Sometimes Motives Don’t Matter: The Establishment’s Impulse to Protect (Allegedly) Corrupt Politicians Can Create Opportunities for Criminal Justice Reform

Since 2016, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been investigated for a number of corruption allegations (see here and here). In apparent response, David Amsalem, a member of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) from Netanyahu’s Likud Party, has proposed several bills which, if enacted, would help to protect the Prime Minister from these investigations (see here and here). Most recently, in June 2018 Amsalem presented a bill that would change Israel’s system of criminal appeals. Currently, the prosecution can appeal criminal verdicts, including acquittals; according to Amsalem’s so-called Appeal Bill, such appeals would require an appellate court’s permission, and this permission could only be given under special circumstances, and only for crimes punishable by ten or more years in prison. Amsalem, who denied that the Appeal Bill has anything to do with the investigations of Netanyahu, claimed that he proposed this bill because “[a] moral state doesn’t have to persecute a citizen who has received a sentence too light for its taste.” However, opposition Knesset members and commentators – many of whom usually support defendant-protective reforms to criminal procedure – have harshly attacked the Appeal Bill. The critics’ main (sometimes only) argument against the Appeal Bill has been that its purpose is to prevent the prosecution from appealing a possible acquittal of Netanyahu. As Tamar Zandberg, Chair of the opposition Meretz Party put it, “[t]his [government] coalition’s obsessive preoccupation with the legal authorities to protect a prime minister immersed in investigations is a mark of Cain for Israeli democracy.”

The hostility to bills that appear to be devised specifically to protect politicians from corruption prosecutions is definitely understandable, and the wide opposition in Israel to the Appeal Bill is therefore a natural reaction. Nevertheless, this impulse should be overcome when considering bills proposing criminal justice reforms with general application, and in particular bills strengthening individual rights in the criminal process. I do not claim that the Appeal Bill should be enacted into law, and I acknowledge that there may be some legitimate reasons to oppose limitations on prosecutorial appeals. However, generally speaking, we should not refrain from supporting criminal justice reforms just because their initiators may have had bad motives. Instead, every proposal of systemic reform should be considered on its merits, and, if found justified, be enthusiastically supported, despite its tainted origin. Continue reading

Guest Post: The US Needs To Show More Respect for Foreign Prosecutions

GAB is pleased to welcome back Frederick Davis, a lawyer in the Paris office of Debevoise & Plimpton, who contributes the following guest post:

The principle that the state may not criminally prosecute the same defendant twice for the same conduct—known in most of the world as ne bis in idem (“not twice for the same thing”), and known in the United States as the prohibition on “double jeopardy”—is well-settled and uncontroversial, at least in Western democracies. Much more controversial is whether that principle protects a defendant prosecuted by one country from prosecution by a different country for the same (or closely related) conduct. This question is of particular importance in the context of transnational bribery, where the same conduct might violate the criminal laws of multiple governments. As I discussed in my last post, in Europe, a mix of domestic legislation, international treaties, and court decisions have established an international version of the ne bis in idem principle, providing companies with a reasonable assurance that if they are prosecuted in one European country, they are shielded from further prosecution in another. In contrast, in the United States the prohibition on double jeopardy has been consistently interpreted to prohibit only multiple prosecutions by the same sovereign. US laws thus offer no protection against re-prosecution in the United States after a prosecution abroad.

The power of US prosecutors to go after companies that have already been prosecuted in other countries is enhanced by other powers that European prosecutors can only dream about. As noted in an earlier post, a US prosecutor can pursue a corporation when anyone within that corporation can be shown to have committed a crime, giving the prosecutor considerable leverage. US prosecutors also have finely tuned procedural mechanisms, such as deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) and non-prosecution agreements (NPAs), that are only tentatively being explored in other countries, such as the United Kingdom and France. The DOJ regularly asserts aggressive notions of its territorial powers, claiming, for example, that the use of dollars as the currency of an illegal transaction may subject the participants to US prosecution. US prosecutors have essentially unreviewable discretion their investigative decisions, because unlike many countries in Europe, criminal investigations (and, crucially, the decision to charge) are not supervised or reviewed by judges, as the DC Circuit has recently held.

