Guest Post–Reflections on the “Guatemalan Spring”

Mathieu Tromme, Senior Research Fellow at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, contributes the following guest post:

Guatemala is in the midst of its worst political crisis in the two decades since the end of the country’s civil war in 1996. Weekly marches, sit-ins and demonstrations keep drawing tens of thousands to the streets, denouncing corruption and demanding the President’s resignation, as well as a purge of politics and the judiciary (among other things). The scope and size of the demonstrations has been something of a surprise, given that the Guatemalan public often seems uninterested in political affairs or reluctant to express dissent. Although the protests originated in the capital, they have now spread to the whole country, and brought lower and middle classes together. The main cause of this discontent? Public anger over a string of corruption scandals.

The demonstrations—which some believe are the start of a “Guatemalan Spring”— began this past April, when the Office of the Public Prosecutor against Impunity, together with the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG in Spanish) published an investigative report linking fraud in the Customs Department to the Vice President’s Office. Specifically, Vice President Baldetti’s private secretary, Mr. Monzón Rojas, stands accused of being at the helm of a wide tax and customs fraud scheme known as La Linea (“the line”), which has defrauded the state of about US$120 million. Although Vice President Baldetti, tried to distance herself from her Secretary (who’s still on the run), mounting public and political pressure forced her to resign on May 8. In addition, there were further revelations that lawyers representing detainees in connection with La Linea attempted to bribe Chief Justices of the Supreme Court. And there were other scandals as well: the head of the Ministry of Energy and Mining lost his post over corruption charges, the Ministers of the Interior, Environment, and Energy resigned, and the President of the Central Bank and the head of the Guatemalan Institute of Social Security (who was formerly the President’s personal secretary) have been forced to resign after being accused of fraud and influence peddling.

Although there are many interesting aspects of these anticorruption protests, let me highlight what seem to me especially important features of both the protests and the underlying problems that triggered them—features which, though specific to Guatemala, may have broader implications for the fight against entrenched political corruption. Continue reading

Guest Post: Money Laundering and Asset Recovery in Vietnam

Mathieu Tromme, co-founder of the Partnership for Research in International Affairs & Development (PRIAD), contributes the following guest post:

In 2012, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) placed Vietnam into its International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG) mechanism–often referred to as FATF’s “blacklist”–due to FATF’s determination that Vietnam was not making sufficient progress in addressing deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime. For Vietnam, this blacklisting was most unwelcome news. Like many other countries, Vietnam had suffered from the global economic downturn, and FATF’s blacklisting threatened its tenuous recovery. Landing on FATF’s blacklist increases a country’s risk profile, affects its credit rating, hampers international trade and investment, and impedes access to the international banking system (due to the enhanced customer due diligence which FATF requires). In response, Vietnam enacted a Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Law in 2012 (which took effect in early 2013). After the Asia Pacific Group made an on-site visit to verify Vietnam’s action plan, FATF once more declared Vietnam technically compliant. The country came off the FATF blacklist in February of 2014.

At the same time as this was happening in 2012, FATF issued a revised and consolidated set of 40 AML/CFT recommendations (from an original 40 + 9 “special recommendations” on terrorist financing), which ushered in a number of new standards and evaluation criteria. Of particular interest in Vietnam is Recommendation 30 on “Responsibilities of Law Enforcement and Investigative Authorities,” according to which jurisdictions are now expected to conduct pro-active parallel investigations into both the predicate offence and possible money laundering and terrorist financing offences. Moreover, under this Recommendation, jurisdictions are expected to designate a competent authority which can expeditiously identify, trace, and initiate actions to freeze and seize proceeds of crime. In Vietnam, meeting this new recommendation will be a real challenge, and might again threaten to land it on the FATF blacklist. Continue reading