New “CurbingCorruption” Website on Sector-Specific Anticorruption Reform Strategies

Here at GAB we’re always delighted to welcome more platforms to the online community devoted to discussing, and hopefully making some progress toward addressing, the corruption problem. And so it’s with great pleasure that I commend to all of our readers a new website, CurbingCorruption. The brainchild of Mark Pyman, and developed by him with assistance from several other distinguished anticorruption specialists, CurbingCorruption seeks to provide concrete anticorruption advice tailored to specific sectors (such as construction, education, health, fisheries, etc.) The website is still a work-in-progress, but that’s actually one of the things I found so exciting and innovative about it: The idea, as I understand it, is to use what’s already on the site as a foundation, but to “crowdsource” additions and revisions by inviting users to contribute their own experiences, insights, and suggestions, and eventually for the website to be managed by collaborative groups of users, with different teams focused on different sectors. The site also welcomes inquiries.

This seems like an exciting, innovative experiment in accumulating and synthesizing knowledge about “what works” in anticorruption. I have no idea whether this experiment will be successful—efforts to create online knowledge repositories have had a mixed track record, or so I’ve been told—but I do hope it takes off, and I encourage GAB readers to check it out and perhaps to get involved.

Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–November 2018 Update

Since May 2017, GAB has been tracking credible allegations that President Trump, as well as his family members and close associates, are seeking to use the presidency to advance their personal financial interests, and providing monthly updates on media reports of such issues. It looks like our approach is catching on, given that this past month the New York Times published a similar compendium (which the authors described as “the definitive list”) of Trump-related corruption and conflict-of-interest allegations. It’s not clear whether the NYT plans to regularly update this compendium–if they do, then we might wind down the Trump COI tracker here at GAB, given the NYT‘s much wider reach and greater resources. But for now, we’re going to keep plugging away with our monthly updates. The October 2018 update is now available here. The most notable additions since the previous update include:

  • Reports that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke may have been involved in a shady property development deal that entails negotiations and transactions with parties connected to firms over which the Interior Department has regulatory authority.
  • Renewed and intensified concern about President Trump’s past and present business ties to Saudi Arabia, in light of the administration’s tepid response to the murder of Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Kashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey, apparently by Saudi intelligence agents.
  • President Trump’s intercession with Japanese officials on behalf of his campaign donor and supporter Sheldon Adelson, in connection with the latter’s interest in a lucrative license to operate a casino in Japan.

As always, we note that while we try to include only those allegations that appear credible, we acknowledge that 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.

Anticorruption Bibliography–October 2018 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.

Kleptocracy and Neoliberal Shock Therapy – Talented Researchers Wanted

Professor Kristian Lasslett of the University of Ulster in Belfast, Northern Ireland, posts this announcement about funding opportunities for doctoral candidates.

A kleptocracy is a state where government institutions have been captured and then employed to rig the national political-economy. Rigging the national economy allows the benefits from the revenues generated by the state’s many estuaries of activity to be politically choreographed, leading to a centralisation of wealth and an increase in inequality. It also allows revenues to be channelled from one sector of the economy to another through various rackets. It could be that public revenues are systematically pilfered, or profits from those sectors in the economy not controlled by members of the kleptocratic regime are squeezed so that those sectors under the command of kleptocrats can earn artificially inflated revenues. Kleptocratic regimes also see public and private assets alienated through means that allow kleptocrats to obtain fixed and circulating capital at a discounted price or permit the kleptocrats to offload the assets at an artificial premium.

What happens to a kleptocratic regime when it is subjected to neoliberal shock therapy? Does it allow state-organised criminal rackets to become legitimate?  Does it lead to a steady erosion of kleptocracy? Does it produce a new elite that sits alongside an old kleptocratic guard? Or does it intensify the kleptocratic dynamic thus creating a worst of all possible situations scenario?

Ulster University is currently advertising a generously funded doctoral research post to test a series of hypotheses emerging from regions where kleptocracy and shock therapy overlap.  Continue reading

The Lula Opinions (Trial Court Verdict and Summary of Appeals Court Affirmance), Now Available in English Translation

The conviction and imprisonment of former Brazilian President (and current would-be presidential candidate) Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula) is among of the most consequential and polarizing outcomes of a corruption investigation in recent memory. The case that led to Lula’s conviction (one of several that were pending against him) did not necessarily involve the biggest or most important allegations, but it was the one that was brought first, presumably because this was the case where the prosecutors felt they had all the evidence they needed to proceed, though critics insist that the case was rushed through on skimpy evidence in order to disable Lula from seeking the presidency in this month’s election.

