Verdicts and Judicial Strength: Why Convictions Should Not Be the Focus of Anticorruption Efforts

As I discussed in my last post, effective anticorruption enforcement requires a judicial system with the capacity and will to hold powerful defendants criminally liable for their malfeasance. Understandably, then, judicial institutions, especially in developing countries, are often written off as weak or corrupt if they are unable to convict and sentence high-profile corruption defendants. Acquittals can seem synonymous with impunity, regardless of the justifications put forth by the court. On this measure, many domestic judiciaries charged with high-profile cases fail. For example, almost all of the central figures ousted in the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt were ultimately acquitted of all corruption-related charges. Additional examples of high-profile corruption acquittals or dismissals abound around the world (see here, here, here, here, and here).

To be sure, the inability of many judiciaries to hold high-profile corruption defendants criminally accountable is often indicative of underlying problems in the court system, and these problems must be addressed. At the same time, though, I worry that domestic and international constituencies sometimes put too much emphasis on individual verdicts, or overall conviction rates, as the measure of judicial effectiveness. While these indicators can provide important information, overemphasizing guilty verdicts in particular corruption cases, or overall conviction rates, could actually be counterproductive to anticorruption progress, for at least three reasons: Continue reading

Guest Post: Brazil Must Fight Corruption, But Preserve the Rule of Law

GAB is delighted to welcome back Mat Tromme, Project Lead & Senior Research Fellow at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, who (along with research assistant Domenico Vallario) contributes the following guest post:

Across Latin America, the past year has provided reasons for hope that the struggle against grand corruption and impunity is finally making progress. Prosecutors have gone after corrupt elites in Guatemala and Honduras, while political leaders in Mexico and Chile have also been under pressure for their links to corruption scandals. And in Brazil, the investigations into the corruption scandal at the state-owned oil giant Petrobras have led to charges against around 80 people, including high-ranking political figures like the speaker of the Lower Chamber and former President Collor de Mello, and a former treasurer of the ruling Worker’s Party.

The investigation into the Petrobras scandal is being led by Brazil’s Federal Police and by Public Ministry Prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol, under the watchful eye of Judge Sergio Moro. And Judge Moro’s tenacious attitude to pursuing graft stands in sharp contrast to a judicial system that has traditionally been slow and ineffective, especially in corruption cases: out of ten salient scandals between 1990 and 2010, 841 people were implicated, but only 55 were convicted. Yet Judge Moro’s approach may actually be emblematic of a broader shift in the Brazilian judiciary, as corruption cases that are tried in courts have been on the increase over the past few years.

On the face of it, these convictions should be welcomed as a sign that justice is meted out against the corrupt and that the judiciary is playing its part in tackling grand corruption. Yet some critics have raised legitimate concerns about the arguably overzealous approach the authorities (not only the legislature and the executive, but also the judiciary) have taken in tackling corruption, in light of rule of law and human rights commitments. Continue reading

EU Anticorruption Policy and Due Process: An Inconsistent Approach?

Advocates have been pushing for a European Union version of the Magnitsky Act for a number of years now (see, for example, here and here). Such legislation for targeted sanctions (including visa restrictions and asset freezes) against alleged human rights abusers in Russia would be much more powerful in Europe than it is in the U.S. Yet, despite support from some member states, proposals in the European Parliament have met with opposition. Much of the concern is, doubtless, geopolitical. Dependent upon Russia for oil, the EU is likely loath to instigate retaliation from its imposing neighbor (as the Magnitsky Act has). Yet, as a previous post on this blog has argued, the EU also objects to the US approach on more principled grounds: namely, the Magnitsky Act runs afoul of due process and presumption of innocence principles in the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. However, while the EU is busy debating what the right hand should do with respect to targeted sanctions, it may have ignored the left hand’s effect on due process in anticorruption enforcement, as in reflected other areas of EU efforts against graft.

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Guest Post: Targeted Sanctions and Corruption–Legal Obstacles to a Magnitsky Act for the EU

Anton Moiseienko, PhD candidate at the Criminal Justice Centre, Queen Mary University of London, contributes the following guest post:

So-called targeted sanctions—imposing travel restrictions on, or freezing the assets of, a select group of people—remain in vogue as an instrument of foreign policy and as a supplement to criminal justice in many areas, such as counterterrorism, and yet targeted sanctions have not been widely used in counteracting corruption. The United States, however, is a notable exception, with its Presidential Proclamation 7750, which authorizes the US Secretary of State to issue entry bans against corrupt foreign officials (subject to a caveat that such determinations must be informed by US national interests), and the Magnitsky Act of 2012, enacted by the US Congress in response to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer-turned-whistleblower, in a Moscow prison after he reported the embezzlement of US$230 million by high-ranked law enforcement officers. Strictly speaking, the Magnitsky Act is a human rights law rather than an anticorruption law. It authorizes the US President to blacklist (1) the individuals responsible for the prosecution and death of Mr. Magnitsky, and (2) those responsible for “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” if committed against the persons trying to expose the illegal activity of Russian officials or against human rights activists. Yet pervasive corruption is at the heart of Magnitsky’s case, as it appears that a ring of corrupt officials was complicit in his death.

The European reaction to the Magnitsky Act was ambivalent. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution in 2012 calling upon member states to deny entry to, and freeze the assets of, the individuals on the US Magnitsky List––but to little effect. In contrast, a report by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (CoE) deemed US-style sanctions to be “a means of last resort” and advised against them. But despite the lack of governmental action, the public debate in Europe is not over (see, for example, here and here). With EU sanctions against Russia expanding continuously, it may be time to revisit the European debate on whether the EU should draw up its own Magnitsky List, or perhaps adopt a more general policy on targeted anticorruption sanctions.

If the EU or its individual member states proceed with Magnitsky List-style sanctions, they will have to reckon with their human rights laws—including the EU Charger of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. The most important potential legal difficulties are as follows: Continue reading