Guest Post: Lessons from Moldova’s Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution Scandal

Today’s guest post is from Valeria Ciolac, a member of the National Political Council of Moldova’s Party of Action and Solidarity, and a Youth Delegate of the Republic of Moldova to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.

Since the prospect of effective Covid-19 vaccines emerged last fall, experts have warned about the risks of corruption in the vaccine procurement and distribution process. Alas, in many countries these warnings proved prescient. My home country, the Republic of Moldova, is reeling from reports that politicians and local officials arranged for certain doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to be provided, in secret, to themselves, their family members, and their associates. Evidence of such corrupt misallocation first emerged last March, in the city of Edinet. But this was not an isolated incident. Over the last several weeks, it has become clear that even though the vaccine supply—which was procured only through donations and considerable effort—is supposed to be allocated first to high-priority groups, a group of seven hundred politicians, bank directors, restaurant owners, and others from around the country jumped in front of the line, leaving seven hundred medical workers behind.

When confronted with this evidence, the officials involved tried to explain away the diversion of the vaccines as legitimate use of excess supply. The Mayor of Edinet, for example, claimed that some medical workers chose not to get their vaccines right away, and the vaccines provided to politicians and their friends were surplus doses that would otherwise have been thrown away. But given the long history of public corruption in Moldova, and the resulting lack of trust in the state authorities, most Moldovan citizens doubt this explanation. It seems far more likely that in this case, as in so many other cases, politicians and well-connected individuals used their influence to secure vaccines that should have gone to those with greater need.

While it is tempting to conclude that such corruption is inevitable in a country like Moldova—the poorest country in Europe, and one that has long been immersed in corruption and negligence by the of public authorities—it is more useful to look closely at the Moldovan vaccine distribution system and ask whether things could have been done differently. And indeed, while there’s probably no way to prevent some degree of corruption in vaccine distribution, there are several measures that Moldova, and other countries in a similar situation, could have adopted, and should still embrace now, to minimize the risk of this sort of corruption. Continue reading

Guest Post. Corruption Victims: Law and Practice in Italy, Russia, other European States

Earlier this month, I asked readers for help on a UNODC project examining the compensation of corruption victims.  UNCAC article 35 requires states parties to ensure those injured by “an act of corruption” can initiate “legal proceedings. . . to obtain compensation.” In 2017, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that virtually all 187 convention parties say their laws permit those injured by corruption to bring an action to recover damages. Yet few cases appear to have been brought.  The project seeks answers to three questions: Are there really few cases? If so, why? And what can be done to increase the number?

My thanks to the several readers who replied.  Thanks especially to Mjriana Visentin. An Italian lawyer with a Master’s Degree from the International Anticorruption Academy, Mjriana has been working on human rights and anticorruption for several years, most recently in Russia. She was kind enough to respond to my query with a thoughtful analysis reflecting both her experience representing victims of human rights abuses and corruption in Russia – categories which often overlap in practice – and current law on recovery of damages for corruption in Italy, other European states, and the European Court of Human Rights.  A valuable contribution to the global discussion on corruption victim compensation, it is below.  

Probably it would be useful to differentiate between types of corruption before discussing if victims did (or could) claim compensation.  If we are talking for example of extortion by a public official, I think that an analysis of the national case law will likely show a large number of individuals who were granted victim status and sought compensation.  [Editor’s note: a point I had not appreciated. I have subsequently learned that upon a conviction for extortion in Sri Lanka, defendants reportedly are required to return the bribe to the victim.  Example cases solicited from there or other jurisdictions.

As for other types of corruption, the situation may be more blurred.

Reviewing the laws of a number of European state members, I have seen that corruption still tends to be framed either as a victimless crime or crime against the state. This affects the view that potential victims have of themselves.

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Guest Post: Do More Candidate-Centric Electoral Systems Help Reduce Corruption?

Today’s guest post is from Rumilda Cañete-Straub, Josepa Miquel-Florensa, Stéphane Straub, and Karine Van der Straeten.

Although many people hope and expect that regular elections will help reduce corruption, this is not always the case: In many democracies, voters elect and reelect corrupt politicians. Why is this? Scholars have suggested that the efficacy of electoral democracy in reducing corruption depends on specific features of the electoral system, and the information available to voters. With respect to the electoral system, a common view is that electoral rules that give voters more formal control over individual candidates—such as primaries in majoritarian systems or open lists rather than closed lists in proportional representation (PR) systems—are more effective in reducing corruption. With respect to information, the conventional wisdom holds that providing voters with more information should help them identify corrupt politicians, thus increasing the chances that those politicians will be punished at the ballot box.

In our recent article, we present findings that challenge both aspects of this conventional wisdom. We focus on the comparison between closed-list PR system (in which voters vote only for a party, with the individual candidates elected depending on their position on the party’s list) and an open-list PR system in which voters can vote for any number of candidates on the list, without any constraint. Continue reading

Guest Post: Corruption on the Gualcarque River — Will Its Victims Have their Day in Court?