I only know a bit about the specifics of the case, which involved a beachfront apartment than a construction company had allegedly promised to Lula in return for helping the company secure contracts with Brazil’s state-owned oil company. (Lula, for his part, claims that he was never promised the apartment and the only evidence otherwise is unreliable testimony from one of the company’s executives, who offered the testimony in exchange for a reduced sentence as part of a plea bargain.) But I’ve been repeatedly told by passionate, seemingly well-informed Brazilians on both sides of this debate that the judicial opinions in this case—the original trial court verdict and the appellate court affirmance—demonstrate that their side of the argument is clearly correct:

  • On the one hand, I’ve been told by several of Lula’s strong supporters that the charges against him are bogus and the conviction is improper. “Just read the judicial opinions from the trial court and the appeals court,” one of them told me last spring, “and it will be obvious that they make no sense, and that there was no real legal or factual basis for the conviction.” (I’m paraphrasing, but only slightly.)
  • On the other hand, I’ve been told by supporters of the prosecution in this case that Lula’s conviction was the right legal result, and that the attacks on the verdict (and the associated attacks on the prosecutors and judges) are politically-motivated obfuscation. “Just read the judicial opinions from the trial court and the appeals court,” several people with this view have emphasized, “and it will be obvious that the law and the evidence amply supported the verdict.”

Since smart, well-informed advocates on both sides have told me I should read the opinions, that seemed like a sensible thing to do. Until recently, though, this would not have been possible, as the opinions were (to my knowledge) only available in Portuguese, which I do not read. But I was recently informed that the trial court opinion, as well as an official summary of the appeals court opinion, are now available online in English translation! I haven’t had a chance to read them yet (the trial court opinion is 185 pages long; the summary of the appellate court ruling is a more succinct six pages); I may post again after I’ve done so if I feel like I’ve got anything useful to say. For now, it occurs to me that there might be other non-Portuguese speakers out there who are following developments in Brazil and would like to read these opinions for themselves, so I’m posting the links:

  • The trial court verdict is here.
  • A summary of the appellate court ruling is here. (I’m still hoping to find and post an English translation of the full appeals court ruling.)

Hopefully this will be helpful to others who are trying to work through what they think about the accusations and counter-accusations swirling around this high-profile case. Again, there’s only so much an outsider can learn from the text of court opinions, especially without knowing more about the surrounding context and the details of Brazilian law, but I figure this will at least be helpful.

[NOTE: The original version of this post erroneously characterized the appeals court document linked to above as the full appeals court ruling. That was incorrect; the online document is an English translation of the summary of the appeals court ruling. The text of the post–as well as its title–have been changed to correct this mistake.]

Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–October 2018 Update

Since May 2017, GAB has been tracking credible allegations that President Trump, as well as his family members and close associates, are seeking to use the presidency to advance their personal financial interests, and providing monthly updates on media reports of such issues. After a lapse of a few months during this past summer, we’re again updating the tracker on a monthly basis. The October 2018 update is now available here. Notable additions since the previous update include:

  • Reports that Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club offered discounts to President Trump’s White House staff on branded golf club merchandise, apparently to encourage White House staff to wear Bedminster apparel as a way of promoting the resort and the brand.
  • Reports that President Trump has been personally involved in plans regarding the construction of a new FBI headquarters, including suspicions that President Trump may have interceded to ensure that the new headquarters would be built at the same location as the current headquarters, across the street from the Trump International Hotel, rather than at a larger and more secure location in the suburbs, because the Trump hotel benefits financially from its proximity to FBI headquarters.
  • Reports that administration officials with financial or processional ties to the steel industry have been exercising their influence to deny tariff exclusions to companies applying for such exclusions under Trump’s new steel tariffs.

As always, we note that while we try to include only those allegations that appear credible, we acknowledge that 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.

Anticorruption Bibliography–September 2018 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.