The December edition of the international newsletter of the High Authority for Transparency in Public Life provides an opportunity to reflect on a year marked by growing breaches of probity and by profound reforms in the area of good governance and public integrity around the world.
To mention only a few examples, 2018 was marked, in Spain by the historic lawsuit and heavy sentences pronounced against public officials involved in the Gürtel case, in South Africa by the scandals related to former President Zuma, by the convictions of high-level officials throughout Latin America as part of the ramifications of the Odebrecht scandal, or of former presidents of the Republic of Korea. These few examples underline the willingness to punish corruption acts and breaches of public integrity on all continents.
As regards monitoring of public officials’ probity, Tunisia, Congo, Ghana and Vietnam, to again name just a few examples, have chosen to bolster their legal framework and mechanisms to promote integrity in the public sector in 2018. The implementation of these mandates and of the necessary tools and procedures to ensure full effectiveness, as well as the improvement of existing systems around the world, will be one of the main challenges of the year 2019.
At the international level, meetings, networks and initiatives are multiplying to foster discussions on the mechanisms, tools and instruments for implementing integrity policies, alongside the challenges faced and results achieved. Such discussions are notably held at the regular working groups’ meetings of international organizations, such as the OECD, the UNODC, the Council of Europe, but also at the OECD Global Anti-Corruption and Integrity Forum, or the Open Government Partnership Global Summit. In 2018, these events stimulated discussions and reflections on various topics, like the prevention of conflicts of interest, or asset and interest disclosure systems for public officials.
As a continuation of the 2018 review, let us hope that 2019 will be a new year conducive to strengthening national integrity systems and sharing good practices at local, national and international levels, so that the experiences of all stakeholders – be they civil society actors, academics, public institutions or private organizations – encourage reflections and reforms in the area of public integrity.
INTERNATIONAL & MULTILATERAL
From 3 to 7 December, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) held its 81st plenary meeting, during which it adopted three 5th round evolution reports on Estonia, the Netherlands and Poland, regarding the prevention of corruption in central governments (top executive functions) and law enforcement agencies. GRECO also adopted eight compliance reports and its 2019 program of activities. In addition, preparations for its 20th anniversary in 2019 were discussed.
On 7 December, GRECO published its 5th round evaluation report on Estonia. It pointed to a number of areas where improvements should be made. In particular, clear standards on risks of conflicts of interest should be defined and illustrated with concrete examples. Moreover, GRECO recommended the adoption of rules to prevent revolving doors and to increase the transparency of the relations between members of government and interest representatives.
On the occasion of the International Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December, the President of GRECO called on states to redouble their efforts to fully implement the recommendations made by this body.
On 13 December, GRECO published its 2nd addendum to the 2nd compliance report of the 3rd evaluation round on Sweden. This document examines the measures taken by Swedish authorities to enhance the transparency of party funding, and concludes that the majority of GRECO’s recommendations were dealt with in a satisfactory manner.
In the 4th round compliance report on Italy, released on 13 December, GRECO observed that the country made progress in preventing corruption among judges and prosecutors, but regretted the delays in implementing its recommendations for MPs. Despite the shortcomings of the taken measures, GRECO welcomed the creation of a mandatory lobbying register in the Chamber of Deputies.
On 19 December, GRECO published its 2nd addendum to the 2nd compliance report of the 3rd evaluation round on Georgia. Progress was noted in ensuring that an independent mechanism is in place for the monitoring of political party and campaign funding. However, GRECO detected a number of pending issues and urged Georgian authorities to complete some legislative reforms in this area.
On 6 December, the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) proposed the introduction of a new measure that would allow MEPs to report their use of the general expenditure allowance on the Parliament’s website. This would be voluntary, but the AFCO believes that citizens’ pressure for transparency would prompt MEPs to file expense reports publicly. A vote on the proposal will take place in January.
