Guest Post: Is UNCAC Article 35 a “Dead Letter” in the United States?

Today’s Guest Post is by Craig R. Arndt, an international lawyer living in Bangkok. In the course of a long career, he advised multinational clients on a range of corruption-related matters and has represented those injured by corruption in actions to recover damages.

The drafters of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption recognized that corruption was a transnational disease. And that accordingly, no country could fight it on its own. Hence, in its very first article the Convention makes it clear that states ratifying it are obliged to “promote, facilitate, and support international cooperation and technical assistance in the prevention of and fight against corruption.”  

Article 35 of the Convention sets forth one of the ways states are required to work together to curb cooperation. It provides that each party must “ensure that entities or persons who have suffered damage as a result of an act of corruption have the right to initiate legal proceedings against those responsible . . . to obtain compensation.”

Rick has documented the sorry state of civil recoveries by bribery victims in transnational cases (here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). That state is now even sorrier thanks to two recent decisions by American federal courts of appeal. In the words of one commentator, the two “gut” article 35.

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Social Damages for Corruption: Examples Please

Faithful readers know that for a StAR/UNODC project I am searching for cases where corruption victims were compensated for their losses.  One area where I desperately need assistance is in locating awards for social damages. 

Recovery for social damage was pioneered by Costa Rican jurists.  Article 38 of the Costa Rican penal code gives the Procuraduría General de la República the power to recover damages for acts that affect diffuse or collective interests. Termed “social damages,” the PGR web site lists five corruption cases where over $41 million in social damages have been collected.  The cases have generated learned commentary both in Costa Rica (examples here and here) and in other Latin American states (here and here). Likely because I read Spanish poorly and slowly, beyond the Costa Rican ones, I can find no case where social damages for corruption have been awarded.  Help from readers with examples or leads on where I might find examples is solicited.

For the uninitiated, social damages are compensation paid to redress harm to the welfare of a community. A community’s welfare is the combination of economic and non-economic conditions that together produce a sense of satisfaction, happiness, health, and so forth. To me, it seems to parallel Amartya Sen’s argument that GDP alone is not a sufficient measure of a nation’s well-being though I have yet to see the link made.

Thanks again to readers who responded to my earlier queries.  As with those, submissions in any language Google Translate reads welcome.

Civil Damage Actions for Corruption: Possibilities Offered by the Mozambican Hidden Debt Scandal

The April 2016 disclosure that Mozambican officials accepted large bribes to secretly guarantee hundreds of millions of dollars in loans wreaked enormous damage on the nation’s economy and its citizens. The “hidden debt” scandal caused economic growth to plummet and donors to freeze funding, forcing the government to make deep cuts in public spending (media accounts here, here, here, and here; selected GAB posts here, here, and here).

The Mozambique government has brought a criminal action against a number of the alleged perpetrators in its own court (Mozambique indictment) and filed a civil suit for damages against others in the London High Court (Mozambique complaint).  So far, though, no citizen has filed an action for the harm hidden debt scandal caused them.

In a recent paper, “Civil Suits for Damages by Mozambicans Harmed by the Hidden Debt Scandal,” I consider who in Mozambique might be able to bring a damage action, for what and where, and the additional legal and factual research required before one or more more suits are filed. Comments welcome.

Private Law Suits for Corruption:  Am I Missing Something?

As explained in earlier posts (here and here), I am working with the Open Society Justice Initiative on a project to examine how civil society can prompt more corruption-related litigation  — either by stimulating criminal prosecutions or filing civil suits itself.

One area that remains a puzzle is why businesses are not filing more civil suits for damages caused by bribery.  At common law, if a merchant could show it lost a customer to a bribe-payer, it could sue the briber for tortuous interference with contractual relations and the bribe-taking employee for breach of fiduciary duty.  A merchant that discovered it had paid higher prices or bought goods of a lesser quality because the seller had bribed one of its employees likewise had an action for damages, against the employee for breach of fiduciary duty and for fraud against the bribe-payer.  The Civil Law Consequences of Corruption, a 2009 volume edited by Professor Olaf Myer, describes similar doctrines that corruption victims in countries governed by the civil law can invoke to recover damages.  Moreover, regardless of legal heritage, parties to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption are required by article 35 —

“to ensure that entities or persons who have suffered damage as a result of an act of corruption have the right to initiate legal proceedings against those responsible for that damage in order to obtain compensation.”

Am I missing something?  Or is there only one country where businesses that are victims of corruption are heeding the invitation to sue for damages?  And if so, why is this case?  Why aren’t businesses in other nations besides this one seeking compensation for the losses bribe-paying has caused them? Continue reading

Encouraging More Corruption-Related Litigation?

On June 28 the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict and the Open Society Foundations’ Justice Initiative will, with the help of this writer, host a one-day conference at the Said Business School entitled Legal Remedies for Corruption to discuss ways civil society can stimulate corruption-related litigation – either by pressuring prosecutors to file more criminal cases or by bringing their own civil actions for damages.

The question mark in the title is for American readers who might be forgiven for asking why such a conference is necessary.  Isn’t there enough litigation already? The U.S. Department of Justice and Securities & Exchange Commission continue to vigorously enforce the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, while the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section continues to ferret out corrupt federal, state, and local officials.  In 2012, the last year for which data is available, the section charged more than 1,000 individuals with accepting bribes, criminal conflict of interest, and other corruption offenses. And private parties in the U.S. have also been willing to sue alleged bribe payers, with suits brought by a range of injured parties including competitors, suppliers, partners, shareholders, and employee-whistleblowers.  Even foreign governments have taken advantage of American law’s broad standing rules and generous theories of damages: One alleged bribe payer recently paid a company owned by the Government of Bahrain $85 million to settle a claim it had harmed the company by bribing one of its employees to secure a contract, while the government of Trinidad has brought an action under Florida’s version of the Racketeer and Corrupt Organizations Act against the companies that allegedly rigged bids on an airport construction project in Port of Spain.

It turns out that while there is a great deal of litigation — public and private — over bribery allegations in the United States, this is much less true in most of the rest of the world. Continue reading