Uzbek Civil Society to Swiss Government: Hasty Return of Stolen Assets to Uzbek Government Not Warranted

GAB readers know that the Government of Uzbekistan has been pressing countries to return some $1.0 billion under their control which Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the late dictator Islam Karimov, stole through corrupt schemes.   They also know that Uzbek civil society has urged a “responsible return,” one that recognizes that despite modest changes since Karimov’s death, Uzbekistan is still ruled by the same close-knit group in charge during Karimov’s time and with the same kleptocratic proclivities.  Responding to reports that the Swiss government, which holds several hundred million dollar of Gulnara’s corrupt monies, may soon send these funds back to Uzbekistan with little guarantee they will to go improve the welfare of the Uzbek people, members of Uzbek civil society living in exile wrote the Swiss government today asking it to refrain from any hasty repatriation. Their request is particularly urgent given the evidence they cite that stolen assets Switzerland returned to Kazakhstan through a World Bank program were misused. The request is joined by members of Kazakh civil society members in exile.

OPEN LETTER OF CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS TO THE SWISS GOVERNMENT

We, the undersigned representatives of civil society organizations advocating for transparent and responsible repatriation of assets stolen from the Uzbek people, are urgently calling upon the Swiss government to ensure that any decision regarding the ill-gotten assets of Gulnara Karimova, currently the subject of litigation in several countries, be made with due consideration to the rights and development prospects of the Uzbek people.

We urge the Swiss government not to act hastily and to consider that the promise of reform by the Mirziyoev regime have not yet materialized in practice. Based on all available information we strongly believe that return of these assets without sound conditionalities developed in consultation with major stakeholders, including civil society – which has been in a stranglehold in Uzbekistan for more than two decades – would only further perpetuate corrupt practices in Uzbekistan, leaving the systemic causes of the original criminal conduct untouched. The Swiss government can and should use these assets as an incentive to promote and support the course of reforms in Uzbekistan in the long-term interests of the Uzbek people. Continue reading

Protecting the Rights of Countries Victimized by Corruption: the Swiss Approach

One topic on the agenda at next week’s OECD Integrity Forum is “Settling Foreign Bribery Cases with Non-Trial Resolutions.”  As explained here, a principal reason for a session on settlements is the concern that developing countries are losing out on them.  When the bribe-taker is a developing country official and the bribe-payer employed by a transnational corporation, the case is most often resolved through a settlement in the country where the corporation is headquartered.  And the developing nation’s interests are often ignored.

A notorious example is the bribery of Nigerian officials by the American company Halliburton.  The company settled the case with U.S. authorities for $559 million; years later it settled with Nigeria for $35 million, just over six percent of what the U.S. extracted.  Yet which country suffered the most from the bribery?  And which one is more pressed for resources?

Countries with civil law legal systems offer a solution that common law nations would well advised to consider: allow the victim government to participate as a party to the criminal proceeding with the right to file a claim for damages and indeed to help in gathering evidence for the prosecution.  Swiss law provides one example employed by several countries which have been victimized by corruption.    Continue reading

Artful Transactions: Corruption in the Market for Fine Arts and Antiques

The fascination surrounding art theft and forgery has long been the subject of much exploration. Only more recently, however, has the art market come under increased scrutiny regarding its connection to money laundering and corruption. It’s not just that stolen artworks often end up in the hands of criminals: even the market for non-stolen art is especially vulnerable to money laundering and corruption. With more banks cracking down on illicit activities, art has become an “efficient instrument for hiding cash.” As an article in the New York Times observed, no business seems “more custom-made for money laundering, with million-dollar sales conducted in secrecy and with virtually no oversight.”