On 11 December, Transparency International (TI) sent a letter to the President and some members of the European Parliament calling for an investigation into the influence of foreign states on MEPs. This request came in the wake of the investigation conducted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) into corruption allegations connected with the Azeri government, which was suspected of offering gifts to members of the institution to influence their decisions. TI urged the Parliament to follow the example of the PACE.
On 13 December, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on conflicts of interest and the protection of the EU budget in the Czech Republic. In this text, the institution requests that the Czech Government investigate the allegations of conflict of interest against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who is suspected of controlling Agrofer, a conglomerate that received EU subsidies. Furthermore, the Parliament called on the European Commission to submit a detailed report on this case and to evaluate the effectiveness of EU-supported anti-corruption efforts.
In an article published on 28 December, Franklin Dehousse, a former judge of the Court of Justice of the EU, decried the negative impact of this body on transparency in EU institutions. In particular, he cited the decision made by the General Court in September, when it confirmed the European Parliament’s refusal to grant access to documents relating to MEPs’ allowances, on account of personal data protection. According to Mr. Dehousse, the approach adopted by European judges is harmful because transparency is crucial to restore public trust.
On 13 and 14 December, a conference on the implementation of corruption prevention mechanisms was held by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission to Serbia and the country’s Anti-Corruption Agency, with the support of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As a follow-up to the International Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December, more than 100 senior officials from South-Eastern Europe gathered in Belgrade to discuss good practices and challenges in this area. In particular, participants recognized the fundamental role of transparent and accountable institutions in reinforcing public trust.
On 6 December, AFP reported that Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has formally requested the cooperation of Senegalese authorities in the French judicial investigations into corruption allegations at International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), and into the awarding of the 2016 Olympic Games to Rio in 2016 and the 2020 Games to Tokyo. Indeed, one of the key players in the case, Papa Massata Diack, has fled to Dakar. Mr. Diack is the son of the IAAF president and acted as a marketing consultant for the organization. He is suspected of having received bribes to favor the Brazilian and Japanese cities’ applications. Mr. Bach’s request to President Macky Sall came after the recent awarding of the Youth Olympic Games to Senegal.
On 10 December, Transparency International (TI) reviewed the 2018 G20’s anti-corruption efforts. The NGO highlighted the strengths of the new G20 Anti-Corruption Action Plan, such as its a strong focus on implementation of commitments made or its willingness to address the links between gender and corruption. Nonetheless, TI noted that weaknesses still remain, like the failure to explicitly link previous commitments with the new G20 anti-corruption priorities and the Action Plan.
On 18 December, Le Monde devoted an article to an investigation of the NGO Global Witness on the business relations maintained by the oil companies Total and Eni with José Veiga, a Portuguese businessman at the center of a corruption probe, and Yaya Moussa, a former International Monetary Fund (IMF) representative in Congo. According to the article, the investigation reveals the lack of transparency and suspicions of corruption surrounding transactions between oil-producing countries, companies and international donors.
On 29 December, President Dénis Sassou N’Guesso stated before Parliament that the establishment of the legal framework of the High Authority of Corruption was one his priorities for 2019.
On 9 December, as part of the International Anti-Corruption Day, RFI took stock of the situation in Ivory Coast. The country has adopted numerous anti-corruption measures, such as the creation of the High Authority for Good Governance (HABG) in 2013, and has strengthened its legal framework in this area. Despite this progress, representatives of civil society felt that the implementation of the existing provisions remains insufficient.
On 10 December, the president of the HABG asserted that all sectors of society must contribute to the fight against corruption, considered as a complex mission that requires collective efforts to change behavior.
On 12 December, Parliament unanimously passed a new law on asset disclosure. This law, which concerns many categories of public officials, was welcomed by the Minister of the Civil Service and Administrative Reform, Eddy Boissézon, as a step forward in the fight against corruption in Mauritius. Besides, Mr. Boissézon announced the creation of an anti-corruption handbook describing the duties and responsibilities of civil servants.
