Mozambique Hidden Debt Case: South Africa Must Say Why It Thinks Chang Will Face Justice; Trial Summary

Earlier today, August 27, the South African High Court blocked the extradition of former Mozambican Finance Minister Manuel Chang to Mozambique.

The order (here) came in response to an urgent request (here) by the Forum De Monitoria Do Orçamento, a coalition of Mozambican civil society groups, raising serious doubts that were Chang, a senior member of Mozambique’s ruling party, returned he would face justice for his part in a scheme that drove millions of fellow citizens into poverty and cost the impoverished nation billions of dollars in lost GDP (here).

The United States is also seeking Chang’s extradition for participating in the hidden debt scheme, and there is a widespread belief he is far more likely to face justice if extradited there.  South African law bars the government from picking Mozambique over the United States if it does not think Change will be tried, or if tried, the trial will be anything more than theatre. The court has ordered South African Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola to produce the documents justifying his choice of Mozambique by August 30. A hearing on the decision is set for September 17. If the court finds the evidence supporting the decision insufficient, “irrational” in South African legal terms, it will vacate the extradition order.

Separately, Centro para Democracia e Desenvolvimento, a Mozambican civil society organization and FMO member, has released English language summaries of the first four days of the hidden debt trial.  Click on the day to see: Day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4.

Mozambique Hidden Debt Scandal UPDATE: Two Presidents Implicated/Crony’s Return Temporarily Blocked

The government of Mozambique took two hits at the second day of what could well be the corruption trial of the decade. Defendant Cipriano Mutota, a former intelligence official, testified that both the country’s current president and his predecessor were deeply involved in the corruption, a scheme where officials approved $2.1 billion in secret loans for dodgy projects in return for $150 million in bribes. His gripping testimony, captured in a screen grab circulating on Mozambican social media, appears below.

Separately, the Budget Monitoring Forum, or FMO after its initials in Portuguese, has filed an emergency motion to prevent South Africa from extraditing Manual Chang, who signed off on the loans as Finance Minister, to Mozambique. Chang has been jailed in South Africa for two years pending the government’s decision on whether to extradite him to the U.S. or Mozambique. Both want him, the U.S. because American investors lost millions thanks to the secret debts, Mozambique to stand trial for his role in the corruption.

Screenshot, Hidden debt trial, August 24, 2021

The government of South Africa has agreed to delay returning Chang to Mozambique pending a hearing on its legality Friday at 10:00 AM. Along with South Africa’s Minister of Justice, the government of Mozambique will appear and argue in support of the decision. FMO’s draft order, which the court accepted and issued, is here.

FMO filed the emergency request Tuesday evening after the South African government refused to consent to a brief delay in Chang’s return to allow an orderly consideration of whether the decision complied with South African and international law. In its filing, the group, an umbrella organization whose 22 civil society organizations serve virtually every impoverished or low income Mozambican, argues that the evidence shows the government will not really put such a senior figure on trial for corruption. Or if it does, he will get a most a slap on the wrist for a scheme that threw millions into poverty and by one estimate shaved $10 billion off the GDP.

FMO cites a previous Mozambique extradition request (here) that had every appearance of a put-up job, initiated not to bring Chang to justice but from a fear that were he sent to the U.S. he would spill the beans on cronies in return for leniency. Rumors circulating in Maputo that Chang’s relatives have planned a lavish welcome home party have only stoked concerns he has little to fear from a trial in Mozambique.

FMO chair Adriano Nuvunga has called South Africa’s decision to send Chang to Mozambique, “a victory of impunity” and has urged “all southern Africa CSO movements to come together to stop the triumph of impunity.” FMO’s papers seeking a temporary delay in Chang’s return pending a full hearing are here. The Gauteng Division of the High Court may act on the request as early as Wednesday morning South African time.

