The U.K. Must Legislate to Combat Money Laundering in Its Universities

Parents from developing countries have long sought to provide their children with a world-class university education in wealthy Western countries, such as the US and the UK. There is nothing inherently wrong with this—indeed, universities ought to take pride in their ability to provide an elite education to talented young people from around the world. There is, however, a dark side. In 2021, media reports revealed that nearly fifty UK universities had accepted upwards of £52 million in direct cash payments for tuition and fees from students hailing from countries known to be “high risk” for money laundering—most notably the West African countries of Ghana and Nigeria. A Carnegie Endowment Report on this topic observed that although “[t]he overwhelming majority of West African students in the United Kingdom pose little or no corruption risk, … many West African [politically exposed persons (PEPs)] appear to be using unexplained wealth to pay for UK school and university fees.” Indeed, many of West Africa’s nouveau riche made their money through illicit channels, and they may view an elite UK education for their children as a way to launder their reputations as well as their wealth. As Matthew Page, the author of the Carnegie Report, explained, any university that accepts tuition and fee payments in cash—especially from PEPs in countries with high corruption risk—is essentially “putting out a welcome mat for the world’s kleptocrats and money launderers.”

Although most UK universities acknowledge that they have basic anti-money laundering (AML) responsibilities under Sections 327 and 329 of the 2002 Proceeds of Crime Act, universities are not clearly covered as “regulated entities” under the UK’s Money Laundering Regulations. And while some universities have responded to recent high-profile scandals and government warnings by adding basic AML provisions to their fee-collection and admissions policies, this is not the sort of problem that is likely to be solved through unilateral action on the part of universities. The incentives to turn a blind eye to the provenance of tuition and fees from international students—which many UK universities have come to rely on as a revenue stream—are simply too strong. (It’s worth noting here that international students typically pay more than three times the fees paid by students from the UK or the European Union, and many UK universities encourage advance cash payments by offering international students discounts of 20-30% if they can pay their fees in advance.) Solving this problem will therefore require the UK to amend its AML legislation to address the particular vulnerabilities in the university sector. Three such reforms would be particularly prudent: Continue reading

For Goodness Sakes, Buy this Man a Cup of Coffee!

If you don’t know whom this post’s headline is talking about, you don’t know who Ray Todd is.  And if you don’t know who Ray Todd is, you don’t know about the eponymously named raytodd.blog.  And if you don’t know about the blog, you don’t know about what I think is the single best aggregator of news and information on corruption, money laundering, economic sanctions, and related topics. 

From a blurb flagging FATF’s recent evaluation of Albania’s money laundering regime to a note on GAB contributor Frederick Davis’ important new Columbia Journal of Transnational Law article “Judicial Review of Deferred Prosecution Agreements: A Comparative Study,” to a link to an English language summary of the just released 2021 annual report of the French Anticorruption Agency, you are missing out. On a lot. Ray’s blog is indispensable source of news for those in the anticorruption community.

All he asks in return is that readers occasionally make a small contribution.  Enough to buy him a coffee. Given the blog’s value added, he deserves much more.  But hey readers, how about starting by financing his morning java?    

Anticorruption Bibliography–June 2022 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. Additionally, the bibliography is available in more user-friendly, searchable form at Global Integrity’s Anti-Corruption Corpus website. As always, I welcome suggestions for other sources that are not yet included, including any papers GAB readers have written.

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

Corruption’s Queer History: Stonewall’s Seedy Underside

A little after midnight on June 28, 1969, New York City police officers raided the Stonewall Inn, a seedy bar in Greenwich Village known for catering to a mostly LGBTQ crowd. Such raids were not uncommon—in fact, the Stonewall Inn had already been raided just four days prior to that now historic evening. But for some reason, that particular raid on that particular night had touched off violent clashes between police and Stonewall’s patrons, becoming a watershed moment for the LGBTQ civil rights movement in the United States. Indeed, the Stonewall Inn is now a national monument, and the anniversary of Stonewall is commemorated every year with Pride parades around the world.

In the days following the riots, however, the Stonewall Inn was in utter disarray: graffiti sprawled on its boarded-up windows read: “GAY PROHIBITION CORRUPT$ COP$ / FEED$ MAFIA.” That brief and blunt statement captures an important truth about Stonewall, one that is important for understanding both the historical context of the Stonewall uprising, as well as the intersection between anti-LGBTQ discrimination and corruption that persists today: The riots weren’t only about police discrimination—organized crime and corruption also played a fundamental role.

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U.S. States Have Failed to Address Charter School Corruption. It’s Time for Federal Intervention.

In the United States, charter schools are publicly-funded, tuition-free institutions that operate largely independent from the traditional public school system. Charter schools are established through a contract, or charter, between the school and an “authorizer,” which is the school district, state education agency, or other entity that a state has sanctioned to approve these charters. Once approved, charter schools do not have to follow the same regulations as traditional public schools but instead are required to operate under the terms and academic standards set by their authorizing contract.