On 8 December, as part of the third edition of the “Integrity Idol” award organized by the NGO Accountability Lab, Malick Coulibaly, former Minister of Justice and current President of the National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH), was elected the most honest official of Mali. During his career, Mr. Coulibaly distinguished himself by his anti-corruption efforts. As a matter of fact, he was the initiator of the law on the prevention and repression of illicit enrichment, adopted in 2014.
On 4 December, the BBC reported that Nigerian authorities issued an arrest warrant against the former minister of petroleum resources Diezani Alison-Madueke. Ms. Alison-Madueke, who was the first female president of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, is involved in several corruption and money laundering investigations in the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy and Nigeria.
On 13 December, the Nigerian government announced that it had filed a lawsuit against the oil companies Shell and Eni in the United Kingdom, in relation to a 2011 oilfield deal. This deal, marked by suspicions of corruption, is already at the center of a lawsuit in Italy. The Nigerian authorities accuse Shell and Eni of being partly responsible for the embezzlement of state funds. Both firms rejected the accusations.
On 19 December, RFI published an article on the TV show “Integrity Idol” that rewards Nigeria’s most honest public official. Abdul Majid Oniyanyi, a judge of the federal court of Abuja, won the 2018 season. While the judiciary is considered one of the sectors most affected by corruption, Mr. Oniyanyi is renowned for his rigor and transparency.
On 14 December, the President of the National Office against Fraud and Corruption (OFNAC), Seynabou Ndiaye Diakhaté, said that out of 800 people concerned by disclosure requirements, 500 had filed their asset declarations. She deplored the fact that disciplinary sanctions, which could improve the compliance rate, are not within the competence of OFNAC.
On 7 December, the Supreme Court of Seychelles sentenced the former Complaints and Communications Manager of the Anti-Corruption Commission to eight years in prison for extorting funds, disclosing sensitive information, and soliciting bribes in exchange for delaying an ongoing investigation against an ex-minister.
On 28 December, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) announced that a former defense minister and his deputy were arrested in connection with an investigation into alleged military procurement irregularities. These arrests are part of President Julius Maada Bio’s anti-corruption campaign, which targeted many officials of the previous government. In this context, the ACC indicated it had recovered about 1 million dollars in misappropriated public funds in the last six months.
On 12 December, the Bolloré SA holding company announced that it had been indicted as part of a corruption probe related to the awarding of port concessions in Togo and Guinea. The group is suspected of having used its subsidiary Havas to obtain contracts in both countries. Indeed, Havas allegedly provided discounted communications advice to the Togolese and Guinean presidents during elections in exchange for port concessions in Lomé and Conakry.
On 9 December, Mohamed Sebaibi, the president of the National Body for Preventing and Fighting Corruption (ONPLC), announced that his services had received 54,000 asset declarations of local elected representatives and 6,000 declarations of senior officials. He estimated that the ONPLC should receive nearly 100,000 declarations from public officials as early as 2019. Given the large number of declarations, Mr. Sebaibi added that an electronic platform should be put in place to facilitate data processing and verification.
On 21 December, the oil company Total was sentenced to a pay a fine of 500 000 euros for corruption. The group was accused of giving 30 million dollars in bribes to Iranian public officials to obtain a gas contract in 1997.
On 2 December, Israeli police recommended that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be prosecuted for corruption. The latter is suspected of granting government favors to the Bezeq telecommunications group in exchange for positive media coverage.
On 19 December, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan indicated that he had forwarded his recommendations on the three corruption investigations against Mr. Netanyahu to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. He did not specified the content of his recommendations. Nevertheless, local media reported that he had found sufficient evidence to charge the prime minister with corruption in the Bezeq case.
On 23 December, hundreds of Lebanese demonstrated in Beirut against corruption and the deterioration of public services. Protesters gathered in front of the prime minister’s office called for political reforms.
