Will the Swiss Government Heed Civil Society’s Advice When Returning Stolen Assets to Uzbekistan?

Readers of this blog know the Swiss government faces a dilemma in returning several hundred million Swiss francs of stolen assets to Uzbekistan (here and here).  Although the current government has taken small steps towards reform, it remains dominated by the same clique of Soviet-era apparatchiks whose corrupt ways were behind the theft of the assets. Returning the money thus runs a high risk that it will go right back to the culprits or their cronies.

At the same time, the Swiss government has an obligation under the UN Convention Against Corruption to return the assets. Moreover, thanks to decades of misrule, living condition for the average Uzbek remain dismal at best.  Money for everything from basic education and health programs to investment in public works is desparately needed.

Uzbek civil society now offers a solution to the Swiss dilemma.  Acknowledging the reformist leanings of the current government, and wanting to encourage them, civil society proposes that the Swiss government return the funds in tranches.  The return would be keyed to progress in realizing the kinds of reforms the government says it is committed to making.   Internationally recognized measures would be used to gauge progress.

A phased, conditioned return has two advantages.  It offers those in the Uzbek government leverage to persuade reluctant colleagues of the need for change.  At the same time, a phased return avoids swamping the government with a massive amount of money its primitive public financial system simply couldn’t manage responsibly.

The proposal appears in a letter to Swiss authorities authored by prominent Uzbek citizen, both those who have had to flee the country to escape political repression and those (anonymously) who remain.  The English version is here; a Russian version here.  A commentary on the proposal in the Swiss press is here, and background on the circumstance the led to the theft is here.

Will the Swiss Government Condone Gross Human Violations in Returning Stolen Assets to Uzbekistan?

The Swiss take pride in their nation’s uncompromising defense of human rights. Its diplomats offer unwavering support for the rights of the oppressed in international fora; its NGOs provide generous support to human rights defenders around the world, and as home to the United Nations Human Rights Council and other UN human rights agencies, Geneva is the center of the global discourse on human rights. But if recent press reports are to be believed (here [German] and here [English]), the Swiss government may be ready to ignore gross human rights violations perpetrated by the government of Uzbekistan.

The issue is part of the struggle over how to return the several hundred million dollars that Gulnara Karimova, daughter of its recently deceased dictator, stashed in Switzerland with the help of lackeys Gayane Avakyan and Rustam Madumarov. The monies are allegedly bribes international telecommunications companies paid Karimova to operate in Uzbekistan.

The Uzbek government is seeking their return while Uzbek civil society argues that because the government is so corrupt, the Swiss government should follow the precedent established in a Kazakh case and return the monies directly to the Uzbek people.  If the Swiss government does not, and does return the money to the Uzbek government, it will be forced to condone grave human rights abuses Avakyan and Madumarov have suffered at the hands of the Uzbek government. Continue reading

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

US Anticorruption Policy in a Trump Administration Revisited: An Evaluation of Last Year’s Doom-and-Gloom Predictions

Almost exactly one year ago, the day after the U.S. presidential election, I published a deeply pessimistic post about the likely future of U.S. anticorruption policy under a Trump presidency. As I acknowledged at the time, “the consequences of a Trump presidency are potentially so dire for such a broad range of issues–from health care to climate change to national security to immigration to the preservation of the fundamental ideals of the United States as an open and tolerant constitutional democracy–that even thinking about the implications of a Trump presidency for something as narrow and specific as anticorruption policy seems almost comically trivial.” That statement is, alas, still true. But what about the impact on anticorruption specifically? In my post last year, I made a bunch of predictions about the likely impact of a Trump presidency on corruption, anticorruption, and related issues. What did I get right and where did I go wrong?

This may seem a bit self-indulgent, but I think it’s often useful to go back and assess one’s own forecasts, not only in the interests of accountability and self-criticism, but also because examining where we got things right and, more importantly, where we went wrong can help us do a better job in the future. Of course, one difficulty in assessing my own predictions is that many of them concerned longer-term effects that we can’t really assess after one year (really 9+ months). And in some cases the predictions concern things that it’s hard to assess objectively. But it’s still a useful exercise. So, here goes: Continue reading

Uzbek Civil Society on the Hazards of Investing in Kleptocracies

Tonight Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev will tout the benefits of investing in his country to executives of multinational firms at a swank dinner at the Onyx Room in mid-town Manhattan.  He will point to measures the government has taken since the death last year of its first president, renowned kleptocrat lslam Karimov, to open the country to foreign investment — from reforms to economic policy to steps to improve its atrocious human rights record.  But before they open their checkbooks, the execs will want to heed the warnings contained in a letter Uzbek civil society activities just sent Washington lawyer Carolyn Lamm, chair of the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce, the host of tonight’s get-together.

Reprinted below, the letter cautions that there are still many signs that Uzbekistan has yet to shed its kleptocratic past, from the appointment of one of the most notorious kleptocrats of the previous regime as prime minister to the rise to power of Mirziyoyev’s sons-in-law.  The authors remind Ms Lamm and the members of her organization what happened to those who invested in Karimov’s kleptocracy.  Not only did their investments turn out to be a bust, but the bribes the investors had to pay to do business have cost them (or more accurately their shareholders) dearly.  One firm was fined $795 million by Dutch and American authorities and a second recently told shareholders it anticipates paying over $1 billion to resolve the case against it.

