Guest Post: The UK’s Compensation Principles in Overseas Corruption Cases–A New Standard for Aiding Victims of Corruption?

GAB is delighted to welcome back Susan Hawley, Policy Director at Corruption Watch, to contribute today’s guest post:

The issue of whether money from foreign bribery settlements should go back to the people of affected countries has generated a fair amount of heat over the years. Back in 2013, the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) asked whether countries whose people were most harmed by corrupt practices were being left out of the bargain in foreign bribery settlements. According to the StAR study, out of the $6 billion in monetary sanctions imposed for foreign bribery in 395 settlements between 1999 and 2012, only 3.3%, or $197 million, had been returned to the countries where the bribes were paid. Those statistics have provoked considerable controversy, as has the question whether the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) requires states parties to share money from foreign bribery settlements with affected countries. Yet the fact remains that when the huge fines paid by US and European companies for bribing officials in developing countries go into the treasuries of the US and Europe, while the people of those countries affected by that bribery get nothing, this creates a serious credibility and legitimacy problem for the international anticorruption regime.

For that reason, the UK enforcement bodies’ publication, this past June 1st, of joint principles to compensate overseas victims of economic crime is a welcome development, and provides another opportunity to think again about what is possible and what is desirable in terms of compensating the people of affected countries when companies get sanctioned for paying bribes. The UK Compensation Principles were first mooted and drafted at the 2016 London Anti-Corruption Summit; that Summit’s Joint Communique recognized that “compensation payments and financial settlements … can be an important method to support those who have suffered from corruption,” and led nine countries (though only four from the OECD) to commit to develop common principles for compensation payments to be made “safely, fairly and in a transparent manner to the countries affected.” The UK’s new principles are an effort to fulfill that Summit commitment. They commit the UK’s enforcement bodies to:

  • Consider compensation in all relevant cases;
  • Use whatever legal means to achieve it;
  • Work cross-government to identify victims, assess the case and obtain evidence for compensation, and identify a means by which compensation can be paid in a transparent, accountable and fair way that avoids risk of further corruption; and
  • Proactively engage where possible with law enforcement in affected states.

Interestingly, these principles have been in informal operation since late 2015, which helps shed some light on how these principles are likely to operate in practice. Continue reading

Compensating Corruption Victims: American Law on Bribery Damages

Parties to the UN Convention Against Corruption pledge in article 53 to “pay compensation or damages to another State Party that has been harmed” by an act of corruption, but nowhere does the convention say who it is that is harmed by corruption or how compensation is to be calculated.  In a submission to the 2015 meeting of convention parties, the UNCAC Coalition, an global network of civil society organizations, argued that the absence of guidance is “one of the main obstacles to the award of damages to victim countries” and urged the publication of “best practice examples with respect to the identification, quantification and reparation of the damage caused by corruption” as step in developing the needed guidance.

This writer recently summarized how American courts deal with compensation issues when the corrupt act is the payment of a bribe.  Written for the Open Society Foundations’ Justice Initiative, the paper explains that under both federal and state law individuals, businesses, and even foreign governments can recover damages for injuries sustained as a result of bribery and that with passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act the number of cases has exploded.  Not all claimants have been successful of course.  In some actions their damages were too remote (not proximately caused in legal language); in others claimants failed to show how the bribery injured them, and in some cases foreign governments were denied recovery because their officials were so deeply involved in the bribery scheme that the government did not qualify as a victim under U.S. law.  But other claimants have enjoyed significant success — realizing in some instances awards in the tens of millions of dollars.

Whether American law is a “best practice example” of the kind the UNCAC Coalition had in mind I don’t know.  But it is an example, and one, given the creativity of American lawyers (spurred by the chance for a lucrative fee), that provides those thinking about victim compensation for corruption a rich vein of case law to explore.

The paper is the fifth in a series of papers commissioned by the Open Society Justice Initiative on civil society and anticorruption litigation.  It follows earlier ones on standing by GAB editor-in-chief Matthew Stephenson, on civil society litigation in India by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy Director Arghya Sengupta, on private suits for defrauding government by Houston Law School Professor David Kwok, and private prosecution by Tamlyn Edmonds and David Jugnarain.


A Different Kind of Quid Pro Quo: Conditional Asset Return and Sharing Anti-Bribery Settlement Proceeds

In my last couple of posts, I’ve returned to a theme I’ve written about before: My skepticism about claims that the U.S. government either should (as a matter of policy) or must (under UNCAC or other legal obligations) share settlement proceeds in FCPA cases with the governments of the countries where the bribery took place. I’m also skeptical that there’s any obligation on the part of U.S. or other supply-side enforcers to use any of this settlement money to fund NGO-sponsored projects in (or for the benefit of) those countries.

