Hard Truths/Sound Advice: UNDP’s Strategic Programming for Anti-Corruption Agencies

The United Nations Development Programme’s mission is to help poor countries become wealthy. As evidence that corruption is a, if not the, major obstacle blocking the way, the agency has devoted a growing share of its budget to finding ways combat it. Not all its investments have met with success — as its underpaid staff and consultants (compared to other international agencies) would be the first to admit.

One clear success is a little heralded guidance note for anticorruption agencies in Southeast Asia UNDP released in May. The region is beset with corruption problems large and small, and in response governments have established anticorruption agencies.  But TI’s Corruption Perception Index, the World Governance Indicators, and other cross-national measure of corruption have registered little or no improvement in country scores since the agencies came into existence, and disillusionment has taken hold as policymakers and citizens across the region now sharply question the agencies’ worth.  

Strategic Programming for Anti-Corruption Agencies: Regional Guidance Note for ASEAN makes it clear that the problem starts at the top. That agency leaders have let others set the terms for judging their agency’s success. Echoing advice to criminal justice agencies by the closest student of bureaucracy since Weber, the report explains that until anticorruption agencies define success in realistic, measurable, achievable objectives that will make a difference in citizens’ lives, their standing will not improve and continued support will remain at risk.

Along the way the UNDP report doesn’t gloss over the challenges agencies face while offering sound advice on how to overcome them.  Some especially important hard truths and good examples of sound advice –

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Time to Make the OECD Antibribery Convention an Antikleptocracy Convention Too

Confiscating assets acquired through corruption is a critical part of the fight against corruption. If those who would profit from corruption know they will be denied the benefit of their wrongdoing, there is no incentive to be corrupt.

As Justin explained Monday, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given asset confiscation a major boost. Many of Putin’s superrich backers, oligarchs or kleptocrats, became wealthy through corrupt deals, and the seizure of their mega-yachts, mansions and other properties now located outside Russian territory offer the West a way, albeit indirectly, to pressure Putin to end the aggression. Italian, German, and other Western prosecutors are thus now aggressively invoking domestic forfeiture statutes to confiscate them.

But as the Washington Post reports today, with the help of pricey lawyers and other enablers (here and here), the oligarchs have hidden their assets inside complex legal thickets of offshore companies that make confiscation hard if not impossible. In response, last Thursday President Biden asked Congress to give U.S. prosecutors new powers to cut through this underbrush (here).

The President’s initiative is welcome. But it also invites the obvious question: Why shouldn’t other Western nations follow suit?  All are united in their opposition to the war and desire to make Putin’s associates suffer consequences. Why shouldn’t every Western state ease the task their prosecutors face to the rapid seizure of oligarchs’ assets? And indeed to the seizure of any asset corruptly obtained or unlawfully possessed found in their territory?

The most straightforward way to realize this goal would be to amend the OECD Antibribery Convention.

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New Podcast, Featuring Gary Kalman

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. As our regular listeners are aware, for the last couple of months we have featured a series of special episodes focusing on how corruption issues relate to Russia’s war on Ukraine. While the war goes on, and we hope to continue to feature experts who can focus on that topic, this week we return to, for lack of a better term, our “regularly scheduled programming,” with an interview with Gary Kalman, the Director of Transparency International’s United States office. Gary has appeared on our podcast twice before (in February 2020 and February 2021), so this interview, which was conducted this past February, can be seen as the continuation of what has become an annual tradition. As in our previous conversations, we focus on anticorruption developments in the United States. More specifically, we discuss ongoing rulemaking proceedings to implement the Corporate Transparency Act, the significance and potential impact of the Biden Administration’s Countering Corruption strategy document, the impact of the December 2021 Summit for Democracy on global anticorruption efforts, proposals for new US anticorruption legislation (such as the proposed ENABLERS Act and Foreign Extortion Prevention Act), and, going forward, what Gary believes are the most important challenges and agenda items for Transparency International’s US office.

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 Interdisciplinary Corruption Research Network (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.

The Brazilian Supreme Court’s Most Recent Ruling in the Lula Case Reveals the Court’s Own Bias

Back in 2017, a Brazilian court convicted former President Lula for corruption offenses in connection with a seaside apartment that Lula allegedly received as a bribe from a construction firm. In 2019, he was again found guilty of a corruption offense in a separate trial, this time for receiving bribes in the form of improvements to his country house. And he faced other corruption charges as well, including an indictment in which Odebrecht—a major construction firm and one of the most significant players in the Car Wash scandal— allegedly bribed Lula by agreeing to construct a headquarters for his foundation, the Lula Institute. The principal evidence for this latter accusation was acquired by prosecutors as part of a so-called “leniency agreement” with Odebrecht. In Brazil, leniency agreements are negotiated settlements, regulated by the Clean Company Act (CCA), in which companies voluntarily agree to confess unlawful conduct, pay penalties, and take other remedial action—including cooperating with prosecutors by providing evidence against other wrongdoers—and, in return, the companies have their sanctions and fines reduced (see, for example, here, here, and here). Such agreements have been critical to the success of the Car Wash Operation, and more generally to the effectiveness of Brazil’s fight against corruption.

