U.S. State Grand Juries Can Be Powerful Watchdogs. Let’s Put Them To Use (Again).  

Many commentators in the United States—including a number of GAB contributors—have lamented the lack of robust anticorruption investigations at the state level, and have advocated the creation or strengthening of state-level anticorruption commissions (see, for example, here, here, and here). While there is much to be said for these proposals, the existing commentary often overlooks the fact that states already have a powerful institution with the potential to perform many of the functions that reformers hope to vest with the state commissions. That institution is the state grand jury.

When most people hear the phrase “grand jury,” if they know the term at all, they probably imagine a scene from some TV crime show where a prosecutor endeavors to persuade a group of average citizens to indict someone that the prosecutor believes has committed a crime. And indeed in most states, grand juries’ principal function is to determine whether a state prosecutor has “probable cause” to put a defendant on trial. (After the trial beings, a different jury—the “petit jury”—decides whether the defendant is actually guilty.) But grand juries don’t just evaluate the prosecutor’s evidence at the indictment stage. Grand juries also have robust investigatory powers of their own. Like some state anticorruption commissions, state grand juries have the authority to subpoena documents or other tangible things. But unlike state anticorruption commissions, state grand juries can also compel witnesses to testify, and can hold those who refuse in contempt. (Indeed, while witnesses can invoke their constitutional right against self-incrimination to refuse to testify in a criminal trial, no such right exists in a grand jury investigation.) Moreover, grand juries can not only return criminal indictments (their more familiar function), but grand juries can also issue public reports about unethical and unsavory behavior.

If wielded properly, these immense powers could help unearth evidence of wrongdoing. Moreover, grand juries’ investigative powers may be especially valuable in cases involving corruption. While it might seem radical to propose that grand juries exercise these existing but largely moribund powers to assume the role of anticorruption watchdog, this would in fact be a return to one of the grand juries’ traditional functions.

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Unholy Alliance: How and Why India’s Politicians Protect India’s Corrupt Godmen

In my last post, I explained how loopholes in India’s legal system have enabled self-proclaimed “godmen” to amass fortunes by facilitating money laundering. But these corrupt godmen could not build their illicit empires without protection from politicians. After all, the government could crack down on godmen’s activities by changing the laws, or even by ensuring adequate enforcement of the flawed laws that currently exist. The government has not done so in part because of a corrupt relationship between godmen and politicians. The politicians provide the godmen with political favors, special privileges (including sweetheart deals for the godmen’s business ventures), patronage appointments, and, perhaps most importantly, the preservation of the system of legal loopholes and minimal oversight that enables the godmen to amass their fortunes. In return, godmen provide politicians with a number of services. These services include the same money laundering services that godmen provide to businessmen. But the godmen also provide politicians with three other services in exchange for the politicians’ complicity.

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Anticorruption Bibliography–July 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.

Godmen or Conmen? How India’s Religious Trust Laws Facilitate Money Laundering Empires

In the past two decades, India has witnessed the rise of so-called “godmen” (and “godwomen”), charismatic religious leaders who have amassed enormous fortunes. To take just a few of the most eye-popping examples: when the godman Sathya Sai Baba died in 2011, his holdings were valued at more than $9 billion. Another godman, Asaram Bapu, has a trust with an annual turnover of $49 million—which may seem like a lot, but pales in comparison to the over $1.6 billion in annual revenue earned by a company called Patanjali, controlled by yet another godman, Baba Ramdev. It would not be hard to supply many other examples. The godmen and their supporters will tell you that these empires are built on a combination of legitimate contributions and business savvy, and that the funds are used to support spiritual and charitable activities. But in fact there is ample evidence that the fortunes of these supposedly religious figures are tainted by extensive corruptiontax evasion, and money laundering.

One of the most common functions that godmen perform in the illicit economy is the conversion of so-called “black money” (unaccounted off-book money, often from illegal sources) into “white money” (or goods or services), in exchange for a hefty fee. Godmen are able to get away with this due to unfortunate features of India’s religious trust laws, which are opaque and riddled with loopholes, and leave religious trusts largely unchecked and unsupervised. Here’s how some of the godmen’s illicit schemes work:

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Guest Post: The Impending Reckoning on the U.S. Government’s Expansive Theory of Extraterritorial FCPA Liability

Today’s guest post is from Roxie Larin, a lawyer who previously served as Senior Legal Counsel for HSBC Holdings and is now an independent researcher and consultant on corruption, compliance, and white collar crime issues.

