A Dull, Boring, Humdrum, Unimaginative, Prosaic Proposal to Combat Corruption

David took Alexander Lebedev and Vladislav Inozemtsev to task in a recent post for a scheme they proposed in an on-line issue of Foreign Affairs to combat corruption.  Ignoring the several international anticorruption conventions now in place and the slow but steady improvements these agreements have produced, the authors called for a brand new convention that would grant extraordinary powers to a supranational team of investigators, prosecutors, and judges to arrest, prosecute, and try those suspected of corruption no matter where they are.  The harebrained idea is so full of holes and so unrealistic that David labeled it “absurd,” a conclusion with which any serious analyst would surely agree.

In closing David urged the anticorruption community to stop advancing unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky proposals that waste readers’ time and scarce space in learned journals in favor of more realistic, if less catchy, ones.  In that spirit I offer the following dull, boring, humdrum, unimaginative, prosaic proposal — one not likely to capture the uninformed reader’s imagination or gain space in Foreign Affairs or another prestigious policy journal. On the other hand, my proposal will help crackdown on corruption, particularly corruption by powerful officials in developing states.  It is simple.  Developed nations should copy a program the British government began in 2006. Continue reading

Yet Another Misguided Proposal to Solve Corruption with an International Convention

Entrenched corruption is a frustrating problem, so it’s tempting to invent a new international regime that can take bold action against it without relying on or being encumbered by corrupt or incompetent domestic law enforcement. An article published last week in Foreign Affairs by Alexander Lebedev and Vladislav Inozemtsev, succumbs to that temptation by proposing a “universal anticorruption convention” as a solution to grand, systemic corruption (as distinct from low-level bribery). In broad terms, Lebedev and Vladislav envision a convention that would “clearly define the crime of corruption, codify the principles of good governance,” and “establish a supranational governing body, dedicated investigative and police forces, and a specialized court,” with signatories agreeing to “allow[] international investigators to act freely on [their] territory, and permit[] international prosecution of [their] citizens for corruption crimes.”

The article is short on details about these proposed institutions; the bulk of the article is devoted instead to the proposed convention’s enforcement mechanism. And there the proposal is quite radical: Signatories would be required to “radically curb their financial ties” with non-members, to “identify all assets controlled on their territories by the subjects of nonmember states (both individuals and companies)”–regardless of whether the assets are the proceeds of corruption–and, by an agreed deadline, to “monetize[e] and repatriate[e]” all of these assets. Under the convention, citizens of non-member states could not “open[] accounts in member countries’ banks, establish[] companies on their territories, [or] acquir[e] local real estate.” And member states would also be required to bar immigration from non-member states (at least of “young, independent people”), because the “freedom to leave” a corrupt state reduces the pressure to change from within.

I agree with Lebedev and Inozemtsev that grand corruption is a serious problem, and I commend them on their willingness to explore radical new solutions. But their proposal is absurd. I can’t imagine any state signing on to it, and I don’t think any state should. Their proposal would not only be ineffective. Its implementation would be catastrophic.  Continue reading

Are Less Corrupt Countries More Faithful Enforcers of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention?

The failure of many signatories to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention to enforce their new laws against the bribery of foreign public officials has been widely noted, including on this blog. There is no single factor that explains this lack of enforcement across the 30 or so countries (out of 41 total signatories) that have not yet seriously begun enforcing their anti-bribery laws. However, there is a fair amount of descriptive evidence about the extent to which signatories actually do so: Transparency International (TI) has, for the last nine years, released annual reports on progress, which provide a good deal of information on this level.

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Some Successful Initiatives by Civil Society to Prompt Corruption-Related Litigation

In an earlier post I promoted a conference on corruption the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict and the Open Society Foundations’ Justice Initiative had planned for June 2014 to discuss ways civil society could stimulate corruption-related litigation, be it criminal investigations or private actions for damages.  The conference was held June 28 with some 100 individuals from civil society, academia, law firms, and governments attending, and one of the highlights was presentations describing successful efforts by civil society groups in India, Nigeria, France, and Switzerland. Continue reading

Fixing the Mutual Legal Assistance Regime: Some Thoughts on Reform

Last week I reported that the United States was often slow to respond to requests from other nations for evidence needed to prosecute corruption cases in their courts and that as a result some cases have had to be dismissed.  I also noted that, as of spring 2013, 4500 requests awaited processing, a backlog the Justice Department blames on a shortage of personnel.  In a comment on the post. Matthew asks two questions:  1) are there other ways besides adding staff that countries can reduce the delay in responding to requests for legal assistance and 2) is the U.S. the only country with a large backlog of requests.

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Going After the Bribe Takers: Step One

Last week I wrote about the gap between prosecutions for transnational bribe paying and transnational bribe taking.  Even after a bribe payer in one state has been convicted or pled guilty, most countries where the bribe was paid have shown little interest in investigating who took the bribe – an often easy inquiry given the evidence unearthed in the bribe payer case.  I also noted that in almost every instance the bribe was paid by a firm in an OECD country to a government official in a developing state.

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Expansion of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention: A Skeptical View

The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention (the unwieldy official name of which is the “OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions”) has proven to be a surprisingly successful international agreement—far more effective than the various regional anticorruption instruments or the U.N. Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), and indeed far more effective than even the OECD Convention’s proponents had predicted. Of course, it’s hard to know how much one can credit the OECD Convention for changes in anticorruption laws and enforcement patterns, but lots of well-informed people believe it has had a big effect, primarily because of its rigorous peer review system. In contrast to other, weaker review systems associated with UNCAC and some of the regional conventions, members of the OECD Convention must submit to a quite extensive and intrusive form of peer review, in successive phases, and cannot veto or prevent disclosure of the resulting reports. The reports are often quite harsh, even scathing, and the political embarrassment associated with a bad review can shame governments and mobilize public opinion.

Given that the OECD Convention has been so successful, should it be expanded to include more countries? After all, membership in the Convention is not limited to the OECD , and indeed several non-OECD countries (Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Columbia, Russia, and South Africa) are already parties. The OECD’s leadership seems to think the answer is a clear yes. At a recent Chatham House conference on “Combating Global Corruption” (which I was fortunate enough to attend), Ángel Gurría, the OECD Secretary-General, declared that it was “imperative that all G20 countries become Parties to the OECD Anti-Bribery convention,” and specifically noted the importance of bringing China, India, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia on board.

I’m sympathetic to the general idea, and would certainly like to live in a world where all countries accepted—and respected—the commitments embodied in the OECD Convention. But rapid expansion of the Convention has important drawbacks that deserve more attention than they seem to be getting. So at the risk of being the skunk at the garden party, let me lay out the case for skepticism about rapid expansion of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

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