Improving Mutual Legal Assistance: Lessons from Asia

Back in 2014, Rick called for further analysis of mutual legal assistance (MLA) processes and potential reforms that would promote responsiveness to MLA requests in anticorruption cases (and others). As a follow-up, I wanted to highlight the findings of a recent report from the Asian Development Bank (ADB)/Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Anti-Corruption Initiative for Asia and the Pacific. The report, entitled “Mutual Legal Assistance in Asia and the Pacific: Experiences in 31 Jurisdictions,” provides examples of various obstacles to effective MLA, which I have sorted into two general categories: legal and practical. Continue reading

Civil Society on Returning Stolen Assets to Highly Corrupt Governments


The return of the proceeds of corruption to the victim country is a “fundamental principle” of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.  How that return is to be realized, however, remains subject to dispute, particularly when the victim country’s government is highly corrupt.  Should governments where the stolen assets are discovered send them back no matter how corrupt the victim country’s government is?  Wouldn’t the return to a highly corrupt government frustrate the Convention’s most basic purpose — the prevention of corruption.

How to resolve this tension has been the subject of vigorous debate on this blog (hereherehereherehere and here).  Now some 50 members of the UNCAC Coalition’s Civil Society Working Group on Accountable Asset Return, from both countries where stolen assets have been found and those where return has been requested or realized, have weighed in.  In a February 14 letter to an UNCAC conference on asset recovery (addis-ababa-conf-agenda-february-2017-updated-02-02-2017), they write that where the victim country’s government is highly corrupt, it should be bypassed: “returning and receiving countries should in consultation with a broad spectrum of relevant experts and non-state actors find alternative means of managing the stolen assets” (emphasis in original).  The letter offers powerful arguments in support of its position.  The full text and the list of signers follows.  Continue reading

Equitable Sharing, Not Deference: How US FCPA Enforcers Should Accommodate Foreign Interests

Frederick Davis recently published two guest posts (see here and here) emphasizing some of the risks that arise when the US government pursues FCPA prosecutions against foreign corporations. He notes that European anticorruption administrators are regularly irritated by aggressive US action in this field and by the apparent discrepancy in the treatment of US and non-US corporations. He also notes that foreign corporations are reasonably worried about being charged twice for the same transgression: While European countries have addressed this concern through an international version of the double jeopardy bar (also known as ne bis in idem), that bar does not protect a corporation against a subsequent US prosecution. Moreover, as Mr. Davis notes, US enforcement agencies (as compared to their counterparts in Europe) have wider authority to charge, are more willing to assert power abroad, wield more procedural tools, and are less subject to judicial supervision in their charging and settlement decisions. To address these problems, Mr. Davis recommends, among other measures, that the US DOJ issue guidelines for when to defer to foreign judgments.

However, US deference to foreign judgments may not be the best solution. It could be true, as Mr. Davis worries, that US prosecutors are “becoming the ultimate arbiters” of foreign bribery cases (at least those involving multinational corporations). But if the US standard is indeed more stringent, then US hegemony could lead to more aggressive anticorruption prosecution across the board, a boon for anticorruption advocates. Since in certain situations competition among administrative and enforcement agencies can create a de facto “race to the top” in terms of standards, it might not be such a good idea for the US to adopt a more deferential posture toward foreign judgments in transnational bribery cases.

That’s not to ignore the significant problems that Mr. Davis describes. Given that the fines and other monetary penalties for corrupt business behavior can be enormous, US FCPA counterparts in other nations would be rightly dismayed if they lost out on the potential recoveries. If a Danish corporation listed on a US exchange bribes an official in Gambia, all three countries should be able to penalize the wrongdoers and share—though not necessarily equally—in the fines and other penalties recovered. If the penalties are appropriately distributed, we need not sacrifice the aggressive anticorruption regime of US hegemony. My response to Mr. Davis is that we need guidelines for distribution of recoveries, not necessarily guidelines for deferral to foreign judgments operating under differing, and less aggressive, standards.

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A Trade-Anticorruption Breakthrough?: The Trans-Pacific Partnership’s Transparency and Anticorruption Chapter

The full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), released earlier this month, is already generating plenty of discussion. One of the proposed agreement’s most striking features is the full chapter on transparency and anticorruption, Chapter 26. The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) had earlier stated that its objectives in negotiating the TPP included addressing transparency, accountability, and corruption; at the time I thought this was simply a negotiating ploy or marketing strategy, but it looks like I was wrong. As USTR’s summary of the “good governance” steps of Chapter 26 correctly notes, the TPP “includes the strongest anti-corruption and transparency standards of any trade agreement.” Indeed, Chapter 26–which appears to modeled in part on draft language that Transparency International had proposed for inclusion in a different trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership–could mark an important and unprecedented step towards using trade agreements to promoting and harmonize international anticorruption efforts.

