The news in January 2018 highlighted the shared will to fight corruption and to promote integrity in all continents. In light of this, the code of conduct for European Commissioners was strengthened, and new mechanisms were established or are under development in the United Kingdom and Morocco, for example. Likewise, the new presidency of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe reiterated its commitment to promote exemplarity, while pressure rose on leaders implicated in corruption scandals, such as Jacob Zuma in South Africa.
However, these evolutions and reactions must not make us forget about the necessary vigilance and prevention of risks related to the breaches of probity that make the news. In the face of scandals in South Africa, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, and given the economic cost of fraudulent activities in the continent, the African Union recognized this necessity by prioritizing the fight against corruption during its thirtieth summit.
Events in January, like the attack against a former anti-corruption watchdog chief in Egypt, have shown once again that institutional and civil society actors working to promote integrity remain under threat. Nevertheless, this struggle is carried on and “must be relentless” – as stated by the new president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Michele Nicoletti, in his opening speech of 22 January of 2018 – in order to ensure to citizens transparency in decisions and institutions. Indeed, in the beginning of February, citizens organized demonstrations to voice their expectations in this regard in many countries, such as Ukraine, Romania and Mexico.
On 3 January, GRECO, the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption monitoring body, published a report assessing Spain’s compliance with its recommendations to prevent and combat corruption in respect of MPs, judges and prosecutors. Four years after the adoption of the Fourth round evaluation report in December 2013, GRECO concluded that that there was limited progress in Spain in complying with its recommendations and that the country’s level of compliance remained “globally unsatisfactory”.
On 18 January, GRECO released Romania’s compliance report on corruption prevention in respect of MPs, judges and prosecutors (4th Round). The anticorruption body noticed that of the 13 recommendations contained in its evaluation report, only two were dealt with satisfactorily and four were partly implemented. GRECO notably acknowledged the role of the National Integrity Agency (ANI) in controlling MPs’ asset and interest declarations, but it also pointed out that some elected representatives in situations of incompatibility were maintained in office and that certain decisions were still not enforced. In general, the report considered that Romania’s level of compliance was also “globally unsatisfactory”.
On 22 January, the new president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Michele Nicoletti, delivered the opening speech of the 2018 session. He spoke about the value of parliamentarism and argued that the “battle against political corruption must be relentless” at all levels, including within international organizations. He stressed the importance of the exemplarity, transparency and collective responsibility of institutions like the PACE.
On 17 January, Emilie O’Reilly, European Ombudsman, recommended that Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, suspend his membership of the G30, a Washington-based international group of bankers. His participation in this selective and secretive forum was deemed “contrary to ethics”. Even though Ms O’Reilly did not refer to conflicts of interests, she remarked that participation in these meetings, which are never made public, convey the impression of being contrary to ethical rules, according to her spokesperson, Gundi Gadesmann.
On 23 January, the Council of the European Union removed eight jurisdictions from the EU’s list of non-cooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes, following commitments made at a high political level. Barbados, Grenada, the Republic of Korea, Macao SAR, Mongolia, Panama, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates were moved to a separate category of jurisdictions subject to close monitoring.
On 24 January, a report commissioned by the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament shows that much more ambition is required in the fight against corruption within Bulgaria and at EU level. This report was released shortly after the start of the Bulgarian presidency of the Council of the EU.
On 29 January, negotiations started between the Parliament, Council and Commission on a new inter-institutional on a mandatory transparency register for lobbyists. At the end of 2017, under Estonian presidency and after months of internal discussions, the Council reached a common negotiating position.
On 31 January, the European Commission officially renewed the code of conduct for its members. Innovations include the extension of the cooling-off period before engaging in new professional activities of 18 months to 2 years for Commissioners, and to 3 years for the President of the Commission. Moreover, a definition of conflict of interest was adopted for the first time, and stricter rules on declarations of interests were set out.