The authors sent a copy of their letter to the members of Ms Lamm’s organization, a group that includes General Electric,  General Motors, Boeing, Catepillar, Coca-Cola, Honeywell, Visa, and other well-know, well-respected companies traded on American stock exchanges (and thus subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act). Readers holding shares in any of these companies will want to ensure company executives pay careful attention to the letter’s warnings.

Ms Carolyn Lamm
Chair
American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce
601 13th St NW # 600S
Washington, D.C. 20005

September 18, 2017

An Open Letter to the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce regarding the Situation in Uzbekistan on the Eve of its Meeting with President Mirziyoev

Dear Chairwoman Lamm:

We, the undersigned Uzbek citizens and activists, write to you on the eve of your dinner with President Shavkat Mirziyoev on September 20, 2017, to express concern that your members may be misled into believing that meaningful reform is underway in our country. We ask you to share with them this letter explaining the current conditions in Uzbekistan and the risks any firm investing or doing business in the country will face. We further ask you to urge the President to reform the judiciary and create an independent, impartial and effective body to investigate allegations of corruption. Continue reading

Will the Trump Administration Realize that Fighting Extremism Requires Fighting Corruption?

That corruption breeds extremism is one of the abiding lessons of the last decade plus.  Whether it is Nigeria, Egypt, Somalia, Tunisia, Iraq, Afghanistan or Uzbekistan, allowing what a recent Carnegie Endowment report terms “acute, systemic” corruption to fester is the equivalent of putting out a welcome mat for extremists, home-grown and foreign. Eleven days after President Trump takes office, the world will see whether his national security team has absorbed this lesson.

January 31, 2017, is the day the Trump Administration must tell an American judge whether it will continue negotiations with the Government of Uzbekistan over the return $850 million in bribes paid in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act the Department of Justice has frozen.  Following a Bush Administration policy continued by the Obama Administration, the U.S. government position has been that such funds should go back the country of origin only if:

  1. the government take steps to curb grand corruption and
  2. the monies are used to improve the lives of ordinary citizens.

Candidate Trump called the FCPA a “horrible” law. On the 31st the world will see what that means in practice.  He could, as I explain here an article for the U.S. newspaper The Hill, tell the judge he has decided to turn the money over to the Uzbek government without strings.  That result would certainly show how horrible he thinks the FCPA is.  It would also ease the task the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Union, and the other radical groups in Central Asia have set of overthrowing the endemically corrupt Uzbek government.

Will the Trump Administration realize that fighting extremism requires fighting corruption? Visit this blog February 1 for at least the first answer to the question.

Sua Sponte Corruption Inquiries by Arbitral Tribunals: Causing More Harm than Good?

As several prior posts on this blog have discussed (see here, here, and here), corruption has emerged as a significant and controversial issue in international investor-state arbitration proceedings, with a number high-profile cases in which the tribunal refuses to provide relief on the grounds that the underlying contract was procured through corruption. In these cases, corruption allegations usually surface at the initiative of one of the parties. For example, this summer, Djibouti filed an arbitration against Dubai-owned port operator DP World, seeking annulment of a port concession because DP World allegedly formed its contract with Djibouti for the operation of Africa’s largest container terminal through corrupt means. However, in rare instances, corruption can enter the picture without either party raising the issue during the proceedings. In these cases, the arbitral tribunal considers the issue of corruption sua sponte, even when neither party alleges corruption by the other.

Perhaps the most prominent example of this is the tribunal’s decision in Metal-Tech v. Uzbekistan. In Metal-Tech, the ICSID tribunal, in its words, “required explanations” from the parties for suspicious facts that “emerged in the course of the arbitration”–in particular the fact that Metal-Tech had paid exorbitant, seemingly unjustifiable sums for consulting services to an Uzbeki government official and individuals with close ties to Uzbeki leadership. The ICSID tribunal then essentially placed the burden of disproving corruption in light of this circumstantial evidence on Metal-Tech, which could not come up with enough evidence to overcome the tribunal’s presumption. The ICSID tribunal held it did not have jurisdiction and dismissed Metal-Tech’s claim.

On the surface, sua sponte efforts by tribunals to address corruption may seem like a positive step in the anticorruption fight. Indeed, it might seem irresponsible for the tribunal to stick its head in the sand given such facially suspicious facts. As Michael Hwang and Kevin Lim assert in a recent paper endorsing this sua sponte practice, “Tribunals must remain vigilant and alert to the possibility of corrupt dealings being hidden by one or both parties, otherwise they may become unwitting accessories to heinous acts.” But in fact, the approach adopted by the tribunal in Metal-Tech, might do more harm than good. Indeed, by engaging in sua sponte considerations of corruption, arbitral tribunals might unwittingly perpetuate corruption under several different scenarios: Continue reading