Guest Post: Whistleblower Protection in Kosovo–An Unlikely Success Story of Civil Society Collective Action and International Support

Today’s guest post is from Nedim Hogic, a PhD candidate at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy, and Arolda Elbasani, Visiting Scholar at New York University. The research on which this post is based was sponsored by Kosovo Open Society Foundation.

In Kosovo, as in the rest of the Balkans region more generally, anticorruption initiatives and institutional solutions have typically been top-down efforts based on templates recommended by international actors and hastily approved by a circle of local political allies. Few of those international initiatives have proved successful, often because the new laws provided enough discretion for political interests to thwart effective implementation. Hence, Kosovo, like much of the rest of the Balkans, seems trapped in a continuous yet futile cycle of international-sponsored institutional- and capacity-building measures, which have not delivered.

The 2018 amendments to Kosovo’s law on the protection of whistleblowers suggests a more promising model of legislative drafting. The amended law stands out for its collaborative and open mode of drafting, involving various international, governmental, and civil society actors, a welcome contrast to the more prevalent pattern of top-down, and largely futile, approach to legal and institutional reform. Continue reading

Guest Post: Evaluating the Personal Privacy Objections to Public Beneficial Ownership Registries

Today’s guest post is from Adriana Edmeades-Jones and Tom Walker of The Engine Room:

The abuse of anonymous companies to facilitate corruption, tax evasion, and other sorts of criminal activity has prompted reformers to call for corporations and other legal entities to provide governments with accurate information on the true (or “beneficial”) human owners of these companies. Transparency advocates have argued that governments should not only compile such beneficial ownership registries, but should make them public.Public beneficial ownership registries, according to their proponents, would increase the efficiency of financial investigations, ease the due diligence burden on companies investigating supply chains and corporate counterparties, and enable media civil society to scrutinize more effectively who owns and controls what among the global corporate elite. Opponents have advanced multiple objections to creating public beneficial ownership registries, including questions about their accuracy and effectiveness, as well as concerns about the effect on individual privacy, and the associated risks that such public registries could facilitate “identity theft, cybercrime, and blackmail.”

How seriously should we take the “personal privacy” objection to public beneficial ownership registries? In a new report, OpenOwnership, The Engine Room, and the B Team propose a framework to evaluate this issue, borrowing from the structured analysis of international human rights law. Crucially, under international human rights law not every interference with personal privacy qualifies as a violation of an individual’s privacy rights. A violation only arises if the interference with privacy lacks a legitimate justification. Determining whether an interference with privacy is justified, in turn, entails addressing three questions: (1) Is the interference lawful (that is, consistent with generally-accepted standards governing personal information)? (2) Is the interference necessary to advance some legitimate aim? (3) Is the degree of interference proportionate to the legitimate end sought?

Application of these three criteria in turn suggests that an appropriately-designed public beneficial ownership registry would not violate individual privacy rights: Continue reading

Brussels v. Bucharest: The Kövesi Case and the Future of EU Anticorruption Policy

Last week Matthew suggested that the Romanian government’s fierce opposition to Ms. Laura Cordruta Kövesi’s candidacy to head the European Public Prosecutors’ Office is a good reason why she should be chosen.  Ms. Kövesi led Romania’s anticorruption agency, the Direcţia Naţională Anticorupţie (DNA), until fired last July for what many observers believe was her refusal to back-off prosecuting senior members of the ruling party.  That her own government, one of Europe’s more corrupt, so opposes her, Matthew argued, is a sign that it knows, and fears, how effective she would be as Europe’s chief prosecutor.

In today’s guest post, Alina Mungiu-Pippidi offers a different perspective  – on why Ms. Kövesi is a candidate for the position and her government’s opposition to her selection and goes on to explain how the controversy arises from the European Union’s ham-handed intervention into Romanian politics, an intervention that has set back the country’s fight against corruption.  Professor Mungiu-Pippidi spear-headed several widely-praised anticorruption movements in Romania before becoming director of the European Research Centre for Anticorruption and State-Building and Professor at Berlin’s Hertie School of Governance. She is the author most recently of The Quest for Good Governance: How Societies Build Control of Corruption. Cambridge University Press will soon release her Europe’s Burden: Promoting Good Governance across Borders.

The Western media obsessed over Laura Codruta’s Kövesi’s firing as chief of the Romanian anticorruption agency at the demand of the Romania’s Justice Minister. It is again obsessing about her now that she is the European Parliament’s candidate for the job of European Public Prosecutor (EPP). That institution was recently created at the instance of another Romanian, former Justice Minister Monica Macovei, currently an independent Member of European Parliament who, as Romanian Justice Minister, first appointed Ms. Kövesi. Having fired Ms. Kövesi, the Romanian government is now attacking her candidacy, publicizing allegations of misconduct while she ran the agency and calling for her to be questioned about them at precisely the time she is scheduled to appear before the European Parliament on her nomination.

