Guest Post: Is UNCAC Article 35 a “Dead Letter” in the United States?

Today’s Guest Post is by Craig R. Arndt, an international lawyer living in Bangkok. In the course of a long career, he advised multinational clients on a range of corruption-related matters and has represented those injured by corruption in actions to recover damages.

The drafters of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption recognized that corruption was a transnational disease. And that accordingly, no country could fight it on its own. Hence, in its very first article the Convention makes it clear that states ratifying it are obliged to “promote, facilitate, and support international cooperation and technical assistance in the prevention of and fight against corruption.”  

Article 35 of the Convention sets forth one of the ways states are required to work together to curb cooperation. It provides that each party must “ensure that entities or persons who have suffered damage as a result of an act of corruption have the right to initiate legal proceedings against those responsible . . . to obtain compensation.”

Rick has documented the sorry state of civil recoveries by bribery victims in transnational cases (here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). That state is now even sorrier thanks to two recent decisions by American federal courts of appeal. In the words of one commentator, the two “gut” article 35.

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Guest Post: Will the Biden Administration Help South Africa Escape Capture?

Today’s Guest Post is by Nicole Fritz, a South African public interest lawyer and executive director the Helen Suzman Foundation, a non-partisan think-tank dedicated to promoting liberal, democratic values and human rights in post-apartheid South Africa.

President Biden’s meeting Friday with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa offers a prime opportunity to show the Administration is serious about its new global anticorruption policy. Issued last December, the Administration promises a raft of new initiatives to not only crackdown on corruption at home but to help democratic, reform-minded regimes root out corruption that they cannot do on their own. President Ramaphosa’s government qualifies on all counts. Where it could best use assistance is in unraveling an American company’s role in the efforts of Ramaphosa’s predecessor, Jacob Zuma, to rob the country blind. 

During his nine-year rule, Zuma sought to “capture the state,” to remake South Africa’s fledgling young democratic government into a machine to enrich himself, his family, and his friends. No sooner did he take office in 2009 then he began stacking key government-owned enterprises with cronies and accomplices and purging the public service of professional, independently-minded civil servants.  He was finally forced from office after widespread public protest and coordinated efforts of civil society, those few remaining independent state agencies, and reformers within his own party.

In one of his last desperate bids to quell discontent and remain in office, Zuma established the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector. That Commission has defined the Ramaphosa presidency and the Commission’s several-thousand-page report, completed in June, reveals in astonishing detail just how far Zuma and accomplices extended their reach into the inner-workings of the government in pursuit of personal riches.

An especially damning chapter (here) recounts the role of the Boston management consulting firm Bain & Company in the state capture scheme.

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Guest Post: Oversight of Beneficial Owners Can Strengthen Integrity in the Transition to Renewable Energy

Today’s guest post is from Alanna Markle, a Policy and Research Associate at Open Ownership, and Erica Westenberg, the Governance Programs Director at the Natural Resource Governance Institute.

The transition to cleaner, renewable energy sources is crucial to the health of the planet. Yet the renewables sector is likely to face political, social, and governance challenges—including risks of corruption and conflict of interest—similar to those that have been observed in extractive industries and other sectors. One of the tools that anticorruption advocates have emphasized as crucial across sectors—transparency regarding the true beneficial owners of private companies—may be highly important in addressing corruption and conflict of interest risks in the sustainable energy transition for several reasons: Continue reading

Guest Post: Do Governments Have a Clue About the Money Laundering Risks They Face? UPDATE

UPDATE: the World Bank hosts a discussion on the report that is the subject of this post May 30, 12:00 noon EDT. Link to register here.

Today’s guest post summarizes an April World Bank study of money laundering risk assessments. The first step in preventing money laundering is identifying where it occurs and how likely it is to occur. In short, the risks of money laundering. The Bank study evaluated risk assessments eight governments had conducted in accordance with the methodology prescribed by the Financial Action Task Force. For reasons that will become plain, the post’s author has chosen to remain anonymous.

The title from a new World Bank report on money laundering risks could scarcely be blander: National Assessments of Money Laundering Risks: Learning from Eight Advanced Countries’ NRAs.  The content is anything but. Authored by Joras Ferwerda of Utrecht University and Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland, the report concludes that not a one of the eight money laundering risk assessments examined, all done as the report’s title advertises by “advanced” countries, is worth a damn. Not a one merits a passing grade from the two professors, both highly regarded money laundering experts. What’s worse, despite close to a decade of experience doing such assessments, the two find that no government seems to have learned a thing from the mistakes of others.

This raises a fundamental question about the existing AML regime. How can it be effective if national authorities lack an understanding of the money laundering risks their countries face?