The fight against corruption was at the heart of the thirtieth summit of the African Union (AU), which was held from 22 to 29 January in Addis Ababa. As a matter of fact, the subject was chosen as a priority for the regional organization in 2018. In particular, the consequences of corruption for development were discussed. On 25 January, at a session of the AU Executive Council, Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), underlined that the continent has been losing 148 billion dollars a year due to various fraudulent activities. This sum represents about 25% of the average GDP of Africa. Substantial resources that could have been spent on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals are being squandered.
On 28 January, AU Heads of State pledged to join forces to fight corruption in the continent. African leaders welcomed efforts to eradicate this phenomenon, such as the creation of anticorruption institutions in many countries. Yet, they stressed that much remains to be done to address this challenge to prosperity, peace and good governance in Africa.
On 11 January, Transparency International (TI) welcomed the decision of Luxembourg’s Court of Cassation, which overturned the verdict against Antoine Deltour, a whistleblower involved in the LuxLeaks scandal. Nonetheless, the NGO noted that the sentence of Raphael Halet, another LuxLeaks whistleblower, was upheld. Mr. Halet will take his case to the European Court of Human Rights, considering that he acted in good faith and with the intention of advancing the fight against tax evasion. In this perspective, TI advocated for effective legal protection of whistleblowers, at the European and national levels, to ensure that those who expose serious threats to the public interest are not punished.
On 16 January, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) announced that it would freeze part of the public funds (about 130 million dollars) that were allegedly diverted by the Guptas, a family of businessmen involved in several corruption scandals at the upper echelons of the state. This case has shaken the country and undermined Jacob Zuma’s presidency for nearly two years. The NPA’s move coincided with the creation of a commission of inquiry into allegations of widespread corruption in the government. It is the first time that the Gupta family is worried. Like the President Zuma, they have always denied any wrongdoing.
On 22 January, the African National Congress (ANC) confirmed that leaders of the party discussed the early departure of President Zuma, but they did not give him a deadline. According to the ANC Secretary-General, Ace Magashule, the party has entered a period of renewal in order to regain its moral legitimacy. In power since the end of the apartheid regime in 1994, the ANC has seen its popularity fall, damaged by corruption scandals.
On 28 January, Mr. Magashule himself was suspected of corruption. The police carried out searches in the office of the ANC Secretary-General as part of an investigation into the embezzlement of 13.5 million euros of public funds. As a consequence, Mr. Zuma could lose one of his main allies at the head of the party, increasing the pressure for him to resign.
On 2 January, President Nana Akufo Addo promulgated the special prosecutor’s bill to establish a national anticorruption office. Under the authority of the Attorney General, the new office will investigate corruption cases involving public officials and private sector actors.
On 24 January, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) announced that former secretary to the government Babachir Lawal, who was close to President Muhammadu Buhari, was arrested for alleged corruption. Mr. Lawal was removed from office last October after being accused of awarding public contracts to companies that he set up.
On 17 January, the platform www.pencumrewmi.sn was launched. The Senegalese Association of Information and Communication Technology Users led this project, which was supported by the French Embassy in Senegal. Its aim is to empower citizens by providing them with a better understanding of the work of parliamentarians.
On 6 January, two former ministers who served under Robert Mugabe – president from 1987 to 2017 – were accused of corruption. They rejected the accusations, which were viewed as the latest sign of a crackdown on public officials loyal to Mr. Mugabe.
On 9 January, the Zimbabwe Anticorruption Commission initiated an investigation into the legitimacy of the PhD awarded to the ex-president’s wife. The former first lady is accused of having obtained her diploma by fraudulent means.
On 16 January, Moroccan media reported that the National Anticorruption Commission is struggling to establish itself. Its first meeting, scheduled for the first half of the month, was not held and its members have not yet been appointed.
On 24 January, 30 months after its launch, the anticorruption hotline has shown limited results: only 36 reported cases were prosecuted. The hotline, which guarantees the anonymity of whistleblowers, receives about 500 calls per day. According to the Secretary-General of Transparency Morocco, there is a lack of political will to end impunity. Besides, the service has insufficient resources that should be reinforced in 2018.