Whether the European Union needs a new, union-wide public prosecution office is itself open to debate. Ms. Kövesi’s selection as one of three finalists to head the office is even more questionable.  It appears to be Europe’s way of taking revenge on the Romanian government for firing her.  Continue reading

The Romanian Government Opposes the Appointment of Laura Codruta Kovesi as European Public Prosecutor. That’s Why She Should Get the Job.

There’s so much bad news in the anticorruption world these days that it’s hard to keep up. But I’ve recently been reading up on the ongoing debates in Europe over the selection of the first European Public Prosecutor, and I think this issue deserves some discussion, and even more attention from the anticorruption community in Europe and around the world.

Here’s the quick background for those who aren’t familiar with this issue: Back in 2017, 20 EU Member States agreed to create a new institution called the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), headed by a European Public Prosecutor, with authority to investigate and prosecute (in national courts) offenses connected to the EU’s financial interests, such as fraud or embezzlement involving EU funds. (22 EU countries have now agreed to participate in the EPPO system.) The EPPO is scheduled to begin operations in late 2020 or early 2021, and the EU is in the process of selecting the first EPPO head. The three finalists are a Jean-Francois Bohnert of France, Andres Ritter of Germany, and Laura Corduta Kovesi from Romania. Ms. Kovesi had been considered a frontrunner, and still might secure the post, but her candidacy is under attack from her own government. Indeed, it seems that intense lobbying against her by the Romanian government is what led the Committee of Permanent Representatives in the European Union to back Bohnert for the job, though the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs voted to support Kovesi. The selection process is still ongoing, and it’s not clear when a final decision will be made. For those getting cold feet about Kovesi, though, it seems that the opposition of her home government is a significant reason.

In my view that’s not only wrong, but backwards. The Romanian government’s no-holds-barred, all-out attack on Kovesi is one of the best arguments for appointing her. I don’t know enough about the candidates to have a considered view of which of them, all else equal, would do the best job heading the EPPO, but assuming that they are all basically well-qualified, the Romanian ruling party’s panic over the prospect that Kovesi might get the job is exactly why she should be appointed, for two reasons:

  • First, the fact that government of one of the most corrupt countries in the EU—one with the greatest theft and misappropriation of EU funds—is terrified that Kovesi might get the job, but apparently fine with either of the other two choices, is strong evidence that she’ll be more effective. After all, if we were selecting the city police chief, and we found out that the local mafia boss strongly objected to candidate A, but was fine with candidates B and C, that seems like a point in candidate A’s favor, not a strike against her. (And if you think it’s unfair to compare the government of an EU member state to an organized crime family, well, read on.)
  • Second, the Romanian government is conducting a fairly blatant attempt to misuse its justice system in order to interfere with an EU decision process, in the context of a corrupt and increasingly illiberal ruling party. The EU is already struggling to deal with backsliding in Hungary and Poland, and it needs to show that it won’t be bullied or manipulated, and that if Member States want to be treated as good EU citizens, they need to comport with basic norms.

Now, given that I just made those statements with what sounds like great confidence, and the rest of this post may adopt a similarly confident tone, I should immediately add the caveat that I am not an expert on Romania, I’ve never been there, I don’t speak the language, and all I know about the situation, as the old saying goes, is what I read in the papers. So if you want to say I don’t know what I’m talking about, fair enough, you have a point. But I’ve been reading a lot about this, and what I’ve read seems both sufficiently scary, and sufficiently clear, to merit comment. Moreover, I think the Romanian government’s strategy relies in part on non-experts feeling like they don’t really understand what’s going on, so that it starts to feel like that, in the face of conflicting narratives (a sort of he said/she said), it’s best just to avoid controversy by supporting a “safe” choice for EPPO head. We’ve got to resist that impulse. Appointing someone other than Kovesi may seem like the safe choice, but that’s exactly why Kovesi is the right choice. Continue reading

Passports for Sale: Why We Should Worry about Golden Visa Programs

In 1984, the government of the small Caribbean island state of Saint Kitts and Nevis had a bright idea for attracting foreign capital: the country would grant permanent resident status to any foreign national who invested a sufficient amount in the country. The idea caught on, and now dozens of countries around the world—including not only small island states, but also major developed economies like the United States and the United Kingdom—have so-called “golden visa” programs. Golden visa programs have proven especially attractive during times of economic hardship, as demonstrated by the spread of these programs across Europe in the wake of the 2008 recession. These European programs are especially notable, as getting a visa in one country in the Schengen visa zone provides access to the other 25 as well. Some states—including EU members Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Malta—even offer investors outright citizenship, rather than simply residency status, in exchange for sufficiently large investments. And due to pre-existing visa waiver agreements, these “golden passports” may allow access to other countries as well. Those with Maltese passports, for example, can travel to the US visa-free.

According to a recent Transparency International-Global Witness report, in the last decade alone, countries with these sorts of programs have “sold” (that is, traded for investment) more than 6,000 passports and nearly 100,000 residency permits. Yet these policies have always been controversial, and are becoming more so. Canada terminated its golden visa program in 2014 (though it continues in Quebec). Last June, the Trump Administration demanded that Congress either terminate or reform the US investor visa program. And the UK abruptly announced it would suspend its program on December 6th, although it reversed course six days later.