On Corruption

Taking a break from his GAB duties, our indefatigable editor-in-chief Matthew Stephenson provides readers of Liberties, a leading American journal on culture and politics, a tutorial on corruption. GAB readers will not want to miss it. For in less than 10,000 words, his essay not only make sense of the (tens of? hundreds of?) millions of words written on the topic but provides corruption fighters an order of battle.

Citing passages from the Hebrew Bible and the great Indian text on governance the Arthaśāstra, Matthew reminds that corruption has always been with us and always tolerated — if only grudgingly. What’s new is the extraordinary international consensus that has formed over the past quarter century to end that toleration. Matthew explains how that consensus developed and the opposition it has had to overcome. From those who argue that in some societies corruption is culturally acceptable, from those who believe corruption fosters economic development, and from those think nothing can be done to combat it.

He calls each of these claims a “quasi-myth,” for each contains a kernel of truth, just enough to make a debater’s point. He crushes each, with the cultural determinate one quoting Edmund Burke’s pithy response that the claim of “geographical morality” simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.  

The research on corruption has exploded over the past two decades. Matthew’s bibliography is now at 720 pages! He seems to have read every one of the articles, for he brings their findings to bear on the pros and cons of the various solutions that have been proposed — “wise king,” “moment of crisis,” “long slog” — interweaving stories how Denmark, Sweden, and the United States overcame entrenched corruption. He admits that taming corruption is no easy task, especially where it involves persuading corrupt elites reform is critical (“bit like trying to convince turkeys to support Thanksgiving”), but he concludes that while history shows the cancer of corruption can never be fully eradicated “progress against this chronic disease of the body politic is possible, so long as those engaged in the fight do not lose heart.”

The full text of Matthew Stephenson, “Honey and Poison: On Corruption,” Liberties, Summer 2021 is here.

Why Guatemala’s Experiment with Fighting Grand Corruption Was Not a Failure

The July 23 firing of Juan Francisco Sandoval, Guatemala’s top corruption prosecutor, seemed to put paid to the nation’s extraordinary experiment in fighting grand corruption.  Sandoval’s office was established to prosecute cases developed by the Commission Against Impunity, or CICIG after its Spanish initials. CICIG was a U.N. entity the Guatemalan government accepted as the price for international assistance after the civil war ended. It was tasked with investigating gross human rights abuses and grand corruption; recognizing how powerful Guatemalan elites were and how weak the judiciary was, it was staffed by non-Guatemalan investigators and prosecutors.

As Matthew described here, in 2019 an unholy alliance of Guatemalan elites and Trump cronies succeeded in pulling U.S. support for CICIG, allowing the elites to kill it off. With its demise, all that stood in the way of their looting the country was Sandoval’s office.  

The original plan had been for CICIG to both investigate and prosecute cases themselves.  But after the Guatemalan Supreme Court ruled that only the public prosecution office (Ministerio Publico) could prosecute, CICIG’s first head, Carlos Castresana, worked out arrangement with the then Attorney General to assign ten young, “clean,” newly recruited lawyers to an office that would be responsible for CICIG’s cases.  Given how far the elites’ tentacles reached into Guatemala’s middle class, Castresana doubted “clean” recruits could be found.  Or if they were clean, they would stay that way if faced with the notorious choice between plata o pluma, taking a bribe to drop the case or being killed. One of the great parts of the CICIG story, and as far as I can tell one still untold, is how those like Sandoval, from a new generation of Guatemalans, rose to the challenge.

The creation of CICIG and its early successes developing cases against powerful military and civilian leaders that Sandoval’s office successfully prosecuted provided a hopeful example of what an alliance between the international community and a nation’s citizenry could achieve. Its end, and now Sandoval’s firing, show the limits of the approach.  At the same time, it shows the effort is worth emulating.  Sandoval’s firing prompted international and condemnation and will lead to sanctions likely to create divisions between at least some in the business class and the politicians.  The governing body of the judiciary has demanded an explanation for his termination, and his initial replacement stepped down after less than days in office (here). Sandoval and like-minded lawyers and public servants aren’t going away, and many are now moving up the ranks in the judiciary and prosecution service.  

