Protecting the Rights of Countries Victimized by Corruption: the Swiss Approach

One topic on the agenda at next week’s OECD Integrity Forum is “Settling Foreign Bribery Cases with Non-Trial Resolutions.”  As explained here, a principal reason for a session on settlements is the concern that developing countries are losing out on them.  When the bribe-taker is a developing country official and the bribe-payer employed by a transnational corporation, the case is most often resolved through a settlement in the country where the corporation is headquartered.  And the developing nation’s interests are often ignored.

A notorious example is the bribery of Nigerian officials by the American company Halliburton.  The company settled the case with U.S. authorities for $559 million; years later it settled with Nigeria for $35 million, just over six percent of what the U.S. extracted.  Yet which country suffered the most from the bribery?  And which one is more pressed for resources?

Countries with civil law legal systems offer a solution that common law nations would well advised to consider: allow the victim government to participate as a party to the criminal proceeding with the right to file a claim for damages and indeed to help in gathering evidence for the prosecution.  Swiss law provides one example employed by several countries which have been victimized by corruption.    Continue reading

Conference on Human Rights and Asset Recovery

The Open Society Foundations hosts a conference this Friday, March 16, at its Washington office on the human rights issues raised when stolen assets are returned.  During the morning session new strategies for addressing corruption before UN treaty bodies and the complementarity of international laws on human rights and criminal justice governing asset recovery will be discussed.  In the afternoon, speakers will examine the role of asset-holding states and international organizations in ensuring accountability in asset recovery and return and civil society’s role. Previously unpublicized information on the return of stolen assets to Kazakhstan will be reviewed for the lessons it offers.

Click here for more on the agenda and a list of speakers.  Those wishing to attend should RSVP to Joshua Russell.

Two Essential Volumes on Corruption

The study of corruption and what to do about it is no longer an academic or policy-studies backwater.  Matthew’s bibliography of corruption-related publications now lists over 6,000 books, articles, and reports and, as his regular updates show (thank you Matthew), the list continues to grow at the rate of some 50 plus per month.  That is the good news.  It is also of the course the bad news.  Few practitioners, and I suspect even academics, can claim to have absorbed the learning in the 6,000 current documents let alone keep up with the outpouring of new works.

For those who can’t , I recommend two recent books: Dan Hough’s Analysing Corruption and Alina Mungui-Pippidi and Michael Johnston’s Transitions to Good Governance: Creating Virtuous Circles of Anti-Corruption.  Both do an excellent job of synthesizing and extending recent scholarship on corruption issues, and both do so in a sophisticated but accessible manner.  Both have the added virtue of being available in reasonably priced paperback editions. Continue reading

Asset Recovery and Fair Trials: The European Court of Human Rights Jurisprudence

Article 54 of the UN Convention Against Corruption requires state parties to have procedures “to give effect to an order of confiscation issued by a court of another State Party.”  Once a party receives a request to return assets backed by a confiscation order issued by a court in the requesting state, the process is simple.  The requested party brings the order before a domestic court, and the court orders the assets forfeited.  The requested state then hands over the money, securities, title to the property, or whatever is required to transfer the assets from their current owner to the requesting state.

What if the asset’s owner contests the transfer, however?  What if the owner asserts the court proceedings that led to the confiscation order issuing in the requesting state were not fair?  Does the requested state have an obligation to entertain the complaint? Continue reading

Returning Assets to Governments Run by Kleptocrats

The return to the victim country of assets stolen by a corrupt official has been much commented upon on this blog (here, here, here, here, and here).  The discussion centers around whether governments holding the stolen assets must return them when the government requesting the return continues to be dominated by thieves.

Not surprisingly, the asset recovery provisions of the UN Convention Against Corruption provide little guidance.  It was written at a particular moment in history — just after Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Sani Abacha of Nigeria, and Suharto of Indonesia had fallen.  These kleptocrats, whose massive theft of their nation’s resources inspired the UNCAC asset recovery chapter, had been replaced by democratically inclined leaders committed to the rule of law and the welfare of their citizens.  The question then occupying UNCAC’s drafters was how to return the money to such rulers as quickly and inexpensively as possible.

But in hindsight, the replacement of these kleptocrats by enlightened rulers seems more an accident of history than a harbinger of future events.  It is all too rare for a kleptocrat to be replaced by a democratically chosen successor of the likes of the Philippines’ Cory Aquino or South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. Far more common is the replacement of one kleptocrat by another — or by a gang of kleptocrats.  When this is the case, must nations holding the fallen kleptocrat’s assets return them to another thieving government?  Knowing chances are slim the assets will ever benefit those the thieves rule?

Although UNCAC offers no answer to these questions, in a paper delivered at a conference organized by Geneva Center for Civil and Political Rights I argue that UNCAC is not the only treaty governing states’ obligation to return stolen assets.  There are as well provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that states must observe.  And these point decidedly against returning stolen assets to a kleptocracy. Thye dictate instead that the assets be returned directly to citizens.

My paper is here.  Comments welcome.  Other papers presented at the conference’s rich and stimulating discussion on human rights and corruption are here.

February 19 – 20 Conference on Human Rights and Corruption

GAB readers know of the close relationship between corruption and human rights (here).  They know too that how to use that relationship to both combat corruption and advance human rights is still in the initial stages of debate (here and here).

To move the discussion forward, the Geneva Centre for Civil and Political Rights is holding a conference February 19 – 20 titled “Anti-Corruption Strategies for UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies” (Flyer).  Members of the anticorruption community and those who work for or with the bodies responsible for seeing states comply with their human rights treatu obligations will gather to examine how the two groups can work together to advance shared goals. A special focus will be corruption victims and asset recovery.  Details on the conference are here.

Beneficial Ownership Disclosure by Multilateral Development Banks

Joseph Kraus at The ONE Campaign recently summarized for GAB readers  measures governments are taking to require companies registered in their territory to reveal the natural person or persons who own and control them, their beneficial owners.  A parallel effort has begun to persuade the international development banks – the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development – to reveal the beneficial owners of the companies “their monies” (read taxpayer monies) fund.  In May 2017, the U.S. Congress ordered the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury to see that each bank: –

“collects, verifies, and publishes, to the maximum extent practicable, beneficial ownership information … for any corporation or limited liability company, other than a publicly listed company, that receives funds from [it].”  Division J, section 2079(f) of the  Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017.

As the U.S. is a significant funder of each bank, an American serves on the board of each.  In the 2017 law, Congress directed the Treasury Secretary, to whom the American board members answer, “to instruct” each to urge its bank to comply with Congress’ wish on beneficial ownership.  It also required the Secretary to report on how the successful the American board member had been in persuading the other board members and the management of their bank to gather and reveal beneficial ownership information.

The Secretary’s report contains several surprises on which banks took the U.S. effort on beneficial ownership seriously and which ones blew it off.  With the banks that ignored the U.S. effort, it leaves unanswered an interesting question: What if anything did board members representing other countries committed to the disclosure of beneficial ownership do to push the issue?

Continue reading