A Tale of Two Regions: Anticorruption Trends in Southeast Asia and Latin America

OK, “best of times” and “worst of times” would be a gross exaggeration. But still, when I consider recent developments in the fight against corruption in Latin American and Southeast Asia, it seems that these two regions are moving in quite different directions. And the directions are a bit surprising, at least to me.

If you’d asked me two years ago (say, in the summer of 2014) which of these two regions provoked more optimism, I would have said Southeast Asia. After all, Southeast Asia was home to two jurisdictions with “model” anticorruption agencies (ACAs)—Singapore and Hong Kong—and other countries in the regions, including Malaysia and especially Indonesia, had established their own ACAs, which had developed good reputations for independence and effectiveness. Thailand and the Philippines were more of a mixed bag, with revelations of severe high-level corruption scandals (the rice pledging fiasco in Thailand and the pork barrel scam in the Philippines), but there were signs of progress in both of those countries too. More controversially, in Thailand the 2014 military coup was welcomed by many in the anticorruption community, who thought that the military would clean up the systemic corruption associated with the populist administrations of Thaksin Shinawatra and his successor (and sister) Yingluck Shinawatra—and then turn power back over to the civilian government, as the military had done in the past. And in the Philippines, public outrage at the brazenness of the pork barrel scam, stoked by social media, and public support for the Philippines’ increasingly aggressive ACA (the Office of the Ombudsman), was cause for hope that public opinion was finally turning more decisively against the pervasive mix of patronage and corruption that had long afflicted Philippine democracy. True, the region was still home to some of the countries were corruption remained pervasive and signs of progress were scant (such as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar), but overall, the region-wide story seemed fairly positive—especially compared to Latin America where, aside from the usual bright spots (Chile, Uruguay, and to a somewhat lesser extent Costa Rica), there seemed to be precious little for anticorruption advocates to celebrate.

But now, in the summer of 2016, things look quite a bit different. In Southeast Asia, the optimism I felt two years ago has turned to worry bordering on despair, while in Latin America, things are actually starting to look up, at least in some countries. I don’t want to over-generalize: Every country’s situation is unique, and too complicated to reduce to a simple better/worse assessment. I’m also well aware that “regional trends” are often artificial constructs with limited usefulness for serious analysis. But still, I thought it might be worthwhile to step back and compare these two regions, and explain why I’m so depressed about Southeast Asia and so cautiously optimistic about Latin America at the moment.

I’ll start with the sources of my Southeast Asian pessimism, highlighting the jurisdictions that have me most worried: Continue reading

Guest Post: The Other Face of Vulture Funds–Digging in the Right Pockets

Ignacio A. Boulin Victoria and Enrique Cadenas, the co-directors of the Center for Law and Development at Universidad Austral in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contribute the following guest post:

It looks like a boxing fight. On the one side, the so-called “Vulture Funds” (mainly the US hedge fund NML Capital, CEO’d by the famous—or infamous—Paul Singer) threaten to inflict serious damage over a whole country’s economy. On the other, Argentina’s government, headed by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, whose administration—like that of her predecessor and husband, Nestor Kirchner—has been dogged by serious allegations of corruption, and whose vice president is currently being prosecuted for corrupt practices. Both parties have made remarkable efforts to win the media battle through propaganda and lobbying, with President Kirchner accusing the Vulture Funds of being “economic terrorists,” and the Vulture Funds denouncing Argentina as “a model of unsoundness” that “refus[es] to pay its debts.” Whatever the international perception, the conflict with the Vulture Funds seems to be helping President Kirchner, whose standing in national polls has been rising during the standoff.

But—though this may sound perverse to many Argentine citizens—from an unconventional perspective it’s possible that the attack of the Vulture Funds may produce, at the end of the day, good consequences for Argentina. The reason has to do with how the Vulture Funds’ attack may expose pervasive high-level corruption, and deprive some corrupt leaders of the proceeds of that corruption. Continue reading

Guest Post: The Double Jeopardy Bar Should Not Apply When Acquittals Are Tainted By Corruption

Federico Morgenstern (fedemorg@gmail.com), Prosecretario in the Federal Criminal Chamber of Appeals in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributes the following guest post:

All around the world, a culture of impunity impedes the effective criminal prosecution of corruption cases, particularly of senior government officials and their close associates. Due to the interference of power political actors, judges and prosecutors often do not pursue these cases promptly or properly. Although there has been some attention – including on this blog – to concerns about prosecutors dropping or shelving cases, there is a closely related problem that is even more difficult, and that has received much less attention: fraudulently obtained acquittals, or contaminated absolutions.

Unfortunately, corruption cases in which powerful politicians are acquitted without a real and thorough investigation by independent prosecutors and judges are very common. And these corrupt acquittals are even more pernicious than prosecutorial decisions to shelve an investigation because the double jeopardy rule (also known as cosa juzgada or ne bis in idem) forbids the government to try the same defendant again on the same (or similar) charges following an acquittal. Thus, even following a change of government—which might lead prosecutors and judges to “strategically defect” against the corrupt old regime, or might simply produce a new set of the prosecutors and judges who are more willing to go after corrupt former officials—a prior acquittal would shield those corrupt actors from having to answer for their crimes.

Somewhat surprisingly, both the legal academy and the anticorruption community have largely ignored the double jeopardy doctrine’s implications for anticorruption efforts. But, as Guillermo Orce and I argue in our recent book, Cosa Juzgada Fraudulenta. Dos Ensayos Sobre la Llamada Cosa Juzgada Irrita (Abeledo-Perrot), there are compelling arguments for limiting the scope of the double jeopardy principle, in particular by allowing—under certain circumstances—the reopening of “contaminated” acquittals (cosa juzgada fraudulenta or cosa juzgada irrita): cases in which an acquittal is tainted by fraud, political interference, or clear disregard for the evidence. The core of the argument is as follows: Continue reading