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Guest Post: The Government Defence Integrity Index — Assessing Corruption in Defence

Stephanie Trapnell, Senior Advisor on Defence and Security at Transparency International, and Matthew Steadman, Research Officer at Transparency International UK’s Defence and Security Programme, authored today’s post on the UK Programme’s Government Defence Integrity Index. The Index evaluates corruption risks across defence financing, operations, personnel, political, and procurement for 87 countries using data on 77 defence-related areas. (As the index was produced by TI Defence & Security, a program housed within the TI-UK chapter, the British spelling is followed throughout.)

Corruption in the defence sector poses grave risks for security in both national and international contexts. Transparency International’s flagship report for the Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) shows 86% of global arms exports between 2016-2020 (worth US$1439.6 billion) originated from countries at a moderate to very high risk of corruption in their defence sectors. The top five exporters – the United States (overall score of 55/100), Russia (36/100), France (50/100), Germany (70/100) and China (28/100) – accounted for 76% of the global total. Meanwhile, 49% of global arms imports are arriving in counties facing a high to critical risk of defence corruption.

Although President Biden’s new anticorruption strategy outlines a “whole-of-government approach” to countering corruption, it stresses the importance of addressing corruption specifically in defence and security. Indeed, the strategy is a critical and welcome acknowledgment, by a global power and major provider of security assistance, that corruption plays a considerable role in destabilising democracy. In Strategic Objective 5.5, emphasis is placed on assessment of corruption risk, causes of corruption, and political will for reform. Specifically for the security sector, there is a call for greater transparency in military budgets, whistle-blower protections, and oversight.

Not only does corruption have a devastating impact on both the defence apparatus itself and on wider peace and security, it can undermine otherwise robust democracies, by serving as a type of statecraft for defence officials and military elites. Corruption undermines the efficiency of security forces, damages popular trust in state institutions, and feeds a sense of disillusionment, which threatens the social contract and the rule of law, and can empower non-state and extremist armed groups.

Given the distinct nature of governance in the defence sector, and the evolving understanding of how corruption operates, the question then turns to what can be done to counter or prevent corruption in a traditionally secretive yet critical sector like defence. The answer is not to measure corruption itself, which is inherently covert and difficult to capture, but instead to measure institutional resilience to it. The Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) is the only tool that captures comprehensive information on the quality of institutional controls on corruption in the defence sector.

The GDI recognises that:

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Guest Post: Fighting Corruption Through Social Audits in India: How Far Can Voice Get Without Teeth?

Today’s Guest Post is from Suchi Pande, Scholar in Residence at American University’s Accountability Research Center and Center Founder and Director AU Professor Jonathan Fox.

India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee became a lifeline for migrant labor arbitrarily expelled from cities and left stranded and broke due to COVID-19 lockdowns. One of the largest employment safety net program in the world, it comes with a mandate for state governments to carry out “social audits,” a procedure empowering its beneficiaries to monitor leakages and the denial of rights resulting from the arbitrary exercise of power across India’s 600,000 villages. In short, to spotlight corruption.

How? With a social audit, program beneficiaries publicly scrutinize its implementation and government actors must respond to shortcomings in officially convened public forums and redress grievances. The audits date to a 2005 law driven by a combination of a grassroots advocacy campaign and a reform-minded government.  Social audits can engage populations directly in the fight against corruption where:

  1. the audit reveals corruption in some form, such as the leakage (embezzlement) of program funds, demands for bribes to release the funds, or the outright denial of participants rights to the funds;
  2. those conducting the audit have the capacity to communicate their findings clearly and understandably to the affected individuals or group;
  3. those affected are informed of the findings and understand the violation of the law or policy that led to the losses; and
  4. a third party — government agency or civil society group — convenes a public forum where government officials and elected representatives discuss the audit findings in an atmosphere free from reprisal, where the affected persons can participate and vouch for the accuracy of findings.
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Guest Post: How the Next Guatemalan AG Can Restore Hope in the Fight Against Impunity

Today’s guest post is from a Guatemalan official who, due to the sensitivity of his/her government position, prefers to remain anonymous:

In Guatemala, the Attorney General plays a central role in the efforts to counter corruption. Guatemala’s 1993 constitutional reforms put the AG in sole control over the Public Ministry, the nation’s principal law enforcement institution. These constitutional reforms also gave the AG substantial autonomy: The Public Ministry is ensured financial and administrative independence, and the AG has control over the Public Ministry’s personnel and policies. Although the President has the power to appoint the AG, the President must choose a candidate from a shortlist of six candidates chosen by a Nominating Commission composed of the President of the Supreme Court, the Deans of the Guatemalan Law Schools, and two representatives of the Guatemalan Bar Association; this process is designed to produce qualified candidates for the Office and reduce the President’s ability to select a loyalist crony. Additionally, the AG serves a fixed four-year term in office and cannot be removed before the expiration of that term unless a court has determined that the AG has engaged in criminal wrongdoing.