In a fine article for PlazaPublica, former U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala Stephen McFarland explains what the U.S. and others in the international community can do in light of Sandoval’s firing to combat corruption in Guatemala.  That whatever they do, they have in-country allies like Sandoval is why the CICIG experiment should not be treated as a one-off failure.  

NGOs, Dark Money, and Corruption: Lessons from Ohio’s Biggest Public Corruption Scandal

Ohio public utility giant FirstEnergy pled guilty June 20 to capturing or at least renting the Ohio state legislature long enough to win passage of financial bailout legislation. The picture below shows how the company used third-parties and cut-outs to hide its campaign to get Ohio’s legislature to do its bidding.

As with all large corruption schemes, several lessons can be learned from its unraveling.  One comes from the picture itself: how a well-designed graphic can make a complex, convoluted corruption scheme readily understandable. A second is how savvy prosecutors can craft plea agreements to curb future corruption.  A third is a step the Biden Administration could take to make it easier to ferret out those behind some of the dark money now plaguing American politics.

Continue reading

Will Canada Help Curb Haitian Corruption?

Many Haitians fear for their safety and that of their family as their country slips into anarchic violence after the assassination of their president. But not Haitian Senator Rony Célestin and his family

Courtesy of the Canadian government, they are ensconced in the mansion pictured above. Located in the toniest of tony areas in Quebec, the couple recently settled on it for some $4 million.

 What did the Canadian government have to do with Célestin’s acquisition of the mansion? Everything. Célestin is a high-ranking official of a foreign country.  Any Canadian real estate agent or bank he contacted about buying the mansion was obliged by Canadian law to ask a simple question: How does a public official of one of the world’s poorest countries amass enough to buy such a luxurious home?  

If the July 11 New York Times story on the Senator and the mansion is correct, an inquiry would quickly have raised suspicions that the money did not come from a legitimate source. That in turn would have further obliged the real estate agent or banker to alert Canadian authorities.

Reports by the Financial Action Task Force and Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering have repeatedly warned Canadian officials that controls on money laundering in the real estate sector were toothless, that for years corrupt foreign officials have been hiding their money in Canada through the purchase of pricey real estate.  Indeed, in their latest, joint report, issued in 2016, the two flagged the rise of “criminally-inclined real estate professionals, notably real estate lawyers” to cater to the money laundering needs of criminals of all kind.

Is it too much to ask Canadian authorities to stop looking the other way when corrupt officials come to their country to shop for real estate?  Perhaps the picture of the Senator’s mansion juxtaposed with anyone of the thousands of Haiti’s poor might prompt action?  Canadian civil society, where are you?

See Hearing in Kleptocracy Fight Live at 11:30 EST Today

The anticorruption community rarely has a chance to witness first-hand the fight against Kleptocracy.  Today, Thursday, July 8, at 11:30 US East Coast time it will have a rare opportunity to see the combatants in action. In a Zoomed court hearing, the Department of Justice will ask a federal judge to order Equatorial Guinea’s kleptocratic Vice President, Teodoro Obiang Mangue, to abide by the settlement he reached with the Department in the famously styled action United States v. One White Crystal-Covered “Bad Tour” Glove and Other Michael Jackson Memorabilia.     

One of its first salvos in the U.S war against kleptocracy, the Department filed suit to confiscate the Jackson glove and other Jackson memorabilia, a Southern California mansion worth north of $20 million, and other assets on the grounds Obiang had acquired them with corrupt monies (complaint here).  After a key witness disappeared (under mysterious circumstances), a settlement was reached. Obiang agreed to surrender some of the property and sell the mansion (here) with the funds from the mansion’s sale given to a charity that would see it was used “for the benefit of the people of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea.”   

The settlement provided that should the Department and Obiang be unable to agree on a charity, a three-member panel — one chosen by the United States, one by Equatorial Guinea, and a chair jointly selected — would decide how to use the funds. After years of Obiang’s stalling, so many it prompted Mathew to wonder whatever had happened (here), a panel was finally chosen. An agreement was reached this past May 4 to use $19.5 million of the funds to vaccinate Equatorial Guineans against Covid-19.