GAB’ s latest post on compensating victims of corruption is below. Authored by Naomi Roht-Arriaza, Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Hastings Law and President of the Board of the Due Process of Law Foundation, it recounts the harm those living along the Gualcarque river in Western Honduras suffered from the corrupt award of a contract for a hydroelectric dam and the community’s efforts to recover damages for their injuries.  While a trial court has recognized the community is entitled to relief as corruption victims, on specious reasoning an appellate court denied them victim status.  As Professor Roht-Arriaza explains, the case is now before the Constitutional Chamber of the Honduran Supreme Court. It can either reverse the appellate court decision or affirm its denial of an effective remedy for the enormous harm corruption has wreaked on the community.     

Who are the victims of grand corruption?  The answer used to be “no one” or, at best, the state itself.  But especially with the advent of a human rights approach to corruption in the Inter-American and United Nations human rights systems, that perception is slowly changing.  Grand corruption affects the full range of human rights of individuals and groups.  When rights are violated, states have an obligation under international law to investigate, prosecute, and provide redress.  The UN Convention Against Corruption mirrors this requirement in Article 35. 

And yet national courts have been reluctant to recognize the rights of those who have suffered damage — either to participate in proceedings involving grand corruption or to recognize them as victims due compensation.  In part, the reluctance stems from difficulties legal doctrine creates for establishing the causal link between a specific act of corruption and harm to a specific person or group.   To create the same “justice cascade” as in human rights cases, corruption victims should be able to seek relief through either a criminal or civil action and as either individuals or communities or through representative organizations.  Where a state prosecutor has brought charges, victims should be able, as they can in  France and Spain, to be full participants in the prosecution.      

The corruption in the bidding, contracting and construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River in Honduras would seem to be the poster child for victims’ compensation.  In an atmosphere of widespread corruption from the top down, a well-known elite family won a contract to generate and sell electricity to the state: without being on the list of approved bidders, without a valid environmental impact statement, and with a design apparently aimed at maximizing the haul from government coffers. 

Continue reading

Guest Post: Reforming Sudan’s Asset Declaration System

Today’s guest post is from Haytham Karar, an independent international development consultant based in Khartoum, Sudan.

The pro-democratic revolution in Sudan has ended a long-standing autocracy. However, public sector corruption, which remains widespread, threatens Sudan’s emerging democracy. The culture of using public office for private gain remains deeply entrenched, and the line between public and private roles is not clearly drawn or widely respected. Not only do the same people cycle back and forth through the “revolving door” between public office and the private sector, but many government officials own stakes in, or are otherwise directly connected with, private companies even while serving in government. In fact, many government officials continue to operate private enterprises while in office, even though the Constitution explicitly prohibits this practice. This blurring of public and private roles, and the associated conflicts of interest that arise, have contributed to the corruption and cronyism that continue to pervade the system.

One of the tools that is supposed to help combat these problems is the asset declaration system for public officials. While an asset declaration system is not by itself sufficient, a well-designed and operational asset declaration system is a crucial element in a larger strategy for promoting integrity and anticorruption. Unfortunately, Sudan’s asset declaration system is largely ineffective and in desperate need of reform. The current framework—which was designed under the previous government and was never implemented effectively or fairly—has a number of significant problems. Continue reading

Guest Post: The New French Ruling on Successor Liability Gives French Prosecutors New Leverage to Fight Corruption and Other Corporate Crime

For today’s guest post, GAB is delighted to welcome back Frederick Davis, a member of the New York and Paris Bars and a Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School:

Commentators have aptly observed that US prosecutions of firms for foreign bribery and similar crimes has developed into a “US model of corporate crime deterrence,” a model that is based on aggressive pursuit of corporate entities to induce them to cooperate by “detecting, reporting, and helping prove” criminal acts by individuals in return for a negotiated resolution of the criminal charges against the corporation itself, one that avoids a corporate criminal conviction.

Earlier posts on this blog by myself and by others have noted the absence of this model in France, and the relative ineffectiveness of French prosecutors in pursuing corruption and other forms of corporate crime, in significant part because of the difficulty of proving corporate criminal responsibility under French law. As I noted last year, though, efforts by the Legislature to provide new investigative and prosecutorial tools, by the National Financial Prosecutor to use them, and by the courts in clarifying the principles of corporate criminal responsibility have produced encouraging results. French prosecutors have pursued, and French courts have convicted, both French and non-French corporations for serious crimes. On November 25, 2020, the French Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) took an important additional step by ruling, for the first time, that in an acquisition situation the successor corporation will generally be criminally responsible for acts committed by the acquired company. The decision closes a significant gap in French corporate criminal deterrence, and will have an immediate and positive impact on corporate criminal investigations in France. Continue reading

Guest Post: The U.S. Just Created a Public Beneficial Ownership Registry for a Subset of Companies

Today’s guest post is from Neil Gordon, a Senior Researcher at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).

