New Podcast Episode, Featuring James Wasserstrom (Part 2)

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this week’s episode, James Wasserstrom, with whom I did a podcast episode last month, returns for a second interview. In our first conversation, Mr. Wasserstrom and I talked about his experience as a whistleblower exposing corruption at the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in 2007, and the aftermath. In this week’s episode, Mr. Wasserstrom discusses his work as a special advisor on anticorruption issues at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, where he served from 2009 to 2014. He talks about the importance of anticorruption work in ensuring stability and security, the challenges he faced in convincing senior military and diplomatic officials of the need to take corruption seriously, and why it’s important, in situations like Afghanistan, to adopt a “zero tolerance” approach to corruption and to use strict conditionalities on aid to compel governments to adopt meaningful improvements in transparency, accountability, and integrity. He also compares his experiences in Afghanistan with his prior work in Kosovo, as well as work he’s done since on promoting anticorruption and good governance in Ukraine.

You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

Anticorruption Bibliography–October 2020 Update

An updated version of my anticorruption bibliography is available from my faculty webpage. A direct link to the pdf of the full bibliography is here, and a list of the new sources added in this update is here. As always, I welcome suggestions for other sources that are not yet included, including any papers GAB readers have written.

Interview on the History of Corruption in the U.S. (and Corruption in the Trump Administration)

As regular readers likely know, a little while back I did a post on a new working paper of mine, jointly authored with Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, on corruption and anticorruption in U.S. history. A few weeks ago, Harvard Law Today (the alumni magazine put out by my employer and alma mater) published a short interview I did about what we learned from this research project. In addition to discussing the history, the interviewer also asked some questions regarding the current situation in the U.S. with respect to corruption, especially in connection with the evidence this blog has been collecting of the Trump Administration’s conflicts of interest and efforts to monetize the presidency for personal financial gain. It’s a brief interview, and there may not be much in here that will be news to those who read the working paper or follow these issues closely, but I figured I’d share the interview in case some folks out there might find it of interest. The interview also includes a link to a lecture I delivered a year ago on broad themes related to corruption and anticorruption.

New Podcast Episode, Featuring Frederik Obermaier

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this week’s episode, my collaborators Nils Köbis and Christopher Starke welcome back to the podcast Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Frederik Obermaier of the German publication Süddeutsche Zeitung, who is also affiliated with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. A year and a half ago, I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Obermaier on the podcast about his work breaking the Panama Papers story, which shed unusual light on how corrupt officials and other criminals use anonymous companies to launder the proceeds of their illegal activity. In the new episode, Mr. Obermaier discusses the so-called FinCEN Files (which I blogged about last week): the leak of over two thousand suspicious activity reports (SARs) filed with the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). Mr. Obermaier explains why and how the FinCEN Files reveal how badly broken the international anti-money laundering (AML) system is, the likely reasons for the ineffectiveness of the system, how the ICIJ and its journalistic collaborators handled such a sensitive story, and the possible political implications of the stories based on the FinCEN Files reporting.

You can find this episode here. You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–October 2020 Update

Back in May 2017, this blog started the project of tracking and cataloguing credible allegations that President Trump, and his family members and close associates, have been corruptly, and possibly illegally, leveraging the power of the presidency to enrich themselves. The newest update is now available here.

The most significant new additions are primarily due to some very good pieces of investigative reporting.

  • The first, and more widely covered, is the New York Times reporting on several years of President Trump’s federal income tax returns, including the returns from his first two years in office. The returns shed light on many troubling aspects of the President’s finances, including the exceptionally low tax rates he has paid, evidence of multiple instances of possible fraud (still under investigation by the IRS), and his deep personal indebtedness, which plausibly raises security and other risks. The tax returns also provide significant corroborating evidence of the extent to which President Trump and his businesses have continued to earn substantial income from both private firms and foreign governments, giving rise to extraordinary conflict-of-interest concerns, as well as possible (indeed, likely) violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clauses.
  • Second, Dan Alexander’s new book White House, Inc.: How Donald Trump Turned the Presidency Into a Business, covers in much greater depth, and with significant original reporting, the same themes that we’ve been trying to keep track of here, namely the ways that President Trump has sought to monetize the presidency for personal financial gain. A terrific and troubling Vanity Fair article summarizes some of the most significant findings, including compelling evidence that the government of Qatar rented office space in a building 30% owned by President Trump for no apparent purpose other than to influence the U.S. government’s Middle East policy.

As previously noted, while we try to include only those allegations that appear credible, many of the allegations that we discuss are speculative and/or contested. We also do not attempt a full analysis of the laws and regulations that may or may not have been broken if the allegations are true. (For an overview of some of the relevant federal laws and regulations that might apply to some of the alleged problematic conduct, see here.)

FinCEN Is Seeking Public Input on Proposed Amendments to Its AML Regulations. AML Advocates Should Comment!

In my last post, I discussed the so-called “FinCEN Files” (leaked Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed by banks with the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN)), and the reports from BuzzFeed News and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) based on those leaked documents. This reporting highlighted serious weaknesses in the current anti-money laundering (AML) system, both in the United States and globally. Perhaps coincidentally (but perhaps not), just a couple of days before the FinCEN Files stories went public, FinCEN issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), seeking public comment on various proposed changes to its current regulations implementing the AML provisions of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). The comment period will remain open until November 16th, 2020. Of course, it’s never clear how seriously federal agencies will take public comments, but in at least some circumstances sophisticated comments, supported by evidence and analysis, can move the needle, at least somewhat, on agency policy. So, I very much encourage those of you out there in ReaderLand, especially those of you who work at organizations that have expertise in this area and might be well-positioned to submit the sort of detailed, substantive comments that stand a chance of making some practical difference, to submit your comments before that deadline. (Comments can be submitted through the federal government’s e-rulemaking portal, referencing the identification number RIN 1506-AB44, and the docket number FINCEN-2020-0011, in the submission. The link above goes directly to the comment section for this rule, though, so you don’t need to enter that info again if you follow the link.)

