Will an IMF Loan End Equatorial Guinea’s Grand Corruption? Part II

Part I of this post reported that last December the International Monetary Fund approved a $282 million loan to Equatorial Guinea to pull the economy out of recession and restore growth. Equatorial Guinea’s government is by any measure one of the world’s most corrupt, and the Fund determined that if it did not reduce corruption, the loan would have little or no impact. It therefore made addressing corruption a condition for extending the loan. IMF conditionality could be a potent weapon in the struggle to contain corruption. If Equatorial Guinea is held to the anticorruption condition, other governments will be on notice that to qualify for an IMF bailout, they too must combat corruption.

The loan requires Equatorial Guinea not only to enact new anticorruption legislation but to enforce it as well.  The loan will be disbursed in tranches over three years; the Fund can suspend or terminate it at any time if the government fails to comply with the anticorruption conditions.  Assessing whether a law has been passed is straightforward. Deciding whether it is being enforced is not.  It requires considerable judgement, and thus the IMF will have significant discretion to determine whether Equatorial Guinea is complying with the loan conditions.

Vigorous enforcement of the IMF-mandated anticorruption legislation could put many senior government officials in prison, and they will thus do everything possible to blunt enforcement. The Fund must insist the government make steady, measurable progress on enforcement, and if it does not, suspend loan disbursements until it does. Continued disbursements in the face of perfunctory enforcement would defeat anticorruption conditionality, neutralizing a powerful new weapon in the corruption fight.

The measures the anticorruption community can take to help prevent this outcome are detailed below. Continue reading

Will an IMF Loan End Equatorial Guinea’s Grand Corruption? Part I

Long scorned as a nearly perfect kleptocracy where corruption is unparalleled in its brazenness, Equatorial Guinea announced last November it would end the rampant corruption that has earned it such contempt, issuing a policy note saying it is “firmly committed” to measures to “enhance governance and transparency, [and] reduce corruption.” The note issued not from a newly-installed, reformist government but from the same one that has bled the country dry for three decades. The commitment to honest government is the price the International Monetary Fund is demanding in return for a loan to pull the economy out of a deep, prolonged recession largely caused by the ruling elite’s wholesale looting of the nation’s patrimony.

The Equatorial Guinea loan is not the first time the IMF has conditioned a bailout on anticorruption reforms. In 2015, in return for a four-year $17.5 billion loan, Ukraine was required to overhaul the institutions that investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate corruption cases, prohibit government employees from receiving large gifts, and compel senior officials to disclose their assets. The European Union, other international organizations and governments, and Ukrainian civil society all helped formulate these conditions, and all pressed the government to comply with them. Thanks to this concerted pressure, it is; and while Ukraine today is hardly corruption free, it is making steady progress in bringing corruption to heel.

Equatorial Guinea’s promises to the IMF appear in a policy paper titled “Good Governance and Anticorruption Action Plan” (Spanish version; English version). It there pledges not only to enact a slew of new anticorruption laws but to enforce them as well. But unlike Ukraine, Equatorial Guinea has no powerful neighbors demanding it comply with these promises, no strong, independent civil society organizations lobbying for them, and no vibrant, free press following its progress in realizing them.  Like most corrupt countries, it is run by a thuggish, repressive regime that locks up its opponents, or worse, and cares nothing for its standing in the international community or its citizen’s well-being.  The chances the government will honor the IMF loan covenants are thus much lower than they were in Ukraine. Close observers of the country expect the government will enact measures that look good on paper but are never enforced.  And then claim it has done what it promised. Continue reading

Will Hosting the UNCAC Meeting Prompt the UAE to Comply with the Convention?

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: Continue reading

Asset Recovery: Report from Angola

Angola appears at last to have turned the corner in the fight against corruption.  The long-awaited trial of two “big fish,” the son of the former president and a former central bank governor, for looting the sovereign wealth fund began December 9.  While the international media have focused on what the trial means for the government’s fight against corruption  (Reuters story here, Bloomberg here, and BBC here), a less heralded equally significant development is quietly unfolding in Eduarda Rodrigues’ office. Deputy prosecutor general and since January head of the newly created asset recovery agency (Serviço Nacional vai Recuperar Activos), Rodrigues has begun slowly clawing back assets corrupt Angolan officials have stolen over the years. 

Below is an account the results to date taken from a November presentation to the Norwegian Corruption Hunters Network.

AssetQuantityAmount Kz
Properties2519,438, 912, 257
Vehicles2110,000,000
Cash Kwanza33,879,229
Cash Dollars322,832
  19,482,791,487
approx $40 million

As the table shows, Rodrigues’ agency has recovered assets worth more than 19 billion Angolan Kwanza or some $40 million along with more than $300,000 in U.S. currency. 

Rodrigues’ efforts began with the expiration of the Law of Repatriation of Financial Resources.   Passed June 26, 2018, it gave those holding stolen assets 180 days to voluntary return them without sanction.  Few took the government up on its offer (here), apparently believing the law was meant simply to show the international community the government was doing something to fight corruption. 

As Rodrigues and her growing team of experts expand their work, an ever larger number of corrupt official will regret passing on amnesty.   Law enforcement authorities in jurisdictions where Angolan stolen assets may be stashed now have a trustworthy partner to work with to see that monies stolen from the Angolan people are returned.