Companies with anonymous ownership structures are a serious global problem. Anonymous companies, as readers of this blog are likely well aware, play a significant role in facilitating grand corruption. Anonymous companies are associated with a wide range of other criminal misconduct as well. Unfortunately, the United States bears much of the blame for the proliferation of anonymous shell companies and the harm they cause. Most states make it relatively easy to set up a business without revealing the real owners—even easier than getting a library card, according to the anticorruption think tank Global Financial Integrity. That’s why it was so important that Congress finally enacted two key corporate transparency provisions as part of the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The first provision, the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA), requires most companies to register their beneficial owners—the people who really own, control, and financially benefit from the company—with the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. This provision received a great deal of media coverage, and rightly so. But the second key beneficial ownership transparency provision in the NDAA has received almost no attention, even though it could be a real game-changer. That second provision can be found in Section 885 of the NDAA. Section 885 requires all companies receiving federal contracts or grants over $500,000 to report their beneficial owners in the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS), a database containing the misconduct and performance histories of federal contractors and grantees. Continue reading

Guest Post: An Anticorruption Agenda for the Biden Administration

Today’s guest post is from Lucinda A. Low and Shruti Shah, respectively Acting Chair and President of the Coalition for Integrity, a U.S. based non-governmental organization focused on fighting corruption. The opinions expressed here are those of the authors, and should not be attributed to the organization..  

The United States has a long history, across administrations of both parties, of showing leadership internationally in the fight against corruption. The passage and enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) has served as an example for other countries to adopt their own transnational anti-bribery laws. Additionally, the United States has championed international anti-bribery efforts in multilateral organizations and worked to build coalitions to root out all types of corruption. For the last several years, however, U.S. has faltered. In order to reestablish the U.S. as a global leader against corruption, and to get its own house in order, the Biden Administration and the new Congress should embrace an ambitious agenda that includes the following elements: Continue reading

Guest Post: Obstacles in Establishing Whistleblower Regimes in Small Developing Countries—From The Bahamas to Kosovo

Today’s guest post is from Lemarque Campbell, a Policy and Legislative Development Specialist for the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), and Vlora Marmullakaj, a Senior Project Officer for the Project Against Economic Crime implemented by the Council of Europe. The views and analysis expressed in this post are those of the authors and are not attributable to the IDLO or the Council of Europe.

Encouraging whistleblowing is one of the most important tools for detecting and deterring wrongdoing in public sector organizations. Especially in small developing countries that lack strong institutions, insiders may be the best or only source of accurate and reliable information about malfeasance. Moreover, whistleblowers not only help expose corruption, but they also play a significant role in providing information that could lead to the recovery of assets derived from corrupt practices. And in this time of global pandemic, when opportunities for corruption abound and the normal oversight and accountability processes are weakened, whistleblowers are even more crucial—a fact emphasized by, among others, GRECO and Transparency International.

Unfortunately, many developing countries lack an adequate system for encouraging and protecting whistleblowers. Even those countries that have substantially overhauled their whistleblower laws continue to face significant problems of implementation. Considering the recent experience of the Bahamas and Kosovo—two very different small developing countries that have recently overhauled their whistleblower laws—helps illustrate some of the obstacles to achieving effective reforms. Continue reading

Guest Post: Corruption in Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution–Early Lessons from Brazil

Today’s guest post is from Guilherme France, a legislative assistant in the Brazilian Senate

The urgency of halting the Covid-19 pandemic, combined with the limited supply of vaccines, has increased the challenges of distributing the vaccine quickly but fairly. As others have pointed out, including on this blog, there are significant risks of corruption in the vaccine distribution process. Brazil provides a troubling illustration of this problem, with instances of corruption or other improprieties related to vaccine distribution having already sparked investigations into mayors and other local officials. For example, there have been complaints that in Manaus, a Covid-19 epicenter, relatives of a local businessman in were fraudulently appointed as employees in health clinics so that they would qualify for early vaccination. And this is but one of several cases where mayors and other local officials allegedly helped their relatives or close associates cut in the line. There have also been reported attempts to pay bribes to nurses for early vaccine access.

There has been similar line-cutting behavior on a grander scale, with various groups, such as prosecutors and judicial authorities, using their political influence and leverage to attempt (without success) to get priority status for receiving the vaccine, ahead of those, like health care workers and the elderly, who need it more urgently. On other occasions, the government acceded to the use of the “priority status” for vaccine distribution as a bargaining chip. In the midst of strike negotiations, it agreed to place truck drivers and other transportation workers ahead of the general population in the vaccination line.

This behavior, while reprehensible, is understandable. Given how hard Brazil has been hit by Covid-19, access to the vaccine is a life and death matter, and the temptation to cut the line, for oneself or a loved one, is just too great. This is why increased control and transparency for vaccine distribution should be a priority for governments at all levels. Continue reading