Why Do So Few Corruption Victims Seek Compensation?

The United Nations Convention Against Corruption requires state parties to open their courts to those damaged by corruption.  Under article 35, states that have ratified UNCAC must provide victims of corruption a right to “initiate legal proceedings against those responsible for that damage … to obtain compensation.” According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, virtually all 187 states parties do. Its 2017 review of the convention’s implementation found article 35 was “one of the least problematic provisions of the entire convention.” “All but seven of the reviewed states,” it reported, “have adopted measures to fully or partly implement article 35.”

The UNODC’s conclusion comes from a reading of the parties’ laws.  While only a handful of states have enacted special legislation governing recovery of damages for corruption, in the remainder national authorities assured UNODC that corruption victims could recover damages “under the general principles of civil (contract or tort) law.”  But research by UNODC, the UNCAC Civil Society Coalition, Transparency International, and surveys of practitioners belies these assurances. It finds that in most nations few if any corruption victims have sought damages for injuries suffered.

For a UNODC/Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative project, I seek answers to two questions.  One, is the research correct? Are there really only a few cases where corruption victims have been awarded damages?  My preliminary analyses of U.S. data shows only some 30 arising from public, as opposed to private, corruption; given its size, the amount of corruption, and low barriers to suit, one would expect more. What about other states, especially larger, wealthier ones?

Two, if indeed there are few corruption damage actions in any jurisdiction, what explains the paucity? Why, despite the prevalence of corruption, the damage it has wreaked, and the worldwide attention it has drawn, have so few corruption victims sought redress. I hypothesize three factors are to blame: courts’ narrow reading of legal doctrine, especially that governing causation for harm (here); shortcomings in procedure, and in some countries the threat violent retaliation.

But these are my guesses, based largely on my experience as a lawyer in a wealthy common law jurisdiction and second hand reports from those in other nations. Readers’ thoughts and comments solicited. Cases and commentary in any language Google translate reads most welcome.

FACTI Background Paper: Analysis of the Different Peer Review Mechanisms for Ensuring Compliance with Anticorruption and Financial Integrity Norms

For two decades governments have been signing agreements where they promise to curb corruption and halt the international flow of illicit funds. A promise, however, is only as good as the method for enforcing it, and in the case of international conventions and treaties the only method available is the peer review.  Experts from neighboring or similarly situated nations review how well the government is keeping its promises, recommending ways it can do better and sometimes chastising it for breaking its promises. The theory is that threat of a bad review will put pressure on a government to live up to its commitments.

Peer reviews come in various shapes and sizes, and experience with ones has shown that some are more effective than others.  At the request of High-Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Agenda Financing for Sustainable Development (FACTI), Valentina Carraro, Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Groningen, and Hortense Jongen, Assistant Professor in International Relations at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, reviewed the effectiveness of the peer review mechanisms of six of the most important anticorruption and financial integrity agreements:

  • the Implementation Review Mechanism of the United Nations Convention against Corruption,
  • the Follow-Up Mechanism for the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (MESICIC),
  • the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development Working Group on Bribery (OECD Antibribery Convention),
  • the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes,
  • the Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting,
  • the Financial Action Task Force and the Financial Action Task Force-Style Regional Bodies.

Their summary of their findings and recommendations is below. and their paper here.  (Background on the FACTI and a link to its interim report recommending changes in international and domestic laws to combat corruption and stem  illicit financial flows is here.)

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The Importance of Public Relations in the Fight against Corruption

It’s long been recognized that public relations (PR) is a crucial tool in the fight against corruption. (For a recent exposition of that argument on this blog, see here.) This recognition is codified in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), Article 13 of which requires state parties to “[u]ndertak[e] public information activities that contribute to non-tolerance of corruption, as well as public education programs,” and Article 6 of which calls on state parties to “increase[e] and disseminat[e] knowledge about the prevention of corruption.” Governments fulfill their UNCAC obligations in a variety of ways, and examples of anticorruption public awareness campaigns are as diverse as they are numerous. A famous example of how PR can be used effectively comes from Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, which spends millions of dollars annually on thousands of workshops to educate public employees and private citizens about the effects of corruption and how to combat it. New York City has likewise deployed large-scale educational programming with similar success. In addition to government-run campaigns such as these, multilateral organizations such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and NGOs like Transparency International also regularly engage in efforts to raise public awareness around corruption issues (see here, here, here, and here). These campaigns deploy tools as varied as video, music, and drawing to convey their anticorruption messages.

Critics sometimes contend that these PR campaigns consume scarce anticorruption resources that would be better devoted to investigation or enforcement efforts. This criticism is misguided and shortsighted. Of course a badly-designed PR effort can waste resources. Yet effective anticorruption PR helps accomplish several goals that other, “harder” anticorruption measures are incapable or ineffective at achieving on their own:

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