to decades of misrule, living condition for the average Uzbek remain dismal at best.  Money for everything from basic education and health programs to investment in public works is desparately needed.

Uzbek civil society now offers a solution to the Swiss dilemma.  Acknowledging the reformist leanings of the current government, and wanting to encourage them, civil society proposes that the Swiss government return the funds in tranches.  The return would be keyed to progress in realizing the kinds of reforms the government says it is committed to making.   Internationally recognized measures would be used to gauge progress.

A phased, conditioned return has two advantages.  It offers those in the Uzbek government leverage to persuade reluctant colleagues of the need for change.  At the same time, a phased return avoids swamping the government with a massive amount of money its primitive public financial system simply couldn’t manage responsibly.

The proposal appears in a letter to Swiss authorities authored by prominent Uzbek citizen, both those who have had to flee the country to escape political repression and those (anonymously) who remain.  The English version is here; a Russian version here.  A commentary on the proposal in the Swiss press is here, and background on the circumstance the led to the theft is here.

India and Ireland Enact Anticorruption Compliance Program Laws

Legislation just approved in both Ireland and India create a powerful incentive for businesses to establish anticorruption compliance programs.  Both give firms a defense to criminal charges if one of their employees or agents is caught paying a bribe. Section 18 of the Irish Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018 provides that a “body corporate” can avoid liability if it can prove that “it took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence.”  Under section 9 of India’s Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2018, a “commercial organization” escapes liability if it proves it “had in place adequate procedures in compliance of such guidelines as may be prescribed [by the Attorney General] to prevent persons associated with it from undertaking such conduct.”

The compliance provisions differ, as the quoted language shows, in two respects.  India imposes liability on any “commercial organization,” which includes not only corporations but partnerships and business associations “of any kind,” whereas the Irish law is limited to corporations alone.  Second, while the Irish Minister for Justice and Equality has the discretion to issue guidance on what constitutes “all reasonable steps” and “all due diligence” to prevent employee bribery, the Indian Central Government must, “in consultation with the concerned stakeholders . . .  prescribe such guidelines as may be considered necessary which can be put in place for compliance by [commercial] organizations.”

The Indian requirement follows a report of the Indian Law Commission on an earlier version of the bill.  Noting the “immediate and significant impact” the bill would have on corporations, particularly smaller ones, and that both the U.K. Bribery Act and the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act require law enforcement authorities to issue compliance guidance, the Commission recommended that the liability provision cum compliance defense be effective only once the Central Government published guidance on what was expected of companies wanting to assert a compliance defense.  An earlier post noted the burgeoning literature on compliance programs by governments, international organizations, and commentators alike evidences a broad consensus on what constitutes an effective compliance program.  Hence in practice the requirement shouldn’t lead to any real difference between what will be required under Indian law and what other nations with a compliance law already require.

The Nations with Anticorruption Compliance Laws table shows Ireland and India are now the fourteenth and fifteenth nations to enact legislation creating a defense to a criminal charge for businesses that have a compliance program.  (Readers are asked to submit a comment if I missed any country.)  With the six countries plus Quebec that require certain firms to have a compliance program, and with the United States, which both tempers corporate liability for firms with an “effective” compliance program and requires those winning public contracts of any appreciable size or duration to have one, the number of jurisdictions with some type of compliance program law now stands at 23.

What are the other 163 parties to UNCAC waiting for?  Why aren’t they enlisting their private sector in the fight against corruption?  Do they really think they can win the fight on their own?

Fighting Corruption in Nigeria

Nigeria continues to enjoy pride of place in the global discourse on corruption.  A Google search for “Nigeria corruption” brings up more than 53 million entries led by a lengthy Wikipedia article on the subject. Matthew’s bibliography lists over 100 books, monographs, and scholarly articles on corruption in the country which analyze everything from its colonial roots to how and why it is endemic to what can be done to tame it.  This blog has ruminated on matters ranging from why the head of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission was replaced to whether the then newly-elected President Muhammadu Buhari was serious about fighting corruption to outgoing First Lady Patience Jonathan’s impatience with the thought something was untoward in her receiving “small gifts” totaling $15 million while her husband held high office.

