The month of February is an opportunity to revisit one of the main tools for measuring corruption perceptions around the world. Indeed, since 2002, the NGO Transparency International publishes annually an index of perceived levels of public sector corruption, understood as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. This is one of the most used instruments for assessing the impact of corruption on investment and growth.
This composite tool is based on the aggregation of 12 different indexes, consisting of surveys conducted in each country by experts and independent organizations, such as the World Bank’s Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA) or ratings of the African Development Bank. Transparency International standardizes the data of its sources, ensures their reliability, the representativeness of the samples, and the credibility of the institutions that carried out the original surveys.
The ranking is on a scale of 0, for a state perceived as highly corrupt, to 100, in the case of a state perceived as not being corrupt. In the Corruption Perceptions Index 2017 (CPI2017), published on 23 February, more than two-thirds of the 180 surveyed countries scored below 50 in 2017. France shares the 23rd position with Uruguay, just behind the United Arab Emirates. It is the same position as last year but with one extra point (70 instead of 69 in the 2016 index). New Zealand, Denmark, then Finland, Norway and Switzerland, which are tied, stand on top of the podium, with scores of 89, 88 and 85/100 respectively. Despite the measures that were implemented in a number of countries in recent years, the results of the CPI 2017 demonstrate that a strong legislative arsenal of prevention and fight against corruption is not enough; evidence of seamless enforcement is needed.
Analysts sometimes turn to other instruments for assessing corruption, including the governance indicators of the World Bank Institute and those of the Bertelsmann Foundation. Indeed, one of the tools of the World Bank’s Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA) measures transparency, accountability and corruption in the public sector. Besides, the Bertelsmann Foundation’s Transformation Index reviews and compares the quality of governance in 129 developing and transition countries, based on data it collects. Its Sustainable Governance Indicators evaluate 41 OECD and EU states around three pillars, including the Democracy Index, which measures the quality of democracy and rule of law in each country. However, the comparison of these various indexes shows a correlation between the scores of countries in different rankings, which can be explained by the fact that their sources are generally similar.
A delegation from the GRECO, the anticorruption body of the Council of Europe, visited Romania on 21 and 22 February as part of an ad hoc urgent evaluation concerning the recent reforms of the judiciary. The delegation met with public officials, legal and judicial professionals, as well as representatives of NGOs and international institutions. The GRECO underlined that those in charge of investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating corruption offenses should enjoy independence. Moreover, it recalled that the transparency of the legislative process must be improved and the principle of the separation of powers respected. The delegation will prepare a report, with specific recommendations, for discussion at the GRECO’s next plenary meeting.
On 13 February, the European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, criticized the lack of legislative transparency of the Council of the European Union. She specifically criticised the Council’s failure systematically to record Member States’ positions during discussions on draft legislation, and the practice of disproportionately marking documents as not for circulation, or “LIMITE”. She remarked that its “behind-closed-doors” approach constitutes maladministration and risks making citizens feel excluded. Consequently, Ms. O’Reilly called on Member States to make the EU legislative process more accountable to the public, by opening up their negotiations.
On 19 February, Dutch MPs presented Mário Centeno, president of the Eurogroup, with a set of recommendations to increase transparency in the Council. These recommendations were endorsed by 26 national parliaments from 20 EU countries. The proposed measures included systematically publishing documents related to legislative deliberations; adopting more detailed rules on those deliberations; formalizing informal bodies like the Eurogroup; and reopening talks on the EU’s access to documents regulation. Mr. Centeno pledged to take these recommendations into account and to strengthen transparency in the Eurogroup.
On 20 February, José Manuel Barroso, former president of the European Commission, was accused of breaking his promise not to lobby for his current employer, the investment bank Goldman Sachs. His meeting with Jyrki Katainen, vice president of the Commission, who is responsible for competitiveness, growth and jobs, was perceived as an interest representation activity and its opacity was rebuked. As a matter of fact, there were no available documents on the subject of this meeting. The German NGO LobbyControl asserted that the EU’s transparency register is full of loopholes and that lobbying in Brussels should be better regulated. A stricter and incentives-based regime was suggested.
On 14 February, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) added 85 000 companies, as well as 110 000 shareholders and administrators, part of the Paradise Papers investigation, in its Offshore Leaks Database. This database, which was established thanks to the various data leaks that ICIJ has had access to, like the Panama Papers, now contains more than 785 000 offshore entities. Its aim is to promote transparency by helping journalists, researchers and citizens to find the true beneficiaries of economic arrangements made through tax havens.