Part of the reason for the growing disillusionment with golden visa programs is that their supposed economic benefits haven’t lived up to expectations. Rather than stimulate economic growth and job creation, the investments used to qualify for golden visas are often passive, such as government bonds or real estate. In Portugal, for example, 95% of total investment has been in real estate—6,141 investments compared to just 12 in employment creation. Real estate investments not only offer limited benefits, but may also distort housing markets. In the US, investments have been, in the words of US Senator Chuck Grassley, funneled towards “big moneyed Manhattan interests” rather than “direct investment to rural and high unemployment areas.” Hungary even managed to lose money on its program—$221 million—as it offered investors discounted bonds that were then fully repaid after five years with an additional 2% interest.

But the bigger problem with golden visa programs is their potential to both facilitate and stimulate corruption and money laundering. This problem, which was highlighted both by the TI-Global Witness report mentioned above, as well as another report from the European Commission, takes several forms. Continue reading

Guest Post: The European Commission’s Response to “Golden Passport” and “Golden Visa” Programs

Today’s guest post is from Anton Moiseienko, a research analyst at the London-based Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies of the Royal United Services Institute.

 Investor citizenship and investor residence programs, known colloquially as “golden passport” and “golden visa” schemes, have a less than sterling reputation. Much of the disapproval comes from anticorruption organizations like Transparency International and Global Witness. Those two organizations published a joint report last year that criticized these programs for offering a “safe haven” to figures associated with corruption.

The European Union has also expressed concern about these programs in several of its Member States. For example, back in 2014 the European Parliament adopted a resolution that accused some Member States, in particular Malta, of an “outright sale of EU citizenship [that] undermines the very concept of European citizenship.” And this past January the European Commission published a report on golden visa and golden passport schemes that will do little to improve their battered reputation. The Commission report raises a number of worries about these programs, and expresses particular concern about golden passport programs, since citizenship in an EU Member State automatically confers EU citizenship with its attendant rights, including free movement.

There are at least three ways in which golden passport and golden visa programs threaten to undermine the fight against corruption. Continue reading

The EU Needs a Centralized AML Authority

The European Union had a tough year. As if the refugee crisis, the rise of nationalist and far-right parties, and the Brexit affair weren’t enough, the 2018 headlines of European newspapers were crowded with a seemingly endless parade of money laundering scandals. Perhaps the most egregious was the case of Danske Bank, the largest bank in Denmark and a major retail bank in northern Europe. According to Danske Bank’s own report, between 2007 and 2015 the bank’s Estonian branch processed more than US$230 billion in suspicious transactions. The investigation, which is still ongoing, has already been dubbed the largest money laundering scandal in history. And there are plenty of others. In September 2018, for example, the Dutch bank ING Groep NV admitted that criminals used its accounts to launder money and agreed to pay a record US$900 million in penalties. And then in October 2018, after a string of scandals, Malta became the first EU Member State to receive an official European Commission (EC) order to strengthen enforcement of its anti-money laundering (AML) rules. By the end of 2018, it became apparent that the EU’s entire AML system needed a major overhaul.

The EU’s current AML legal framework is comprised of several components:

  • The first element is the set of so-called AML Directives, the most recent of which (the sixth) was adopted in 2018. These Directives require Member States to achieve certain legal results, but do not specify the particular measures that Member States must adopt.
  • Second, following the AML Directives, all EU Member States have adopted national AML laws and regulations that provide detailed guidance on a variety of topics, including the specification of different entities’ AML responsibilities, the sanctions for AML system breaches, and so forth.
  • The third important component of the EU’s AML framework is the EU Regulation on information accompanying transfers of funds, which is meant to harmonize across Member States the provision of payers’ and payees’ information when persons are transferring and receiving funds. In contrast to the AML Directives, this EU regulation, like other such regulations, has a direct legal effect on all Member States. Therefore, the information accompanying transfers of funds is identical in all Member States.

Taken together, these various instruments comprise one of the most stringent AML systems in the world, at least on paper. Perhaps for that reason, many commentators, including EU and EC officials themselves, attribute the spate of money laundering scandals plaguing EU countries not so much to weaknesses in the substantive regulations but rather to poor implementation—in particular, the fragmentation of AML oversight. Last October, Bruegel, an influential European think tank, presented a report calling for the establishment of a new centralized European AML authority—one that would work closely with national law enforcement agencies and be empowered to impose fines. ECB Chief Supervisor Danièle Nouy, who is intimately familiar with the problem, seems to agree at least to some extent. After one of last year’s many money laundering scandals, she suggested that “we need a European institution that is implementing in a thorough, deep, consistent fashion this legislation in the Euro area.” In fact, the proposal to create a more centralized EU AML architecture has been around for a while. It seems that the EU has finally decided that the time has come to do something like this, as the European Central Bank (ECB) announced last November that it would set up a central AML supervision office.

To understand the justification for creating a new centralized EU AML agency, one must first understand the extent to which, under the current system, supervisory and enforcement responsibility for the EU’s AML system is divided among several institutions, and the problems that this can create: Continue reading