But this past June, the Brazilian Supreme Court decided to nullify the evidence against Lula that had been collected under the Odebrecht leniency agreement (here). The Court’s ruling was not only legally flawed, but its reasoning, if accepted, threatens to undo dozens of prior corruption convictions and to create a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the validity of evidence obtained in leniency agreements. Such a ruling would needlessly undermine the ability of Brazilian prosecutors and courts to fight corruption in the future. Of course, the Court may not actually adhere to its legal reasoning in future cases—but that only underscores another problem: though the Brazilian Supreme Court has criticized lower court proceedings as biased against Lula, the Court’s own conduct, particularly in the most recent case, suggests an unacceptable bias in Lula’s favor.

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When you Fight Corruption, it Fights Back

Nuhu Ribadu, first head of Nigeria’s premier anticorruption agency, famously made the observation that headlines this post sometime between the first and second attempt on his life. Speakers at “Anticorruption Prosecutors Under Attack, a side event at the just completed Conference of State Parties to the UN Convention Against Corruption, explained that he is not the only one whose life, career, and reputation have come under attack from those being investigated for corruption.  

Organized by the government of Norway and the Basel Institute on Governance, the event publicized cases like Nuhu’s (here) and the late Maxwell Nkole of Zambia (here), corruption fighters who fled their homeland to escape assassination. Speakers discussed more recent cases too, including the less lethal but more insidious attack against Italian prosecutors Fabio Pasquale and Sergio Spadaro. The two face trumped up criminal charges and administrative proceedings for having the audacity to prosecute two large, Western oil companies for bribing Nigerian officials (here).

Maxwell and Nuhu likely survived the attempts to silence them permanently thanks to the Corruption Hunter Network. The brainchild of Eva Joly, France’s premier anticorruption fighter and supported by the Norwegian government, the group of anticorruption investigators, prosecutors, and activists meets twice a year to provide one another moral support. It scrounged up funding for year-long “sabbaticals” for Nuhu and Maxwell in countries where their enemies dared not to touch them.

Nuhu and Maxwell’s support was ad hoc and thanks only to a handful of bureaucrats willing to read internal agency guidelines “liberally.” As the fight against corruption intensifies, we can expect more Nuhus, Maxwells, Fabios, and Sergios. Will those in the international community committed to the fight against corruption support these frontline troops?

The full video of “Anticorruption Prosecutors Under Attack” is here, the audio file here. More on the event, the speakers, and the key takeaways is on the Basel Institute’s website here.

Trump’s Attempted Violation of the Emoluments Clause, and the Inadequacy of the “Services at Cost” Rationale

In a press briefing on October 17, 2019, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney announced that the United States would host the 46th G-7 summit at the Trump National Doral Miami, a golf resort in Doral Florida owned by the Trump Organization. The announcement provoked widespread concern (see here and here) that this choice would violate the U.S. Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause, which bars any person “holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States]” from “accepting any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign state,” as well as the Domestic Emoluments Clause, which bars the President from receiving any emolument, other than his salary, from the United States or any of the individual states. Following two days of complaints—not only from the ethics watchdogs and the President’s Democratic opponents, but also from some of his Republican allies—the White House abandoned the plan. So, the situation appears to have resolved itself. Nonetheless, the particular argument that Mulvaney advanced to defend against the anticipated Emoluments Clause complaints is worth considering—and debunking—lest this argument arise again in another context.

To be clear, the White House’s attempt to host the G-7 at a Trump Organization venue appears to be part of the same pattern of self-dealing that has already prompted multiple lawsuits against Trump for alleged violations of the Emoluments Clauses. As Mulvaney said on Fox News this past Sunday, “[President Trump] still considers himself to be in the hospitality business, and he saw an opportunity to take the biggest leaders from around the world and he wanted to put on the absolute best show.” Although the proposal to host the G-7 summit at the Doral resort was dropped, Mulvaney’s admission is worrying because there are reasons to suspect Trump chose the Doral property to benefit himself financially. (Consider the fact that in 2004, when the United States hosted the summit on Sea Island the organizers served 45,000 meals and paid the resort owners $3 million to reserve the entire property for 10 days.)