On 21 February, the NGO Transparency International (TI) released its Corruption Perceptions Index 2017, which ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption. New Zealand ranked highest, followed by the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland. The Somali public sector was considered as the most corrupt. France occupies the 23rd position. According to the NGO, despite anticorruption efforts around the world, most states, especially emerging countries, are making insufficient progress. TI observed that states with the least protection for journalists and NGOs also tend to have the worst rates of corruption. The correlation between corruption and the reduction of space for civil society organizations was highlighted.
On 22 February, Global Integrity, a NGO that advocates for open governance, released its annual report, which takes stock of the achievements and challenges of 2017, while also identifying valuable lessons for 2018.
On 13 February, after an extraordinary meeting of its executive council, the African National Congress (ANC) ordered Jacob Zuma to step down as president, even though his term should expire only in 2019. The early departure of Mr. Zuma was decided following his involvement in multiple corruption cases, particularly related to the Indian-born Gupta family. On 14 February, an elite South African police unit raided the home of the Guptas, accused of embezzlement and influence peddling in the government. Searches and arrests took place. In the evening, after trying to resist pressure from his party, President Zuma announced his resignation with immediate effect.
As judicial investigations progressed, an arrest warrant was issued against one of the Gupta brothers because he did not show up for his corruption trial, on 15 February. Meanwhile, the leader of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, became president. Before the Parliament, he vowed to eradicate corruption in the country. In addition, on 16 February, the new Head of State promised to reinforce ethics in the public sector. Accordingly, Mr. Ramaphosa is expected to purge his cabinet of ministers tainted by allegations of corruption.
On 18 February, an article published as part of the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium, a partnership between Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Transparency International, addressed the frequent travels of the Cameroonian president Paul Biya. In particular, the article analyzed the expenses related to these trips, which raise suspicions of corruption.
The fourth call for applications from judges to join the Anticorruption division (PAC) ended on 2 February. A recruitment committee will review the applications received and appoint a magistrate for each available position. At the end of this process, the PAC – composed of 36 judges – will be able to operate. Launched in March 2017, the division had difficulty finding candidates with the necessary qualifications to carry out its anticorruption missions.
On 3 February, anticorruption judge Danladi Umar was accused by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of demanding a large sum of money from a suspect in a case he was working on. Mr. Umar, who chairs Nigeria’s Code of Conduct Tribunal, a special court to hear cases involving false asset declarations of public officials, acquitted in 2017 the president of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, on charges of corruption. The EFCC appealed the judgment and a new trial shall be held.
In the midst of tensions, the trial of Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall ended on 23 February. The verdict will be delivered on 30 March. The supporters of the mayor, who was accused of embezzling public funds, denounce a political intrigue to remove him from the 2019 presidential race.
In early February, five employees of the Tunisian Central Bank were arrested for money laundering and corruption. Two of them were detained as part of an investigation for currency trafficking. In a press release issued on 12 February, the Central Bank reported that it notified the competent judicial authorities on its own initiative after being aware of the illegal activities carried out by its staff.
On 13 February, Israeli police recommended charging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with bribery in two investigations. The leader rejected these conclusions and claimed his innocence on television. The official indictment will depend on the decision of Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit, who was appointed by the prime minister and used to be his cabinet secretary. He is not obliged to make a quick decision and thus the procedure could last until 2019.
On 18 February, former aides to the prime minister were detained in a probe into benefits allegedly granted to telecommunications company Bezeq in exchange for favorable media coverage of Mr. Netanyahu. On 27 February, another investigation was opened into allegations of corruption in the purchase of German submarines, which also implicates the entourage of the prime minister. Regardless of these successive scandals, the party of Mr. Netanyahu, the Likud, and the government coalition continued to support him, whereas the opposition demanded his resignation.
On 6 February, a citizen group asked the Federal Court to quash the decision of former Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd not to investigate Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s vacation on the private island of Aga Khan. On the same day, a motion was presented by the opposition to force Mr. Trudeau to reimburse the public expenses related to this controversial travel.
On 14 February, three raids were undertaken in different parts of the country, to investigate tax evasion cases revealed by the Panama Papers.
On 9 February, Walter Shaub, ex-director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), criticized the establishment of a fund to reimburse legal fees stemming from the investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. According to Mr. Shaub, this fund is unethical and the OGE should not have approved its creation.
On 12 February, the OGE released its 2017 annual performance report and its 2018-2022 strategic plan. The institution indicated to have taken steps to be more transparent in the previous year. Furthermore, the OGE put forward four long-term strategic goals for its public integrity framework: uniformity, accountability, continuity and engagement.