The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is a powerful tool that the U.S. government has wielded to combat overseas bribery—not just bribery committed by U.S. citizens or firms, but also bribery committed by foreign nationals outside of U.S. territory. (The FCPA also applies to any individual, including a non-U.S. person or firm, who participates in an FCPA violation while in the United States, but this territorial jurisdiction is standard and noncontroversial.) The FCPA, unlike many other U.S. statutes, does not require a nexus of the alleged crime to the United States so long as certain other criteria are satisfied. For one thing, the statute applies to companies, including foreign companies, that issue securities in the U.S. In addition, the FCPA covers non-U.S. individuals or companies that act as an employee, officer, director, or agent of an entity that is itself covered by the FCPA (either a U.S. domestic concern or a foreign issuer of U.S. securities), even if all of the relevant conduct takes place outside U.S. territory.

In pursuing FCPA cases against non-U.S. entities for FCPA violations committed wholly outside U.S. territory, the agencies that enforce the FCPA—the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)—have pushed the boundaries of this latter jurisdictional provision. They have done so in part by stretching to its limits (and perhaps beyond) what it means to act as an “agent” of a U.S. firm or issuer. (The FCPA provisions covering foreign “officers” and “employees” of issuers and domestic concerns are more straightforward, but also more rarely invoked. It’s rare for the government to have evidence implicating a corporate officer, and the employee designation doesn’t help unless the government is either able to dispense with notions of corporate separateness, given that foreign nationals are typically employed by a company organized under the laws of their local jurisdiction.) Until recently, the government’s expansive agency-based theories of extraterritorial jurisdiction had neither been tested nor fully articulated beyond a few generic paragraphs in the government’s FCPA Resource Guide. In many cases, foreign companies affiliated with an issuer or domestic concern have settled with the U.S. government before trial, presumably conceding jurisdiction on the theory that the foreign company acted as an agent of the issuer or domestic concern. (This concession may be in part because a guilty plea by a foreign affiliate is often a condition for leniency towards the U.S. company.) Hence, the government has not had to prove its jurisdiction over these foreign defendants.

But there was bound to be a reckoning over the U.S. government’s untested theories of extraterritorial FCPA jurisdiction, and the SEC and DOJ’s expansive theories are increasingly being tested in court cases brought against individuals who, sensibly, are more prone to litigating their freedom than companies are their capital. And it turns out that the U.S. government’s expansive conception of “agency” may be difficult to sustain in cases where the foreign national defendant—the supposed “agent” of the U.S. firm or issuer—is a low- or mid-level employee of a foreign affiliate, and even more difficult to sustain so where the domestic concern is only an affiliate and not the parent company. Continue reading

Suspended Nigerian Anticorruption Agency Head Rebuts Charges

As this blog has reported, Ibrahim Magu, the Acting Chair of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crime Commission, was detained July 7 by the state security service on vague charges involving corruption and misfeasance in office.  Since then, in what would appear to be an orchestrated campaign to discredit him, the Nigerian press has been awash with allegations of Magu’s wrongdoing.  They range from a claim that he secretly owns property in Dubai to charges he has embezzled millions from the Commission to an assertion he has paid off Nigeria’s sitting Vice President.

A point-by-point rebuttal of the allegations, issued by Mr. Magu’s counsel Wahab Shittu, is below.  An interview with Mr. Shittu on the public affairs program “Law Weekly,” is here, and a discussion of the issues raised by Magu’s treatment and their implications for Nigeria’s fight against corruption is here.

Many Nigerians fear that the real reason Magu was detained and subsequently suspended from office is that he has been far too effective a corruption hunter (examples here and here). Let’s hope the Presidentially appointed panel investigating Magu acts promptly, fairly, and decisively.  Nigeria needs an strong, effective Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to fulfill President Buhari’s pledge to fight corruption.

THE CHAIRMAN                                                                                                                               The Presidential Investigation Committee on The Alleged Mismanagement Of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)                                                                               Federal Government Recovered Assets and Finances From May 2015 to May 2020.