The full ANPRM is not that long, but let me provide a very quick summary, highlighting the main proposal under consideration and the specific questions on which FinCEN is seeking public input. Continue reading

Anticorruption Bibliography–September 2020 Update

An updated version of my anticorruption bibliography is available from my faculty webpage. A direct link to the pdf of the full bibliography is here, and a list of the new sources added in this update is here. As always, I welcome suggestions for other sources that are not yet included, including any papers GAB readers have written.

New Podcast Episode, Featuring James Wasserstrom

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this week’s episode, I interview James Wasserstrom. Mr. Wasserstrom, currently a private consultant on corruption and transparency issues, began his career with the United Nations, and was posted to the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in 2007. His UN career took an unexpected turn when he uncovered corruption by high-level UNMIK officials. He reported his findings to the UN, but this was leaked to the perpetrators, and he was subjected to an extensive campaign of retaliation. After extensive legal proceedings, it was eventually determined that he had been mistreated, but the UN denied him compensation on dubious procedural grounds. During and after his dispute with the UN, Mr. Wasserstrom has been a leading advocate for institutional reform at the UN and integrity reforms more generally, and from 2009-2014 served as a special advisor on anticorruption at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. In our interview, Mr. Wasserstrom and I discuss his experience as a UN whistleblower, the flaws in the UN’s whistleblower protection system, and what if anything can be done. We also discuss Mr. Wasserstrom’s ideas for providing more international support for whistleblowers in hostile environment, including his new proposal for an “integrity sanctuary” program.

You can find this episode here. You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

 

Guest Announcement: OECD Report and Webinar on Corporate Anticorruption Compliance

France Chain, Senior Legal Analyst at the OECD’s Anti-Corruption Division, provides the following announcement regarding next week’s OECD webinar on “What really motivates anti-corruption compliance?”, an event which coincides with the launch of the new OECD Study on Corporate Anti-Corruption Compliance Drivers, Mechanisms and Ideas for Change.

Since the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention came into force in 1999, managing the risk of bribery has been identified as one of the most challenging areas of compliance for multinational businesses. Major foreign bribery scandals have resulted in record-breaking fines, which has seen the field of compliance grow exponentially over the past ten years. The OECD Foreign Bribery Report revealed that over 40% of foreign bribery cases involved management-level employees either paying or authorizing bribes, with CEOs involved in 12% of cases. At the same time, companies have shown that they can play a key role in detecting and responding to corruption. The OECD’s 2017 report on the Detection of Foreign Bribery showed that 23% of foreign bribery cases that resulted in definitive sanctions over the last 20 years were detected via self-reporting by companies.

However, implementing an effective compliance program is no easy task, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further heightened the challenges. With companies under great financial pressure to recover, anticorruption compliance departments and systems are being put to the test as never before.

To help shed light on some of these challenges and show us the way forward, a forthcoming OECD study on Corporate Anti-Corruption Compliance Drivers, Mechanisms and Ideas for Change explores what motivates companies to adopt anticorruption compliance measures, and looks at how companies (including small and medium-sized enterprises) could further be incentivized to do so. The study also underlines some of the main challenges faced by companies looking to implement anticorruption programs and proposes potential solutions, including ways for governments, international organizations, and civil society to better support companies in their anticorruption efforts.

The official launch of this study will take place on September 23 (one week from tomorrow), with a webinar panel discussion on What really motivates anti-corruption compliance?” to take place on September 23 from 15:00 to 16:30 Central European Time (9:00 am to 10:30 am U.S. East Coast time). You can register for the webinar here. The panel will bring together:

  • Axel Threlfall, Editor-at-large, Thomson Reuters (moderator)
  • Anna Hallberg, Minister of Foreign Trade and Nordic Affairs of Sweden (opening remarks)
  • Jeffrey Schlagenhauf, OECD Deputy Secretary-General (opening remarks)
  • France Chain, Senior Legal Analyst, OECD Anti-Corruption Division (presentation of key findings from the Study)
  • Alma Balcázar, Co-founder and Principal of GR Compliance SAS and Member of the International Council of Transparency International
  • Andrew Gentin, Assistant Chief, Fraud Section, Criminal Division, United States Department of Justice
  • Corinne Lagache, Chair, Business at OECDAnti-Corruption Committee, and Senior Vice President, Group Compliance Officer, Safran
  • Caroline Lindgren, Head of Legal and Local Compliance Officer of Sweco Sverige AB

Those attending the webinar will be able to submit questions through the chat during the live discussion on Zoom. The session will be recorded and subsequently posted on the OECD Anti-corruption and Integrity website.

New Podcast, Featuring Michael Hershman

After a brief summer hiatus, I’m happy to announce that a new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this week’s episode, my collaborators Nils Köbis and Christopher Starke interview Michael Hershman. Mr. Hershman, one of the co-founders of Transparency International (TI), has had a long and distinguished career on issues related to transparency and anticorruption, including work with the U.S. Senate Watergate Committee, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and, more recently, the Independent Governance Committee for FIFA. In the interview, Nils and Christopher talk with Mr. Hershman about his background, the founding of TI, the relationship between corruption and populism, and issues related to corruption and sports, among other topics.

You can find this episode here. You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.