On 6 December, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) held a conference titled “Strengthening Business Integrity in Morocco” in Rabat. On this occasion, the minister of general affairs and governance, Lahcen Daoudi, affirmed that the government is committed to fighting corruption. He stressed that this phenomenon costs Morocco an annual loss of 2 percent of its economic growth.
On 13 December, Mohamed Bachir Rachdi was appointed president of the National Authority for Probity, the Prevention and Fight against Corruption (INPPC). Mr. Rachdi, who is a former secretary general of Transparency Morocco, runs an IT company and chairs the Commission “Ethics and Good Governance” of the General Confederation of Enterprises of Morocco. The new president said he hoped to revive the INPPC’s activities and hence ensure that it played a major role in promoting, monitoring and evaluating anti-corruption policies. Mr. Rachdi also noted that the investigative powers of the INPCC should be strengthened.
On 5 December, 97 out of 217 MPs had declared their assets and interests. A mobile office was set up by the National Anti-Corruption Agency (INLUCC) at the Assembly of the Representatives of the People to help parliamentarians meet their disclosure requirements.
In order to mark the International Anti-Corruption Day, the INLUCC organized the 3rd national anti-corruption congress on 7 and 8 December. New measures, including the signing of partnership agreements, the promulgation of regulatory decrees and the creation of a new anti-corruption network, were announced at this event.
On 15 December, the President of the National Agency for Personal Data Protection (INPDP) certified that the INLUCC respected the personal data of its declarants. In addition, he argued that the difficulties faced by the INLUCC in the application of the law on asset disclosure, the fight against illicit enrichment and conflicts of interest in the public sector, adopted in July, demonstrated that the text had gaps that needed to be corrected.
On 26 December, the INLUCC’s 2017 annual report was presented to President Béji Caïd Essebsi. The report made 163 recommendations, which included speeding up prosecution of corruption cases.
On 31 December, 118 819 people, out of a total of 350 thousand individuals concerned by the law of July 2018, declared their assets at the end of the new deadline. The INLUCC indicated that a warning would be sent to those who did not meet their obligations. They will have another month to regularize their situation before the application of sanctions.
On 5 December, the Canadian Press reported that the current Quebec government, led by the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ), no longer publishes the schedules of members of the Council of Ministers, contrary to the practice of the previous Liberal government. The opposition lamented a lack of transparency. However, the minister in charge of access to information pointed out that other measures were being considered to guarantee transparency.
In a report released on 12 December, Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion concluded that Mark Kristmanson, the CEO of the National Capital Commission (NCC), a Canadian Crown corporation, violated the Conflict of Interest Act. Mr. Dion observed that Mr. Kristmanson had accepted several invitations to events and that these had been offered to him to influence him in the performance of his duties. The NCC stated that it had received a copy of the report and that its board of directors would hold a special meeting to put in place the necessary measures to remedy the situation.
On 16 December, the outgoing House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes called for the creation of a transparency office nestled under the White House. This office would be dedicated to declassifying government information at the request of congressmen and U.S. citizens.
On 17 December, Libération reported that, following the resignation of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, President Donald Trump was expected to appoint David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist who worked for extractive industries, to the position. According to the newspaper, this appointment would involve significant risks of conflict of interest because the Secretary of the Interior is responsible for the implementation of environmental policies. Therefore, if his appointment is confirmed, Mr. Bernhard may have to regulate the companies whose interests he represented.
On the same day, Global Witness released a report on the Trump Organization’s activities in the Dominican Republic. According to the NGO, a new real estate deal in the Caribbean could place the head of state in a situation of conflict of interest because his business interests could unduly influence his foreign policy.
On 22 December, Congress passed a law that requires federal agencies to publish government data considered as non-sensitive in an open format, which is freely useable and exploitable by an automated processing system. However, data related to national security and personal data are not subject to the requirement introduced by the new law.