Obiang and the EG government are now trying to renege on the deal, prompting the Department to seek an order enforcing it. The Department’s memorandum in support of an enforcement order is here, the affidavit of the U.S. panel member, the American Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea Susan Stevenson, which details the agreement is here, and the e-mail Equatorial Guinea sent backing out of the deal is here.

Click here for the link to the home page of U.S. federal judge George Wu who will preside at the hearing.  At the top will be a Zoom link to the hearing.  

Social Distancing Reduces Corruption Too

Together with a trio of Chinese scholars, Boston University Professor Raymond Fisman offers the latest evidence on the value of social distancing. Their research, in the July issue of the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics (here, prepublication version here), is the first rigorous, quantitative test of a result suggested by case studies of small countries (Guatemala), small towns (Fall River, Massachusetts), and small professional circles (Chicago judges). The greater the distance between those who enforce the anticorruption laws and those likely to violate them, the more likely it is the laws will be enforced.

“Social distance” to public health authorities means the actual physical space that individuals should maintain between on another (six feet for Americans, two meters for everyone else) to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Applied to the findings of Fisman and colleagues and the case studies, it means more than how far apart investigators, prosecutors, auditors, and others responsible for enforcing anticorruption laws stand physically from those whom they police. It means too the absence of school and neighborhood ties, different circles of friends, and the lack of other relationships that would make an individual hesitant to question another’s conduct let alone investigate or arrest them. In short, when evaluating social distance in the anticorruption world, “social” comes with a capital S.

Consider what Professors Fisman and his colleagues Professors Chu, Tan, and Wang found in their study of Chinese auditors.

Continue reading

What the Odebrecht Case Teaches

The anticorruption community owes the American Economic Association and Nicolás Campos, Eduardo Engel, Ronald D. Fischer, and Alexander Galetovic a debt of gratitude. The AEA for publishing their article “The Ways of Corruption in Infrastructure: Lessons from the Odebrecht Case” and making it available free to non-members (here). The four Chilean scholars for showing how much can be learned when a command of the literature on corruption is coupled with a careful, painstaking study of a single case.

In 2016, the Brazilian engineering and construction company Odebrecht admitted in a settlement with American, Brazilian, and Swiss authorities (here) to bribing 600 officials in 12 states either to secure contracts to build roads, powerplants, and other large infrastructure projects or to agree to raise the contract price during construction of the project. Information the authors pieced together from the settlement documents show the company grossed $3.3 billion in profits from paying $788 million in bribes.  These numbers confirm the obvious: the returns from infrastructure corruption are enormous, and significant resources should be devoted to preventing it.

Digging deeper into the massive amount of paper the several prosecutions of Odebrecht and its executives have generated, the authors report other findings that are not so obvious.

Continue reading

Time for the U.K. to Match U.S. Ambitions in the Fight Against Corruption

GAB is pleased to welcome this guest post by Susannah Fitzgerald, Network Co-Ordinator of the UK Anti-Corruption Coalition, which brings together the UK’s leading anti-corruption organisations to tackle corruption in the UK and the UK’s role in facilitating corruption abroad.

President Biden’s June 3 commitment “to prevent and combat corruption at home and abroad” is welcome news to corruption fighters around the globe. Five years ago, then U.K. Prime Minster David Cameron outlined similar ambitions at the International Anti-Corruption Summit in London. Yet, despite a promising start in the years after the Summit, the U.K. anti-corruption agenda now looks alarmingly close to stalling.

It is time reinvigorate that agenda, and not only for the sake of British citizens. Like the United States, the United Kingdom is an important financial center, and the measures it takes to curb corruption, fight money laundering, and ease the return of stolen assets will benefit populations around the world.

Here is what the UK has done so far do to tackle corruption, why it matters, and what more the Coalition believes it needs to do.

Continue reading