When Mulvaney detailed the White House’s decision-making process for the G-7 venue on October 17, he claimed the administration used neutral criteria when it made this choice (which is a bit hard to swallow given that Mulvaney stated the President suggested Doral), and that Doral was actually the best location (an assertion that is hard to assess without knowing the other venues the White House was considering). Furthermore, Mulvaney also argued that there was no Emoluments Clause violation because Doral would host the event “at cost”—that is, that Doral would only charge the government for the cost of the goods and services provided, and would not make a profit. On its face, this sounds plausible. After all, if Doral—and hence the Trump Organization—does not earn any profits on the G-7 meeting, but merely breaks even, then how can Trump have received an “emolument” from the U.S. government? If anything, the Trump Organization would have provided the U.S. government with a venue and associated amenities at a discounted rate.

Despite its superficial plausibility, there are three flaws with the argument that running the event “at cost” would eliminate any Emoluments Clause problem:

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New Podcast Episode, Featuring Daria Kaleniuk

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. This week’s episode features an interview with Daria Kaleniuk, a leading Ukrainian anticorruption activist and the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center (ACAC) in Kyiv. In the interview, she and I discuss a range of issues connected to the fight against corruption in Ukraine in the post-Maidan period, including institutional reforms and the creation of new anticorruption bodies (some of which seem to have been more successful than others), the importance of the media and civil society, and the role of the international community.

You can find this episode, along with links to previous podcast 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.

Why Won’t Indian PM Modi Extradite KVP to Answer Corruption Charges?

Four plus years ago the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed an indictment alleging a plot stretching from India to Chicago to pay senior Indian officials some $18.5 million for mining licenses in the state of Andhra Pradesh.  Central to the scheme was K.V.P. Ramachandra Rao, then senior advisor to the state’s Chief Minister.  He allegedly solicited and agreed to accept bribes for himself and other Indian officials in return for approving the licenses.

As soon as the sealed indictment issued, the U.S. requested KVP’s extradition from India.  In accordance with the U.S.-Indian extradition treaty, the Indian government is required to surrender anyone located in India accused of the crimes in the United States of the kind KVP allegedly committed.  Article nine provides that all the U.S. need do is provide Indian authorities with “information describing the facts of the offense and the procedural history of the case, a statement of the provisions of the law describing the essential elements of the offense. . . [and] a statement of the provisions of the law describing the punishment for the offense.”

The 43-page indictment (described here) easily meets these requirements.  It details the plot KVP, Ukrainian magnate and alleged Russian mobster Dmytro Firtash, and a U.S. resident, and others concocted to rob the citizens of Andhra Pradesh of hundreds of millions of dollars through a web of bribes and kickbacks. The charges against defendants — racketeering, money laundering, and related crimes arising from the scheme – are precisely and carefully specified.

So why is KVP still not in U.S. hands? Continue reading

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

For the last year (beginning in 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. Our May 2018 update is now available here. Despite the flurry of news reports over the past month concerning ethical issues and allegedly unlawful conduct in the Trump Administration, there have been relatively few new reports of activity specifically related to the profiteering-type activities our tracker emphasizes, and hence relatively few changes since the April 2018 update.

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.

The Backstory on Brazil’s Extraordinary War on Corruption

 

Hardly a day passes without news from Brazil that a senior politician or business person has been charged with corruption or has admitted guilt or found guilty of a corruption offense or is cooperating with authorities in their ever-expanding investigation into the rot that has infected Brazilian politics.  Brazil is not only the envy of corruption hunters everywhere, but for those living in countries where big time, grand corruption is the norm, it provides enormous inspiration and hope.  “If the Brazilians can do it, we [fill in the blank] can do it too,” is a refrain I have heard in more than one country.

But just how Brazil has “done it” has remained a mystery.  Or at least it has until the recent release of The Sum Of Its Parts: Coordinating Brazil’s Fight Against Corruption, 2003 – 2016, the latest in a series by Princeton University’s Innovations for Successful Society on how countries are combating corruption. Through revealing interviews with key participants and observers, author Gordon LaForge chronicles how a handful of reformers built the law enforcement institutions now bringing corrupt Brazilian politicians and their private sector co-conspirators to heel. Investigating and prosecuting complex corruption cases takes coordinated action across numerous agencies, and the emphasis throughout is on the painstaking, time-consuming efforts required to build the needed inter-agency cooperation.

The Sum of its Parts is essential reading for those trying to make their country “the next Brazil.”  It should also be valuable for those trying to understand the process of political change in developing nations.  One of its strengths is that it never loses sight of the fact that human agency is critical element.