Attention: Hon Justice Isa Ayo Salami (Rtd)

Gentlemen:

PUBLICATIONS PREJUDICIAL TO THE PROCEEDINGS OF THIS HONOURABLE PANEL Continue reading

Countering Corruption in the Energy Sector: After Initial Missteps, Tanzania Shows the Way

The effects of corruption can be felt long after the incidents take place. There’s no better illustration of this than the history of Tanzania’s energy sector. In 1992, the Government of Tanzania was facing an energy crisis, and was in discussions with a Canadian company to develop its natural gas fields with funding from the World Bank. But then, the Tanzanian government received an unsolicited proposal from a Malaysian company, which offered to partner with a local Tanzanian firm to build and operate an emergency diesel-fueled power plant. The government abandoned its discussions with the Canadian company and, in 1995, signed a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with Independent Power Tanzania Limited (IPTL), a joint venture entity formed by these Malaysian and Tanzanian private interests. By 1995, however, the energy crisis had already passed, and it was not at all clear that this PPA was in the government’s interest. In fact, Tanzania’s principal energy regulation agency, the Ministry of Energy and Minerals (MEM), consistently opposed the deal. Yet parties with significant ownership interests in IPTL managed to get the PPA through, in part by bribing senior officials and politicians.

The deal was a disaster, one that had a substantial negative impact on Tanzania’s energy sector for close to two decades. (The initial corrupt deal, together with multiple other improprieties, significantly undermined the financial stability of Tanzania’s energy sector, resulting in lower investment, substantial delays in the construction of more efficient power plants, higher energy costs for consumers, and inadequate expansion of electrification into rural communities.) But, without minimizing the seriousness of the mistakes that were made or the costs that resulted from this corrupt deal, ultimately Tanzania’s efforts over the last decade to hold the corrupt actors accountable and to overhaul its regulatory system provide a roadmap for how countries that have suffered from this sort of corruption, in the energy sector and elsewhere, can respond. Continue reading

New Podcast, Featuring Franz von Weizsäcker and Niklas Kossow

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 Franz von Weizsäcker (from the German Agency for International Development (GIZ)) and Niklas Kossow (form the Hertie School of Governance) about how new technologies, particular distributed ledger technology like Blockchain, can be used to curb corruption. Franz and Niklas first describe how they became interested in this topic and then, after providing a basic introduction to how distributed ledger technology works, they discuss both the opportunities and the challenges associated with deploying these new technologies to curb corruption.

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.

Two Legal Changes Which Would Bolster Israel’s Protection of Whistleblowers

Like many other jurisdictions around the world, Israel has long recognized the value of whistleblowers who report and expose illegal acts in their workplaces. Without such whistleblowers, it is almost certain that Israeli citizens and law enforcement would never have learned, for example, about alleged corruption in the Israel Tax Authority, municipalities, Israel Aerospace Industries, the Ministry of Transport and Road Safety, and others. In order to encourage more whistleblowers to come forward, Israel has developed several legal instruments, the strongest and most central being the Protection of Workers (Exposure of Offenses and of Harm to Integrity or to Proper Administration) Law (PoWL) (see here and here). The PoWL, originally enacted in 1997 and amended three times since then, civilly and criminally forbids employers from retaliating against employees for whistleblowing, and establishes an employee-friendly mechanism for the victims of such retaliation to seek damages. These cases are heard by Israel’s specialized Labor Courts. In addition to awarding compensatory damages, the courts are also authorized to order employers to pay exemplary (that is, punitive) damages, and may also invalidate the whistleblower-plaintiff’s dismissal, or order that the whistleblower be moved to “another appropriate position” in the workplace.

While at first glance the PoWL seems to offer strong protections for whistleblowers, the PoWL suffers from two major weaknesses that significantly compromise its effectiveness. These problems must be addressed if the PoWL is to provide whistleblowers with adequate protections against retaliation: Continue reading

FIFA Can and Should Do More To Crack Down on Corruption in International Soccer

Just over one year ago, in June 2019, Ahmad Ahmad, the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and a Vice President of FIFA (international soccer’s governing body), who had long been dogged by reports of corruption, was detained by French police at a luxury hotel in Paris. Eight months later, in February 2020, the accounting firm PwC released an audit of CAF’s finances, documenting scores of financial irregularities by Ahmad and his colleagues, including an alleged kickback scheme involving a company run by a friend of Ahmad that did business with CAF.

CAF is just the latest in a long line of international soccer organizations beset by corruption scandals. Corruption in international soccer, long the subject of rumor and speculation, first made mainstream headlines back in 2015, when the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed a series of indictments against officials in FIFA and the regional soccer federations for North and South American (CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, respectively). Those indictments—and the resulting public outcry—forced FIFA, CONCACAF, and CONMEBOL to adopt a series of structural anticorruption measures, such as publicizing financial statements and creating independent audit committees.

Unfortunately, those reforms are not enough. The alleged corruption by Ahmad and his CAF colleagues is not anomalous, but rather symptomatic of two important factors that will continue to contribute to corruption in international soccer, notwithstanding the reforms implemented by FIFA and a few other federations in the aftermath of the 2015 indictments.

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