Here are a few points that are or could be particularly important features of Chapter 26:

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Coordination by Legislation: Is Regional Anticorruption Legislation in the East African Community a Good Idea?

This past September, at a meeting of the East African Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities, Daniel Fred Kidega, the Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) announced that the regional legislature planned to consider a series of anticorruption and whistleblower bills (also reported here). (The EALA is the legislative body of the East African Community, a treaty organization to which Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda are members.) According to the Speaker’s remarks, “[t]he Laws passed by EALA supercede those of the Partner States on matters within the purview of the Community.”

Details on the legislation are scant, and movement on this proposal does not seem imminent. (Drafts of the proposed legislation are not available on the EALA website, nor could I find them through other sources. And at the mid-October EALA session, anticorruption does not appear to have been on the agenda.) Furthermore, the EAC Treaty does not provide the EALA all of the legislative power the Speaker’s statements suggest, because, according to Article 63 of the EAC Treaty, acts of the EALA only become effective law for member states if each of the five Heads of State “assents” to the measure. Nonetheless, given the interest in East Africa and elsewhere in greater international cooperation on anticorruption efforts, it’s worth reflecting on whether regional anticorruption legislation such as that proposed by Speaker Kidega is a good idea.

I tend to think not. While regional coordination, particularly through conventions, can be an effective way to strengthen anticorruption efforts (as Rick previously discussed in a comment on this post), it is not a good idea in every circumstance (as Matthew noted in a recent post in the context of proposals for a ASEAN Integrity Community). Although the EAC might be able to perform a helpful goal-setting and coordinating role (something akin to an UNCAC or African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption), the proposal for the EALA to enact more binding regional anticorruption legislation involves more risks than benefits.

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New DfID Report: Few Donor-Supported Anticorruption Policies Effective

The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development released a new report February 25 summarizing the learning on corruption in developing nations and how to combat it.  Why Corruption Matters: Understanding Causes, Effects and How to Address Them was commissioned to help donor agency staff who advise on anticorruption policies and to assist in the design of programs to control corruption.  As its title advertises, the report examines three issues: the causes of corruption; its costs, both financial and non-financial; and what measures reduce it.  Those searching for what developing nations can do to fight corruption will turn immediately to chapter 5, “Anticorruption Measures,” which evaluates a variety of different efforts to control corruption from ratifying UNCAC to reforming customs and tax agencies to conducting public expenditure tracking surveys.

Readers looking for new steps developing countries can take to control corruption or confirmation that the standard approaches are working will be disappointed.  Few interventions have had any effect, and with one exception, the evidence showing these have had an impact is thin.

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Rescission of Contracts and Revocation of Licenses As Means to Combat Corruption

Article 34 of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) generally requires that each State Party “take measures … to address the consequences of corruption.” In recognition of the fact that government contracts and licensing processes have been among the areas most prone to corruption and bribery–and of the fact that the threat of criminal punishment may not be a sufficient or even viable deterrent to such corruption–UNCAC Article 34 further declares that “States Parties may consider corruption a relevant factor in legal proceedings to annul or rescind a contract, withdraw a concession or other similar instrument or take any other remedial action.” Although that second sentence of Article 34 is not mandatory, State Parties–particularly demand-side countries with an unfortunate reputation for corruption in government contracting (such as Kenya, Guinea, Indonesia and Philippines) should adopt that principle into their national laws.

Law providing for the nullification of contracts or concessions procured through corruption would be a strong deterrent to bribe-paying by firms. Although such bribery is already illegal, in some cases criminal punishments are simply insufficient to deter corrupt practices conducted in demand-side countries. Often the threat of sanctions is low, and even though some companies have been hit with substantial sanctions, this loss has been mitigated by the profits acquired by the operation of the tainted contract or license. And a company might think twice before acceding to a bribe demand from a lower-level public official (or even a high-level official) if the company knows that, by paying the bribe, they may be putting the whole contract in jeopardy if the government later decides it wants to reneg on the deal. Moreover, if a demand-side country were to adopt a law that allows for nullification of any government contract or concession procured through corruption, it would send strong signals to that international community that this country will no longer tolerate these corrupt practices. Continue reading