On 1 December, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known as AMLO, took office as president. The daily Les Échos devoted an article to the new head of state’s priorities, including the fight against corruption. The article underlined that AMLO wants to break with “crony capitalism” in order to redistribute wealth. As a result, the construction of an airport in Mexico City, considered to entail corruption risks, had been canceled.
On 13 December, businessman Gianfranco Macri, brother of President Mauricio Macri, was heard by Judge Claudio Bonadio as part of the investigation into the “corruption notebooks”, a scandal involving the Kirchner administration. Indeed, a company owned by the Macri family is suspected of having paid bribes to obtain highway concessions during Nestor Kirchner’s government. The brother of the current head of state stated that he had not made any illegal payments. The father of the president was also cited but he did not appear before the judge for health reasons.
On 20 December, the appeals court confirmed that former president Cristina Kirchner, indicted for corruption in September, will stand trial. The sequestration of Ms. Kirchner’s assets was also ordered.
On 27 December, over thirty works of art were seized at the ex-president’s home.
On 19 December, President Michel Temer was charged with corruption and money laundering as part of an investigation into the adoption of a decree concerning the port sector. Mr. Temer is accused of having received bribes from companies that were benefited by the decree, adopted in 2017.
On the same day, the Journal du Dimanche devoted an article to the allegations of financial wrongdoing involving the entourage of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, whose would be inaugurated on 1 January 2019. In early December, atypical financial transactions were detected on the bank account of a former employee of Mr. Bolsonaro’s son and aroused suspicions of money laundering. The future head of state admitted that a “mistake” could have been committed concerning the suspicious payments and said that the fight against corruption remained one of his top priorities.
On 14 December, a Colombian court sentenced the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht to pay a fine of 252 million dollars. The group, which is at the center of a vast corruption scandal affecting Latin America and Africa, admitted that it distributed 32.5 million dollars in bribes to secure contracts in Colombia.
On 18 December, the government announced that it had revoked immunity and ordered the expulsion of officials from the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN agency investigating irregularities in President Jimmy Morales’ campaign funding. According to the government, CICIG exceeded its mandate and constituted a threat to peace. The head of the CICIG, Ivan Velasquez, stated that this decision violated the country’s Constitution and represented an attack on the rule of law.
On December 6, the president of the Peruvian Football Federation was detained on charges of corruption. He is accused of having offered undue advantages to magistrates in exchange for judicial favors.
On 9 December, Peruvians approved by referendum three anti-corruption constitutional reforms put forward by President Martin Vizcarra. The measures adopted include the ban on re-electing current members of Congress and reforms on the method of appointment of judges and the financing of political parties.
On 31 December, Attorney General Pedro Gonzalo Chávarry dismissed two prosecutors who were investigating allegations of corruption against four ex-presidents and the leader of the opposition as part of the Odebrecht case. Mr. Chávarry stated that he no longer trusted the impartiality of the investigators in question. His decision was condemned by President Vizcarra and challenged by civil society. Consequently, several demonstrations were organized.
On 5 December, Patrick Ho Chi Ping, Hong Kong’s former home affairs secretary, was found guilty of corruption by a New York court. He is accused of bribing senior government officials in Chad and Uganda to obtain benefits for a Chinese energy company.
On 26 December, the former director general of the Sinochem chemical group, a state-owned enterprise, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for corruption. He is accused of receiving bribes to alter contracts and to facilitate the illegal trade of refined products.
The next day, Ma Jian, the former head of Chinese counterespionage, was sentenced to life for corruption and insider trading. He was found guilty of receiving bribes and taking advantage of his position to favor companies controlled by Guo Wengui, an exiled billionaire. The conviction of Mr. Ma is part of the vast anti-corruption campaign led by President Xi Jinping. Some observers believe that this campaign, which sanctioned over 1.5 million officials of the regime, mostly targets domestic opponents of Mr. Xi.