 

Don’t Believe the Spin on the Mozambican Acquittal

The jury in the federal criminal trial in Brooklyn of  Jean Boustani acquitted him December 2 of charges arising from a scheme to pay Mozambican officials tens of millions of dollars in bribes in return for the government borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for ships it could not afford. No sooner was the verdict announced than Privinvest — Boustani’s employer, the supplier of the ships, and a major beneficiary of the scheme — crowed it had been completely vindicated.  Despite evidence produced at the trial, charges pending in Mozambique, and allegations in a civil action in the United Kingdom, Privinvest lawyers are telling the press the acquittal proves the company had no part of the scheme.  That it did not pay bribes to win the business.

If it were true the company paid no bribes, three Credit Suisse executives would not have pled guilty to accepting bribes from it in the same court where Boustani was acquitted. Nor would they have named its CEO Iskander Safa, CFO Najib Allam, and Boustani as bribe payers (here). Nor would a trial witness have explained that Government Exhibit 2758, an April 2014 e-mail from Boustani to Allam, is a list of bribes the company paid Mozambican officials.  A list that includes President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi (“Nuy” in the e-mail), former Finance Minister Manuel Chang (“Chopstick”), and former intelligence chief António Carlos do Rosário (“Ros”). (Complete decoded list here.)

No, the verdict of acquittal does not exonerate Privinvest.  Nor anyone else for that matter.  What it shows is two things.

Continue reading

Will the Swiss Condone Torture in the Rush to Return Assets to Uzbekistan?

Allegations of torture have dogged the planned return of stolen assets from Switzerland to Uzbekistan for years (here). In a recent interview, a cellmate of one of the alleged torture victims has given the claims new life.  And should give Swiss citizens and their government pause before proceeding with any return.

The assets to be returned are the several hundred million dollars in bribes paid to Gulnara Karimova for the grant of mobile phone licenses in Uzbekistan, something within her power as daughter of the country’s then president.  She stashed most of the money in Switzerland, and when the scheme was exposed, Swiss prosecutors promptly opened a money laundering case against Gulnara and her accomplices. From the outset, the Swiss government made it clear that, if and when defendants were found guilty, the laundered funds would be returned to Uzbekistan.

A breakthrough came in 2018 when Gayane Avakyan, one of Gulnara’s accomplices, signed a Swiss Summary Penalty Order confessing to her role in the money laundering scheme and giving up any claim to the laundered funds.  The order was signed while she was serving time in an Uzbekistan prison, and because of multiple, credible reports that torture is commonly practiced in Uzbek prisons, questions were immediately raised about whether torture or the threat of torture was used to get Avakyan to sign.  A prison cellmate now says she was in fact subjected to a particularly harsh form of torture while incarcerated. Continue reading

Essential Reading for Enforcers: The EIB Fraud Investigation Unit and CPS Inspectorate Reports

Enforcing the anticorruption laws is the backbone of the fight against corruption, and improving enforcement agencies’ performance is thus critical.  Two recent reports, one by the European Investment Bank’s Fraud Investigation Unit and a second by the Inspectorate of the United Kingdom’s Crown Prosecution Service, offer a wealth of data, analysis, and tips from which all enforcement agencies can profit.  Highlights from each below.

Fraud Investigations Activity Report 2018.  This latest report of the EIB’s Fraud Investigations Unit documents the Unit’s fight against fraud and corruption in projects funded by the lending arm of the European Union, the world’s largest development finance agency. Compliance and investigative personnel in other bilateral and multilateral financial institutions will find much useful data for benchmarking their performance against the EIB unit. Case studies of different fraud and corruption schemes it has uncovered will help investigators in other institutions spot similar types of wrongdoing.

Most interesting to this reader was the description of the Proactive Integrity Reviews (PIRs) the Fraud Investigation Unit conducts.  All active operations in the Bank’s portfolio are scored each year against 30 risk factors to identify corruption and fraud vulnerabilities, and a PIR conducted on two or three of the operations most at risk.  Of the 27 projects subjected to a PIR, the unit found five, almost 20 percent, where funds have been misused.

Would a similar intensive review of a small number of World Bank, Asian, Inter-American, or African Development Bank produce similar numbers?  Will the new United States International Development Finance Corporation follow the EIB’s lead and institute a similar review?

Case Progression in the Serious Fraud Office. The Serious Fraud Office is the United Kingdom’s version of an anticorruption agency, with investigators, accountants, IT specialists, and prosecutors who work in teams to investigate complex fraud and corruption cases.  Case progression is the U.K. term to describe the time it takes for a team to reach a conclusion about a case, from opening an investigation to a decision either to file a criminal charge or to drop the matter altogether. The Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate recently examined the procedures the SFO uses to ensure cases move through the system in a timely manner.  Other anticorruption agencies wanting to improve their performance will find a wealth of useful information and practical tips. Some of the key observations:

* Recognize that in a lengthy case there will be staff turnover. Maintain a key documents folder for those joining the team so they can get up to speed quickly.

* A unit with the technical skill to decrypt and download data kept on cell phones, computers, and other electronic devices is essential.  But realize that decryption can take enormous time.  Don’t overload the unit by seizing equipment of only secondary or passing interest.

* Periodic review of the progress of each case is essential to ensure deadlines for achieving key objectives or stages in the case are set, and met, and unfruitful lines of investigation abandoned. The SFO exercises oversight in several ways.  How each one works and suggestions for improving each will be of value to any anticorruption enforcement authority.

* The average number of days from the acceptance of a case to charging has been reduced from 41 months to 38 months, or 7.5%.