Two current papers by authors with very different backgrounds, one a former U.S. intelligence analyst, the other a former Nigerian professor and incoming head of the Nigeria’s corrupt practices commission, continue the discussion.   Both agree corruption is pervasive and that it has done much harm to the state and its citizens.  Not surprisingly perhaps, given who they are and where they sit, they offer quite different assessments of where the country stands in the fight against corruption.  In Real Challenges of Fighting Corruption in Nigeria, remarks delivered to the Corruption Hunters Network (CHN) June 25, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, nominated to chair the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, radiated optimism, ticking off a series of reforms that have made a difference and predicting more progress is on the horizon.  By contrast, the tone of a July monograph for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace by Matthew Page, the former Nigerian analyst for the U.S. intelligence community, is decidedly pessimistic.  When it comes to what can be done, he offers nothing beyond a scheme to help policymakers make sense of the dizzying variety of forms corruption in the country takes.

My money is on Owasanoye and not just because I had the opportunity to hear him deliver his talk. My reasons for optimism about Nigeria’s fight against corruption are several. Continue reading

Laura Kovesi’s Statement Upon Being Fired As Romania’s Chief Anticorruption Prosecutor

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis yesterday fired the National Anticorruption Directorate’s chief prosecutor Laura Codruţa Kovesi under intense, unrelenting pressure from the parliamentary majority.  Although article 133 of the Romanian Constitution protects public prosecutors from parliamentary whims, in a head-scratching decision May 30 Romania’s Constitutional Court ruled that the president must heed a directive by the Justice Minister ordering him to fire Kovesi.  Iohanis had initially resisted, but the parliamentary majority demanded he obey the Justice Minister’s directive — even after citizens demonstrated in Kovesi’s favor and the European Union signaled its support for her.  Indeed, in recent days the majority made it clear that if Iohannis refused to obey the order, it would impeach him.  Iohanis relented early Monday morning, July 9, signing a decree terminating Codruţa Kovesi.

 Codruţa Kovesi issued a statement later in the day defending her agency’s record combating corruption, voicing the concerns of many that her dismissal will undermine the fight against corruption by subordinating prosecutors to parliament, and urging all Romanians not to give up the struggle against corruption.  The full text of her remarks (her own English version) are below.

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Will Mexico’s New President End Procurement Corruption?

 

Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pledged Sunday in his victory speech night to eradicate corruption and to hold his friends and supporters accountable.  The Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad (IMCO) has an easy way citizens can see whether he keeps his promise.

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You Are Reorganized! Sierra Leone President Bio’s Ingenious Way of Firing the Anticorruption Commissioner

Leaders fearful that a corruption investigation is closing in on them or colleagues have Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio to thank for coming up with a most ingenious to rid himself of the pesky head of his nation’s anticorruption agency.  While the anticorruption law bars presidents from summarily firing the anticorruption commissioner, requiring first a tribunal to find him or her unfit to serve and then two-thirds of the parliament to agree, President Bio neatly cut through this cumbersome red tape with the following missive his aid sent Anticorruption Commissioner Ade Macauley —   Restructuring letter

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Will the Swiss Government Condone Gross Human Violations in Returning Stolen Assets to Uzbekistan?

The Swiss take pride in their nation’s uncompromising defense of human rights. Its diplomats offer unwavering support for the rights of the oppressed in international fora; its NGOs provide generous support to human rights defenders around the world, and as home to the United Nations Human Rights Council and other UN human rights agencies, Geneva is the center of the global discourse on human rights. But if recent press reports are to be believed (here [German] and here [English]), the Swiss government may be ready to ignore gross human rights violations perpetrated by the government of Uzbekistan.

The issue is part of the struggle over how to return the several hundred million dollars that Gulnara Karimova, daughter of its recently deceased dictator, stashed in Switzerland with the help of lackeys Gayane Avakyan and Rustam Madumarov. The monies are allegedly bribes international telecommunications companies paid Karimova to operate in Uzbekistan.

The Uzbek government is seeking their return while Uzbek civil society argues that because the government is so corrupt, the Swiss government should follow the precedent established in a Kazakh case and return the monies directly to the Uzbek people.  If the Swiss government does not, and does return the money to the Uzbek government, it will be forced to condone grave human rights abuses Avakyan and Madumarov have suffered at the hands of the Uzbek government. Continue reading