Conference on Human Rights and Asset Recovery

The Open Society Foundations hosts a conference this Friday, March 16, at its Washington office on the human rights issues raised when stolen assets are returned.  During the morning session new strategies for addressing corruption before UN treaty bodies and the complementarity of international laws on human rights and criminal justice governing asset recovery will be discussed.  In the afternoon, speakers will examine the role of asset-holding states and international organizations in ensuring accountability in asset recovery and return and civil society’s role. Previously unpublicized information on the return of stolen assets to Kazakhstan will be reviewed for the lessons it offers.

Click here for more on the agenda and a list of speakers.  Those wishing to attend should RSVP to Joshua Russell.

Can Private Prosecution Fill the Corruption Enforcement Gap?

A common lament within the anticorruption community is that too few corrupt officials are prosecuted.  The reasons offered are several: a lack of resources, the want of expertise, political pressure.  Whatever the case, for countries struggling to combat corruption, stepping up prosecutions is essential, for deterrence theory teaches that until public officials face a real threat of prosecution for raiding the public purse, corruption levels will continue to remain unacceptably high.

Where corruption prosecutions are lagging, it is often assumed that the only remedy is to strengthen government prosecution agencies, but this is in fact not always the case.  In many countries the public prosecutor is not the only one with the right to prosecute those accused of a crime.  Thailand, Taiwan, certain American states, and virtually all 53 members of the British Commonwealth allow private citizens to prosecute offenders, and there is no reason other countries couldn’t allow private prosecution as well.

In “Private Prosecutions: A Potential Anticorruption Tool in English Law,” British lawyers Tamlyn Edmonds and David Jugnarain explain the role private prosecution has played in the enforcement of the criminal law in England and Wales and argue it is one way to boost  corruption prosecutions in these jurisdictions and perhaps in others as well.  The Edmonds and Jugnarain paper is the fourth in the series of papers commissioned by the Open Society Justice Initiative on civil society and anticorruption litigation.  It follows earlier ones on standing by GAB editor-in-chief Matthew Stephenson, on civil society litigation in India by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy Director Arghya Sengupta, and on the American experience with the False Claims Act by Houston Law Center Professor David Kwok.  As with the papers by Matthew, Arghya, and David, Tamlyn and David’s contribution provides civil society activists and policymakers wanting to bolster the enforcement of anticorruption laws in their country much to consider.

Should Other Countries Enact a False Claims Act?

For governments looking for a cheap, easy way to curb fraud and corruption in government contracts, the American False Claims Act seems like a no lose proposition.  It authorizes private citizens to file civil suits against companies they believe have cheated the federal government, and if their suit succeeds, the citizen is entitled to anywhere between 15 to 30 percent of any damages the government collects.  The offer of a reward creates an army of volunteer investigators and lawyers willing to invest their own time and energy into ferreting out fraud and corruption.  If they win the case, the government recoups most of its losses.  If they lose, the government isn’t out a cent.  The data suggests that False Claims Act suits have indeed been a bonanza for the U.S. government.  Recoveries in recent years have exceeded $2 billion per year with an average of $1.7 billion going to the government and the rest to citizen sleuths.

Before copying the False Claims Act verbatim, however, policymakers will want to consider University of Houston Law Center Professor David Kwok’s paper on why the statute seems to work well in the U.S., why an exact copy might not work so well elsewhere, and how it might be changed to fit countries where conditions differ from those in the United States.  The paper is the third in the series of papers commissioned by the Open Society Justice Initiative on civil society and anticorruption litigation, following earlier ones on standing by GAB editor-in-chief Matthew Stephenson and on civil society litigation in India by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy Director Arghya Sengupta. As with those by Matthew and Arghya, David’s paper provides civil society activists and policymakers wanting to bolster the enforcement of anticorruption laws in their country much to deliberate on.

The New Head of the DOJ’s Fraud Unit Advocated Gutting the FCPA: Shouldn’t We Be More Upset About That?

Two months ago, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Andrew Weissmann would take over as chief of Fraud Section in the DOJ’s Criminal Division, a position that involves responsibility for, among other things, the DOJ’s enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Mr. Weissmann has had a distinguished professional career, with previous stints in private practice and in government, including prior positions as Special Counsel to the Director of the FBI, and as the director of the DOJ’s Enron Task Force. But for those of us who care about maintaining the US government’s aggressive enforcement of the FCPA and its leadership in the global fight against corruption, Mr. Weissmann’s appointment should be cause for concern. The reason? Mr. Weissmann was one of the principal authors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2010 report, Restoring Balance: Proposed Amendments to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. That report is notable principally for three things: (1) its strident attack on aggressive FCPA enforcement, (2) its proposal of a series of amendments to the statute that would gut the FCPA, and (3) its misleading manipulation (and sometimes outright misrepresentation) of both facts and law in making its case.

Fortunately, Professor Dan Danielsen at Northeastern School of Law and my Harvard colleague Professor David Kennedy provided an exceptionally thorough take-down of the Chamber of Commerce’s arguments in a report for the Open Society Foundations (OSF), called Busting Bribery: Sustaining the Global Momentum of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Aside from a few small (but admittedly important) errors, the OSF report provides a sufficiently thorough rebuttal that I won’t attempt to summarize it all here; rather, I urge readers to follow the links above. But let me just highlight a few aspects of Mr. Weissmann’s report for the Chamber of Commerce to explain why I think it deserves the harsh language I used. Continue reading