Taken together, these circumstances risk causing two problems: Continue reading

Guest Post: Does International Law Require an International Double Jeopardy Bar?

GAB is pleased to welcome back Frederick Davis, a lawyer in the Paris office of Debevoise & Plimpton, who contributes the following guest post:

Most countries prohibit multiple prosecutions for the same acts or offenses. This is known in the United States as the prohibition against “double jeopardy”; in Europe and elsewhere the principle is known as ne bis in idem. But what happens if a person or company is pursued in more than one country? This question is particularly relevant to the fight against foreign bribery, where the same act will often offend the criminal laws of multiple countries. The OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, adopted in 1997, clearly anticipated the possibility of multi-state prosecutions, but provided in Article 4.3 only that the relevant authorities should “consult with a view to determining the most appropriate jurisdiction for prosecution,” a provision that has been consistently interpreted as precatory, not providing an individual right against double prosecution.

The law in the United States provides no protection against duplicate prosecution by a different sovereign. The situation is more complex in Europe. In some countries, such as France, domestic legislation limits a prosecutor’s power to pursue a person or entity already the object of a prosecution in another country, but only if the exercise of French jurisdiction is “extraterritorial” (that is, where no constitutive act of the alleged crime took place on French territory, but the prosecution based on some other factor, such as the French nationality of the accused or the victim).  Within Europe, a series of overlapping treaties—Protocol Number 7 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (CPHRFF), adopted in 1984 by the Council of Europe and signed by most but not all of its members; Article 54 of the Convention to Implement the Schengen Agreement (CISA), adopted in 1990; and Article 50 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (CFR) adopted in 2009—all contain ne bis in idem provisions, though they are not identical. (The CISA provision, for example, protects against re-prosecution based on the same “acts,” while the CFR and CPHRFF protect against multiple prosecutions for the same “offense.”)  The CISA provision has been expansively interpreted by the European Court of Justice, which has noted that CISA mandates a “mutual trust” in the criminal justice systems of other signatory countries, and respect for their decisions “even when the outcome would be different if [the second country’s] own national law were applied.”

Lurking behind these and other developments in Europe is the possibility that protection against multiple prosecutions may one day be viewed as right, grounded in international treaty obligations, that is cognizable under domestic constitutions. No court has yet so ruled, but there are sufficient intimations of such a possibility in some French decisions, for example, that the issue is frequently raised there. Continue reading

Why International Double Jeopardy Is a Bad Idea

In a recent post, I argued that U.S. authorities investigating British pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline (“GSK”) should consider criminally prosecuting GSK but partially offsetting any attendant penalty in light of the $490 million fine already imposed by China. This option is only available to the DOJ, though, because it stands on one side of a crucial divide in the global anticorruption regime: the U.S. — unlike Canada, the U.K., and the European Union — does not recognize an international variant of ne bis in idem (“not twice for the same thing”) (also known as “international double jeopardy”).

Recognizing an international double jeopardy bar can have a dramatic impact on a country’s capacity to combat international corruption. For countries like the U.K., being second-in-line to target an instance of transnational bribery often means not being able to prosecute the conduct at all. (For example, in 2011, the U.K. had to forego criminal sanctions against DePuy International because the U.S. had already prosecuted the British subsidiary.) In recent years, though, a spike in the number of parallel and successive international prosecutions has inspired a small but growing chorus of commentators calling for countries like the U.S. to formally embrace international double jeopardy.

To these commentators’ credit, many of their arguments sound in basic notions of fairness: you shouldn’t punish someone twice for the same crime. But before we jump on the double jeopardy bandwagon, I want to spend a few minutes explaining why, when it comes to the global fight against transnational bribery, double jeopardy probably isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Continue reading

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

Federico Morgenstern (, 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