The AG’s power and independence can help in the fight against high-level corruption by powerful political figures, as was demonstrated by the Public Ministry’s investigation into graft allegations against then-President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti—an investigation which ultimately led to their resignation, prosecution, and incarceration (While this investigation was prompted and supported by the then-operative International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, known for its Spanish acronym CICIG, CICIG lacked unilateral prosecutorial authority, and the AG’s decision to pursue cases against the most powerful elected officials in the country was crucial.) Unfortunately, while the AG’s power and independence enables the AG to be an agent of positive change in the fight against impunity, those same factors mean that the AG can also be an obstacle to change. Guatemala has learned this the hard way under the current AG, Consuelo Porras.

When Porras took office in 2018, many people, both inside and outside Guatemala, believed that the country was reaching a turning point in its fight against corruption and impunity, and expectations were high. But her time at the Public Ministry has been a disappointment. Many regard her tenure as head of the Public Ministry as one the reasons why Guatemala’s anticorruption movement has faltered; overall, she seems to favor maintaining economic and political status quo, and a return to “business-as-usual.” Not only has she failed to provide bold leadership in the Public Ministry, but her policies have undermined the independence and effectiveness of Guatemalan law enforcement authorities. Worse still, there are allegations that she is personally involved in wrongdoing—and these allegations are credible enough that the U.S. government placed her on the “Undemocratic and Corrupt Actors” list and revoked her visa.

Guatemala’s recent experience raises important questions about the costs and benefits of giving one unelected official so much power over criminal law enforcement. But while it might be wise to examine the constitutional and statutory provisions regarding the AG’s powers at some point, right now Guatemala faces a much more pressing issue: the selection of a new AG. Porras’s tenure is coming to an end, and the selection process is underway; the President will appoint a new AG next month. Whoever the President selects will play a crucial role in determining whether Guatemala’s stalled anticorruption efforts can get back on track.

Whoever the new AG might be, there are three things that he or she can and should do to restore hope in Guatemala’s fight against corruption and impunity: Continue reading

Guest Post: France’s Anticorruption Turnaround–and the Path Forward

Today’s guest post is from Valentina Lana, a lawyer and lecturer at Sciences Po, and Michel Sapin, who served in multiple senior positions in the French government, including as Minister of Finance from 2014-2017 and Minister of the Economy in 2016-2017, and who was the principal author of the Loi Sapin II, the French anticorruption law.

Since the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention entered into force back in 1999, France has been a member, and as such France committed to adopt and enforce an effective legal framework to detect, punish, and deter transnational bribery. Yet in October 2012, when the OECD’s Working Group on Bribery released its Phase 3 report on France’s compliance with its obligations under the Convention, France received very poor marks. The report emphasized the Working Group’s “serious concern[]” about the paucity of enforcement proceedings addressing foreign bribery by French entities, expressed its disappointment in France’s failure to address key legal obstacles to holding companies liable for foreign bribery, and the insufficient penalties. In short, while France had laws on the books that supposedly criminalized foreign bribery, in practice France was doing very little to make those laws meaningful in practice.

The highly critical Phase 3 report served as a wake-up call for French policymakers. But it was not only this very public and embarrassing OECD criticism that prompted France to act. French companies that issued securities in the United States also found themselves targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice for alleged violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Many French firms and government officials bristled at what seemed like the intrusive and extraterritorial prosecutions by the U.S. government. But in high-level conversations between leading figures from the two countries, the U.S. representatives made clear their position that they were pursuing these cases, even though France might seem to have a greater interest, because France couldn’t or wouldn’t prosecute foreign bribery cases involving French companies vigorously and effectively. “We are doing your job,” was the basic position of the U.S. representatives.

There was also pressure for reform from the French business community. This at first seems counterintuitive, given that companies are generally reluctant to accept more stringent regulations. But business operators in France perceived that France needed to promote a more transparent, corruption-averse environment, in order to increase the attractiveness of France for investors and shake off France’s bad reputation as an unfair business environment where bribes would count more than skills, experience, and competence. Though one might think that French firms would care only about domestic corruption, in fact many business leaders embraced the idea that taking a stronger stand against foreign bribery—and embracing legal reforms that would elevate France to the level of countries like the US or the UK, at the forefront of the fight against transnational corruption—would help improve France’s reputation and overall business environment.