On 17 December, Malaysian authorities filed criminal charges against the U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs and two of its employees for their involvement in a corruption scandal. The bank helped the sovereign wealth fund 1MDB raise 6.5 billion dollars through a series of bonds, in turn earning 600 million dollars in fees in 2012 and 2013. On that occasion, 2.7 billion dollars were allegedly embezzled.
On 18 December, Goldman Sachs accused some members of the government of former Prime Minister Najib Razak, also charged in the case, and officials of 1MDB of lying about the use of proceeds from the transactions. In addition, the group stated its intention to challenge the accusations lodged against it.
On 24 December, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, removed from office in 2017 by the Supreme Court, was sentenced to 7 years in prison for his involvement in a corruption case related to the purchase of a steel mill in Saudi Arabia with suspect funds. The former head of government, who was sentenced in July to 10 yeras in prison for corruption in connection with the acquisition of apartments in London, denounced the judgement as politically biased.
On 19 December, Estonian authorities arrested ten former employees of the local branch of Danske Bank as part of an international investigation into alleged money laundering. The investigation, which is being conducted in Estonia, Denmark, the United Kingdom and the United States, focuses on suspicious payments totaling 200 billion euros made through the Estonian branch of the Danish bank between 2007 and 2015 via non-resident accounts.
On 16 December, thousands of Hungarians demonstrated in Budapest against a new labor law and the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Protesters accused the government of being authoritarian and corrupt. Suspicions of misappropriation of EU funds were mentioned.
On 13 December, a press release was issued concerning the investigation, led by the Latvian Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) with the support of the Polish Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA), into corruption allegations in connection with the procurement of Riga Municipality Transportation Company. A Polish company is also involved in this case. As part of the investigation, 30 searches were carried out and six people were detained in Latvia and Poland.
On 1 December, Reuters reported that the European Commission’s legal service had concluded that the situation of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš qualified as a conflict of interest because he could influence decisions on the use of EU funds of which companies linked to him had benefited. According to the legal opinion, Mr. Babiš was the sole beneficiary of two trusts into which his shares in the firms Agrofert and the Agrofert group were transferred. These companies received 82 million euros in EU funds last year. Even if the head of the Czech government were not in a position of control, his situation would still qualify as a conflict of interest because he has an interest in the economic success of those companies.
On 13 December, the Czech Ministry of Finance declared that it had suspended requests for EU funds related to the holding company Agrofert. On the same day, Günther Oettinger, the EU Budget Commissioner, announced that subsidies would not be paid to Agrofert until Mr. Babiš’ conflict of interest was resolved. Transparency International and its Czech chapter, which had lodged a complaint regarding the prime minister’s situation in September, welcomed the Commission’s decision.
On 16 December, Radio Praha indicated that Mr. Oettinger would have recommended to Mr. Babiš measures to end his conflict of interest. The Commissioner suggested that Mr. Babiš cut all his ties and those of his family with Agrofert, or that he make the necessary arrangements so that the group does not receive EU subsidies anymore, or that he do not participate in the decision-making process related to the awarding of EU funds.
On 18 December, President Klaus Iohannis announced that he would attend government meetings to try to prevent the adoption of an amnesty bill, which could pardon public officials convicted of corruption. The head of state considered that the bill supported by the ruling Social Democratic Party would be a serious mistake for the country.
On 11 December, the British Home Office reversed its decision to suspend a program that grants visas to wealthy foreign citizens. The suspension of this program was announced on 7 December as part of efforts to combat financial crime. Indeed, the NGOs Transparency International and Global Witness denounced in October the “golden visas” schemes implemented in the United Kingdom and other European states because they pose risks of money laundering resulting from corruption and other criminal activities. When approached by The Guardian, British authorities refused to offer any further explanation on the continuation of this controversial program.
On 11 December, the Council of States, the Federal Assembly’s upper house, passed a bill that enhances the transparency of relations between interest representatives and Swiss parliamentarians. The text, which is yet to be reviewed by the National Council, requires lobbyists to disclose the name of their employer and their mandate in order to gain access to Parliament.