Considering the attention paid by anticorruption and anti-money laundering activists to the role of the real estate market and the market for other luxury goods to facilitate money laundering and bribery, it is perhaps a bit surprising that there hasn’t been more attention to the art market—which is perhaps even more deserving of scrutiny. Continue reading

London Anticorruption Summit–Country Commitment Scorecard, Part 2

This post is the second half of my attempt to summarize the commitments (or lack thereof) in the country statements of the 41 countries that attended last week’s London Anticorruption Summit, in four areas highlighted by the Summit’s final Communique:

  1. Increasing access to information on the true beneficial owners of companies, and possibly other legal entities, perhaps through central registers;
  2. Increasing transparency in public procurement;
  3. Strengthening the independence and capacity of national audit institutions, and publicizing audit results (and, more generally, increasing fiscal transparency in other ways); and
  4. Encouraging whistleblowers, strengthening their protection from various forms or retaliation, and developing systems to ensure that law enforcement takes prompt action in response to whistleblower complaints.

These are not the only subjects covered by the Communique and discussed in the country statements. (Other topics include improving asset recovery mechanisms, facilitating more international cooperation and information sharing, joining new initiatives to fight corruption in sports, improving transparency in the extractive sector through initiatives like the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, additional measures to fight tax evasion, and several others.) I chose these four partly because they seemed to me of particular importance, and partly because the Communique’s discussion of these four areas seemed particularly focused on prompting substantive legal changes, rather than general improvements in existing mechanisms.

Plenty of others have already provided useful comprehensive assessments of what the country commitments did and did not achieve. My hope is that presenting the results of the rather tedious exercise of going through each country statement one by one for the language on these four issues, and presenting the results in summary form, will be helpful to others out there who want to try to get a sense of how the individual country commitments do or don’t match up against the recommendations in the Communique. My last post covered Afghanistan–Malta; today’s post covers the remaining country statements, Mexico–United States: Continue reading

Furthering Cross-Border Cooperation to Fight Corruption

Some of the best news on the corruption front is the growing cross-border cooperation among domestic law enforcement agencies.  The French firm Alstom’s December 18 agreement to pay R$ 60 million, US$ 16 million, to Brazil to settle bribery claims nicely illustrates the pay off from such cooperation.  Thanks to information supplied by French and Swiss authorities, Brazilian prosecutors showed that Alstom had bribed officials of Sao Paulo’s state government to win a contract to supply electrical equipment to the state’s power company.  A critical element in the case was evidence that the officials had deposited large sums in Swiss banks around the time the contract was awarded.

Although Brazil, France, and Switzerland are all bound by domestic legislation and treaties to help one another investigate and prosecute corruption cases, law alone is not enough to produce the kind of cooperation that resulted in the Alstom settlement.  As Silvio Marques, one of the Alstom prosecutors, explained the other day in a note to colleagues, the key element is – Continue reading

Bribery in the Boardroom: Implications for Internal Reporting Programs

Early last month, the OECD released its first Foreign Bribery Report. According to Angel Gurria, the organization’s Secretary-General, the report “endeavors to measure, and to describe, transnational corruption based on data from the 427 foreign bribery cases that have been concluded since the entry into force of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 1999.” The report as a whole is quite interesting, but I would like to hone in on the OECD’s findings regarding who engages in bribery, and how this should change how we approach arguments on whistleblower internal reporting requirements.

The report found that, contrary to popular belief, in the majority of cases senior management were aware of or endorsed the payment of whatever bribe occurred (in 41% of the cases senior management was implicated, in 12% even the highest level executives were aware of the bribe being paid). As the report notes, this “debunk[s] the “rogue employee” myth,” and this, I would argue, calls into question internal reporting requirements as a means of combating foreign bribery. Continue reading

A Problematic Proposed Whistleblowing Law in Switzerland

Switzerland is currently not a particularly hospitable country for whistleblowers.  The anti-retaliation protections provided to potential whistleblowers are relatively sparse – individuals fired from their jobs can, at best, hope to receive up to the equivalent of six months of their salary rather than reinstatement – and there are few legislative incentives in place to encourage individuals to report corruption or other forms of corporate wrongdoing.  Moreover, not only are the country’s laws rather harsh when it comes to encouraging and protecting whistleblowers in the private sector, commentators have noted the “brutally hard line” that the Swiss government has taken in a number of high-profile whistleblower prosecutions.

Unfortunately, a proposed law which has passed the country’s Council of States and will be considered by its National Council, initially billed as an attempt to address ambiguities within the current whistleblower system, appears likely, if enacted, to make an already hostile climate for whistleblowers even worse.

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