Asset recovery, however, is different. When the U.S. (or some other country) identifies – at its own initiative or pursuant to the request of another government – assets held in the U.S. that have been stolen from a foreign government, my reading of the law (both conventional domestic legal principles and Chapter V of UNCAC) is that the U.S. has an unconditional legal obligation to return those assets to their rightful owner. At times, the U.S. has indicated that, although it has a general policy of returning stolen assets to the governments from which they were stolen, it does not view this as a legal obligation. Rather, the U.S. seems to want to leave open the option, in some cases, of attaching conditions to the return of the assets, or funneling them through NGOs or other bodies, rather than simply turning them over to the claimant government. I understand why the U.S. has taken this position: Returning assets stolen assets to a claimant government with a reputation for pervasive corruption—where it seems highly likely much of the money will be stolen again—seems awfully unappealing, and doubly so in those cases where the government officials who stole the money in the first place, or their family members and cronies, retain their power and influence in the claimant country. Hence the instinct to attach conditions to the return of the assets, or to use the money to fund NGOs rather than simply turn it over to the claimant government. The problem, though, is that I’m hard-pressed to come up with a legal basis (notwithstanding some valiant attempts) for doing anything other than handing over the money.

So, the situation as it stands looks something like this (and I acknowledge simplifying quite a bit to make things a tad neater than they actually are): On the one hand, many developing countries want wealthy countries like the U.S. to share foreign bribery settlement proceeds with the countries where the bribery took place, but for the most part the wealthy countries do not want to do this, and assert—correctly—that they are under no obligation to do this under UNCAC or any other legal instrument. On the other hand, many wealthy countries would like to retain the flexibility to attach conditions to asset return (or to use seized assets to fund NGO programs rather than turning the money over to the governments), but the claimant countries in the developing world assert—correctly—that there is a legal obligation (enshrined in UNCAC) to return stolen assets, without strings attached.

Framing the issue this way suggests a possible compromise. (In the interests of disclosure, I should say that this is not my original idea: It came up in a conversation I had recently with an analyst at an anticorruption NGO, but since I haven’t had the chance to clear it with him, I won’t name the person or organization here.) The trade would go like this: Continue reading

Victim-Compensation Arguments Cut Both Ways

In my last post, I imagined what a frustrated U.S. official might have to say about the ever-increasing drumbeat of demands for the United States to “return” (that is, transfer) the “proceeds of crime” (that is, the fines collected from corporate defendants in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) cases) to the “victim countries” (that is, the governments whose officials took the bribes that gave rise to the FCPA violations). My imaginary rant was deliberately over-the-top, intended to be provocative and to stir up some more honest debate on this topic by cutting through the circumspection and diplomatic niceties that usually accompany pushback against the “give the settlement money to the victim countries” position. In this post, I want to continue on the same general topic, and in the same provocateur’s spirit, by asking the following question:

When (or if) demand-side countries start collecting serious fines against bribe-taking public officials and/or bribe-paying companies, does the logic of compensating “victims” dictate that these countries transfer some of the money they recover to the United States?

At the risk of seeming totally bonkers, I’m going to assert that the answer might well be yes if one accepts the logic for making transfer payments in the other direction (from the U.S. government to the governments of the countries whose officials took the bribes) in FCPA cases. Here’s the argument: Continue reading

Guest Post: The Role of Compensation Systems in Promoting Anti-Bribery (Non-)Compliance

GAB is pleased to welcome back anti-bribery consultant Richard Bistrong, who contributes the following guest post:

These days, most sophisticated multinational firms, at least those that might be subject to liability under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or similar laws, have official anti-bribery compliance programs. But as many observers have rightly noted, while formal control systems are important, they have their limits: the formal rules in place, or what top-level management asserts when setting the “tone from the top,” may often differ from what actually happens on the ground. As I’ve emphasized my earlier posts on this blog, understanding what actually happens out in the field requires careful attention to the actual incentives of the people on the front lines: the regional managers, salespeople, and the like. And with respect to these individuals, many corporations that have seemingly robust anti-bribery programs, and whose C-Suite executives say all the right things about ethics and integrity and zero tolerance, are actually creating incentives that foster corruption. Here I want to focus on incentive plans for international sales, marketing, and business development teams. I have identifies three common features of the compensation system for salespeople may contribute substantially to bribery risk. Continue reading