These factors contributed to an environment that enabled reformers, particularly those in the French Ministry of the Economy, to act. In 2016, the French parliament adopted a crucial set of reforms contained in a law known as the la loi Sapin II (the Sapin II Act). This broad law covers more than just the fight against corruption; it contains a range of provisions intended to improve France’s attractiveness to local and foreign investors through greater transparency and modernization of economic life. But several of the Act’s most important reforms were motivated by, and targeted toward—the fight against corruption, including transnational corruption, a fact acknowledged symbolically by the date of the Act’s adoption: December 9th, UN International Anti-Corruption Day.

Among the Sapin II Act’s key measures, three can be considered as essential to driving France’s progress on anticorruption: Continue reading

Guest Post: The Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Approach to Curbing Corruption in Development Projects

Today’s Guest Post is by Chris Williams, Senior Director for Anti-Fraud and Corruption at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. development agency. Chris explains the measures MCC takes to prevent corruption from infecting the projects it supports and reviews some lessons it has learned about preventing corruption in large infrastructure projects.  (Full disclosure. I consult with the MCC on corruption prevention although its prevention policies long pre-date my consultancy. I have hounded Chris for some time to write this post, for whatever bias I may have, I think MCC’s corruption prevention efforts provide a model for others in the development community.)

The Millennium Challenge Corporation is an independent U.S. government development agency working to reduce global poverty through economic growth. Created in 2004, MCC provides time-limited grants that pair investments in infrastructure with policy and institutional reforms to countries that meet rigorous standards for good governance, fighting corruption and respecting democratic rights. MCC provides an example of “smart” development assistance, using competitive selection of grant recipients, country-led solutions, country led implementation, and a focus on results to prioritize the use of U.S. taxpayer funds.

A central feature of MCC’s approach, country ownership, is that each partner government receiving a grant from MCC must identify a legal entity to which the government will delegate the responsibility for the projects funded by the MCC. A sign of the importance MCC places on fighting fraud and corruption is that this entity is formally designated the “accountable entity” (generally referred to as an “MCA,” as many are named Millennium Challenge Account Moldova, Millennium Challenge Account Senegal, etc.). This underlines the MCA’s responsibility for ensuring MCC funds are used only for the purposes intended.

MCC doesn’t just assign responsibility for managing fraud and corruption risks to the MCAs, however. Upon establishment of the MCA, MCC immediately begins working with it to put in place financial controls and other standard safeguards to prevent funds from being lost through fraud or corruption.

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Guest Post: The Ukraine Crisis Demonstrates (Again) that the U.S. Must Crack Down on Illicit Finance

GAB is pleased to welcome back Shruti Shah, the President of the Coalition for Integrity, to contribute today’s guest post:

Like so many of us, I am shocked and horrified by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and unforgivable attacks on civilian targets. At the same time, I have been encouraged by the resistance to Russia’s unprovoked aggression—most obviously and importantly by the brave Ukrainians defending their homeland, but also by the response of the international community. The United States, the European Union, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other nations have announced coordinated sanctions against Russia, including cutting off major Russian banks from the SWIFT system and preventing Russia’s central bank from drawing on foreign currency reserves held abroad. In addition to sanctions targeted at Russia’s financial system, Western nations have also sought to use targeted sanctions aimed at oligarchs close to President Putin. The Biden Administration also announced a transatlantic task force to ensure the effective implementation of financial sanctions by identifying and freezing the assets of sanctioned individuals and companies and an interagency law enforcement group called KleptoCapture.

This renewed focus on the corruption of the Russian political and economic elite is welcome. Russia’s deep-rooted corruption is one of the reasons that Putin has been free to engage in such outrageous acts. He relies on the security services and corrupt oligarchs to protect him. Oligarchs also serve as his personal wallet. Yet for far too long, these corrupt oligarchs have lived lives of luxury off of ill-gotten wealth, which they have used to purchase luxury property in places like New York and London. Yet while some oligarchs and Russian political figures were already the subject of targeted sanctions prior to the recent attack on Ukraine. Overall the West had been far too complacent. The Ukraine tragedy seems to have prompted Western governments to pay more attention to this problem. Indeed, the new sanctions are significant in both scope and size, and they welcomed by the Coalition for Integrity and most other anticorruption activists around the world.

But there’s more work to be done. It’s time for Western governments to ask some hard questions about how these corrupt elites were able to use their ill-gotten gains to buy luxury property and assets and enjoy their wealth in places like New York and in London for so long, and about the role of Western “enablers” in hiding the sources of their wealth and shielding questionable transactions from scrutiny. And, to turn to more specific priorities for policy reform in the United States, there are three specific things that the U.S. government should do to crack down further on illicit finance and thereby advance the agenda laid out in the White House’s Strategy On Countering Corruption: Continue reading