On 13 February, Forbes reported that one of China’s largest banks rents an office in President Donald Trump’s skyscraper. The contract between this bank, associated with the Chinese government, and the Trump group could place the Head of State in a situation of conflict of interest.
Moreover, on 14 February, the NGO Sunlight Foundation relaunched its U.S. City Open Data Census, a tool aimed at fostering increased understanding of the information city governments make available to the public.
On the same day, the Hill pointed out that cases of revolving doors may increase after the mid-term election. Some congressmen are already looking for new jobs in lobby firms.
On 16 February, the Washington Post reviewed the nominations made by the Trump administration over the past year, and found that more than 40 percent of the people picked by the president for senior positions, such as the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator and the Veterans Affairs Secretary, have faced ethical or other controversies.
On 27 February, Politico revealed that Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and advisor, lost access to top-secret intelligence of the White House. This security clearance downgrade came after several accusations of nepotism.
On 14 February, the carnival of Rio de Janeiro was marked by parades denouncing corruption. Inspired by the crisis and scandals, the winning samba schools embodied popular outrage in a climate of strong political polarization. In particular, President Michel Temer was represented as a “neoliberal vampire”, decked out with dollars.
On 16 February, the Guardian published the results of a study conducted by the NGO Repórter Brasil. The investigation revealed that more than one in ten of Brazil’s high-ranking politicians, including the President, have received campaign donations from companies linked to modern-day slavery. These companies are considered to be part of the rural lobby. To control the influence of this lobby, Repórter Brasil has developed a digital tool that monitors the impact of actions by federal deputies on the environment, indigenous people and rural workers.
On 13 February, former president Álvaro Colom and his then finance minister, Juan Alberto Fuentes, now chair of the NGO Oxfam International, were arrested on allegations of corruption, which are related to the awarding of bus purchase contracts following the reform of public transport.
On 15 February, the head of the Organization of American States (OAS)’s Mission to support the fight against corruption and impunity in Honduras announced his resignation. He mentioned the lack of support from national authorities and clashes with OAS leadership to justify his decision. This mission was created in 2016 at the request of the Honduran president, following popular marches that demanded investigation of corruption in the country by an autonomous group.
The “Caravan for Dignity”, an anticorruption march that crossed the country, arrived on 4 February in Mexico City. Javier Corral, leader of the march and governor of the State of Chihuahua, denounced the financial malpractices of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). His crusade could affect the presidential election in July.
PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
On 25 February, state news agency Xinhua reported that China’s ruling Communist Party proposed listing the new anticorruption body, the supervisory commission, as a new state organ in the Constitution.
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
On 5 February, a South Korean appeals court confirmed that Samsung group heir, Lee Jae-yong, was guilty of bribery, but suspended his jail term and ordered his release. In August last year, he was sentenced to five years in prison amid a corruption scandal that brought down former president Park Geun-hye. The release of the tycoon left many South Koreans exasperated. A final judgment is still to be made at the Supreme Court.
On 13 February, Choi Soon-sil, a friend and adviser to the ex-president, was sentenced to 20 years in jail for corruption, influence-peddling and abuse of power. Nonetheless, her lawyer announced his intention to appeal the judgment.
On 27 February, prosecutors demanded a 30-year prison term and a fine of 118.5 billion won (89 million euros) for the ousted head of state. Accused of corruption and abuse of power, Ms. Park has been in custody for almost a year.
On 22 February, Chew Eng Han, the treasurer of a religious congregation found guilty of fraud, was again charged for trying to flee Singapore before serving his jail sentence. Five other City Harvest church leaders were convicted in this multimillion-dollar fraud case.
Federal MPs have passed legislation to expand the declaration system. Currently, elected officials must declare every year their public and private mandates to the Court of Auditors, and specify whether they are remunerated or not. As of 2019, the sums received for the exercise of a mandate will also need to be declared. In addition, declarations will be submitted electronically. This reform aims to enhance transparency.
On 6 February, former high-ranking public officials, among them ex-prime ministers, were accused of receiving bribes from the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis. As members of the opposition to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, they denounced a political machination. The case against these public officials, which stems from an investigation led by the anticorruption prosecutor’s office, was referred to the Parliament – the only institution authorized to probe former members of the government.
On 13 February, a few weeks before the country’s general election, the Five Star Movement, an anti-elite party that pledged zero tolerance for corruption, was embroiled in a graft scandal. The party’s code of conduct obliges its elected officials to devote part of their income to a fund designed to finance small and medium-sized enterprises. This system, which has raised 23 million euros, was allegedly circumvented by some members of the movement. According to the Italian media, these frauds would amount to approximatively 1.4 million euros.