Proponents tout charter schools’ autonomy and flexibility: free from burdensome education laws and local regulations, these schools can be innovative in their curricula and management, and can compete with one another and with traditional public schools in the education “market.” Parents will then have the opportunity to “vote with their feet,” and they—along with the public funding designated for their children—will flow into better schools, leaving the poorly performing charter schools to shut down.

Or so the argument goes. In reality, thanks to rampant corruption that has come to plague the charter school industry, this public funding often flows not into the best schools but rather into the pockets of dubious school officials and their affiliates. There have been numerous charter school corruption scandals: self-dealing real estate leases, exorbitant salaries for school executives, and kickbacks from inflated purchases of school equipment and supplies, to name a few.

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Antibribery Policy: A Checklist

That a law against bribery is the keystone of any serious fight against corruption goes without saying. What isn’t said is that an antibribery law is only the keystone. That just as an arch consists of more than its center stone, a robust, effective antibribery policy takes more than a law criminalizing bribery.  Below is my checklist of what else is required. Reader comments solicited.

My list starts with a careful review of the antibribery law itself. For as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes reported in 2017, many nations’ law have gaps that make it easy for bribe takers and payers to maneuver around it unscathed; others contain ambiguities that leave it to the courts to say what is and isn’t a bribe.

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New Podcast Episode, Featuring Ray Fisman

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this episode, I had the opportunity to interview Boston University Professor Ray Fisman, one of the world’s foremost economists working on corruption and related topics. In our conversation, Professor Fisman and I cover a range of topics related to his research, including the impact of corruption on economic development, the distinctions among different kinds of corruption (and their different effects), the human costs of corruption, and the hidden influence of political connections. Professor Fisman also discusses the conversations that inspired and shaped his research agenda, and the advice that he would offer up-and-coming scholars interested in exploring this set of topics. 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 Financial Weapon: Expanding Magnitsky Sanctions to Attack Corruption

Economic sanctions targeted at individual wrongdoers can be a potent weapon in the fight against global corruption. The United States’ 2016 Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (GMA) authorizes the President to impose targeted sanctions on corrupt foreign officials and their associates. And the GMA has had successes in deterring corruption: As earlier posts on this blog have highlighted, the GMA has prompted countries to strengthen their anticorruption laws and has prompted businesses to cut ties with corrupt individuals. Yet despite these successes, Magnitsky sanctions remain a relatively underused anticorruption tool. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) has only sanctioned around 200 people as part of its Magnitsky programs, and most of these individuals have been sanctioned for human rights abuses rather than corruption per se.

GMA sanctions can and should be scaled up by an order of magnitude, with a greater focus on targeting corrupt actors. The U.S. should be imposing GMA sanctions on several thousand people, not just a couple hundred. As the Biden Administration has recognized, global corruption increasingly threatens national and international security. In light of this, the Administration should use the GMA to impose sanctions on not only the most egregious of kleptocrats but those who engage in more modest—but still significant—forms of corruption. Continue reading

“Municipal Takeovers”: Failing to Address Corruption While Threatening Democratic Self-Government 

The town of Mason is a small, majority-Black community in the State of Tennessee. For two decades, Mason’s municipal government has been afflicted with serious corruption and financial mismanagement, leading to the resignation a few years ago of almost all of Mason’s elected leadership following allegations of fraud and embezzlement. In the wake of these persistent problems, this past February the Tennessee State Comptroller, Jason Mumpower, sent a dramatic request to every property owner in Mason: vote to dissolve your town (in which case Mason would be absorbed into majority-White Tipton County, thus ending Mason’s 153 years of independent governance), or else the state government will exercise its legal authority to step in and take financial control of Mason’s town government—which would likely lead to drastic layoffs and cuts to municipal benefits. (Mumpower’s ultimatum may well have been influenced not only by Mason’s history of municipal corruption, but also by the fact that Ford Motors is set to open up a massive manufacturing plant nearby, which will bring in significant tax revenue that Mumpower claimed Mason’s town government can’t handle responsibly.)

The situation in Mason may seem extraordinary, but it is far from unique. Roughly twenty U.S. states have laws that permit the state government to take over municipal governments, although the specifics of the laws differ. (Municipal takeovers are often preceded, as in Mason, by presenting the municipality with the option to dissolve and be absorbed into the surrounding county.) Though municipal takeovers come in various forms, they generally entail the appointment of an “intervenor,” such as a state official, emergency manager, or financial control board. In some states, the intervenor’s powers are limited to financial oversight and technical assistance, but in other states (including Tennessee), the intervenor can take steps as radical as entirely dissolving a locality.

Municipal takeovers are, unsurprisingly, controversial. While pursuing a takeover is an extreme step, one can understand why some people might find it warranted, especially when corruption is so deeply embedded in a municipality that it seems inconceivable that the local government can clean itself up. But this view is misguided, at least in the U.S. context. (Municipal dissolution has been deployed and endorsed by some anticorruption advocates in other countries, such as Italy. While some of my arguments may apply in other contexts, this post focuses on the United States.) First, the costs of municipal takeovers are substantial and are often underestimated. Second, the purported benefits of municipal takeovers—at least with respect to addressing the underlying corruption and misgovernance problems in a given community—rarely materialize.

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