On 19 February, the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) announced at a press conference that, on 15 February, the institution commenced criminal proceedings against the governor of the central Bank of Latvia, Ilmars Rimsevics, after an investigation into the alleged solicitation and acceptance of bribes amounting to at least 100 000 euros. The suspect was detained for 48 hours. On 20 February, Mr. Rimsevics was forbidden to perform his duties. His suspension has shaken the financial sector of this Eurozone State. The public official maintained his innocence by asserting that he was victim of a smear campaign.
Furthermore, the Latvian banking sector was also challenged by claims of money laundering and violation of sanctions against North Korea. These accusations were made by the United States against Latvia’s third-biggest bank, ABLV. In its document detailing the allegations against ABLV, the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network said that the reliance of some parts of the Latvian banking system on non-resident deposits for capital exposed it to increased illicit finance risk. On 19 February, ABLV rejected the American allegations.
On 13 February, seven people were detained following searches conducted by officers of the National Anticorruption Center (NAC) and anticorruption prosecutors at the headquarters of the Chisinau City Hall, Chisinau Territorial Cadastral Service and at the suspects’ homes. They were charged with corruption, forgery and influence peddling. On 20 February, five other people, including civil servants and company directors, were detained for their involvement in the same case.
On 9 February, twenty people accused of active and passive bribery, including health professionals and representatives of pharmaceutical companies, were arrested by the NAC and anticorruption prosecutors. Pharmaceutical representatives are suspected of having identified doctors from several medical institutions and persuaded them, in exchange for an unlawful remuneration, to prescribe certain drugs to patients.
On 13 February, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund – the world’s largest with 1 trillion dollars in assets – called on the companies in which it invested to adopt effective anticorruption measures. In a document addressed to some 9 000 companies in nearly 80 countries, the fund recommended the implementation of anticorruption training for employees and whistleblower protection systems. Managed by the central Bank of Norway, the fund is required to abide by ethical rules, which prohibit investment in firms guilty of human rights violations, or whose activities are harmful to the environment.
On 2 February, a Social Democrat senator demanded the resignation of Laura Kovesi, chief prosecutor of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA). Ms. Kovesi affirmed that she will not step down. The DNA is in dispute with the parliamentary majority because it opposes the reforms of the judicial system. A few days earlier, in Brussels, President Klaus Iohannis also questioned the new measures adopted by the Parliament in December to limit prosecutions for corruption. On 8 February, The Economist described the government’s attacks against the DNA as “alarming attempts” to undermine Romanian democracy. On 25 February, thousands of Romanians demonstrated in Bucharest and in several major cities to support the DNA chief and the fight against corruption.
On 7 February, EU Justice Commissioner, Vera Jourova, told MEPs that Romania is going through a crucial moment and that laws on the judiciary, which were deemed unconstitutional, could still be improved. Her speech divided the MEPs.
Moreover, on 8 February, the Romanian Supreme Court sentenced former finance minister, Darius Valcov, to eight years in prison for influence peddling and money laundering. Mr. Valcov is state secretary and top advisor to the current Prime Minister.
On February 3, the British Security minister stated that Russian oligarchs suspected of corruption will now be forced to explain the source of their wealth as part of the UK’s fight against organized crime and money laundering. Authorities will seize suspicious assets until those under investigation can adequately account for their acquisitions.
On 13 February, the BBC found that a quarter of property in England and Wales owned by overseas firms is held by entities registered in the British Virgin Islands. The Caribbean archipelago, which is considered a tax haven, is the official home of companies that own 23 000 properties in the UK. According to the BBC, these firms could be suspected of being used for complex tax evasion schemes.
On 27 February, journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée were murdered. Mr. Kuciak was about to publish an article on a corruption case involving Slovak high-ranking public officials and the Italian mafia. The police estimated that the crime was most likely related to his investigative work.
On 12 February, the newspaper Le Temps pointed to the opacity of Swiss politics. Since 2011, the GRECO has recommended that transparency and control of funding of Swiss political parties be strengthened. In its latest evaluation report on Switzerland, which was released in 2017, the Council of Europe’s anticorruption body found that the country did not make tangible progress in this area. In response, a popular initiative emerged. This initiative asks parties to communicate their expenses and the source of donations greater than 10 000 francs.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged Ukraine to end months of delay over the creation of an independent anticorruption court. In a statement on 19 February, the IMF’s representative in Ukraine stressed that further progress in fighting corruption was necessary to unlock more loans. Nearly 9 billion dollars have been received by Ukraine from the IMF package so far, and future tranches are seen as key to boosting the country’s economy.