On 20 January, the outcomes of the fight against corruption conducted by the government were assessed. Since last May, 22 businessmen have been under house arrest and 33 public officials have been arrested. Prosecutions for money laundering and customs crimes have been initiated. The value of the fines given and of the goods seized in this campaign amount to several million dinars.
On 28 January, the Egyptian public prosecutor ordered the detention of three men in connection with an investigation into the attack against Hisham Genena, a former anticorruption watchdog chief. The three suspects were charged with several counts, including brutality, burglary and destruction of private property. Mr. Genena took part in the election campaign of Sami Anan, a former military chief-of-staff who was arrested on 23 January for allegedly violating electoral rules. His arrest appears to be a calculated move by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to push his challenger out of the race.
On 24 January, the Attorney General of the kingdom announced that 95 people, members of political elites and business circles, were still in detention nearly three months after the sweeping anticorruption campaign unleashed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This campaign appeared to benefit from popular support.
On 27 January, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the country’s leading businessmen and investor in several top Western companies, such as Twitter, was released. The billionaire, who claimed his innocence, described his confinement as a “misunderstanding”. After the initial crackdown, the Saudi government seemed ready to undertake economic reforms.
Finally, on 30 January, of the 381 arrested suspects, only 56 still remained in detention. Thanks to the financial settlements reached with those accused of corruption in exchange for their release, the Treasury is believed to have recovered 107 billion dollars.
In last December, the federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Mary Dawson, concluded that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had broken parliamentary rules by taking a vacation with a spiritual leader without asking for the opinion of her office. On 10 January, the now ex-Commissioner told the parliamentary committee on ethics, which is examining her report on the Prime Minister’s holidays, that the exception for gifts offered by friends in the Conflict of Interest Act should be removed. In her report, she considered that four provisions of the law had been violated, and that the Aga Khan, the spiritual chief of the Nizari Ismailis, and Mr. Trudeau were not actually friends.
Furthermore, on 18 January, the Prime Minister revealed to the press that, during this controversial vacation, he had talked to John Kerry about the then imminent arrival of Donald Trump at the White House. In addition, on 29 January, the Prime Minister’s vacation on the private island of the Aga Khan was again criticized in the House of Commons. In response to inquiries from MPs, Mr. Trudeau stated that he accepted without reservation the report of the former Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and that he was following her recommendations. The Prime Minister officially set up an “anti-conflicts of interest screen” between him and the Aga Khan. He committed to abstain from any future discussions or decisions regarding the interests of the spiritual leader and his institutions.
On 3 January, Petrobras said that it had agreed to pay nearly 3 billion dollars to settle a class-action lawsuit led by American shareholders, who claimed that they have suffered financial losses because of the corruption scandal in which the Brazilian state-owned oil company is entangled. This settlement is considered as one of the largest payout in the history of U.S. securities fraud lawsuits.
On 22 January, the news agency Associated Press indicated that, one year after taking office, President Donald Trump still has not kept his promise of donating the profits from foreign governments staying in his hotels to the U.S. Treasury. While analyzing the president’s other pledges, the agency brought to light numerous apparent conflicts of interest and alleged violations of government ethics. Consequently, the head of state is suspected of exploiting his office for his personal gain.
On 25 January, the newspaper New York Times disclosed that Mr. Trump allegedly ordered the firing of Robert Mueller – the special counsel overseeing the investigation into the suspected collusion between Moscow and the president’s campaign staff – last June. He was reported to have backed down after a White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive. The president dismissed the reports as “fake news”.
On the same day, a federal judge appeared receptive to the lawsuit against the head of state for violating the “emoluments clause”, the constitutional ban on accepting payments from foreign governments. During a hearing, Judge Peter Messitte expressed skepticism about the arguments put forward by the defense of Mr. Trump to dismiss the case. If the lawsuit is allowed to proceed, it could reveal much about the president’s business and personal finances.
On 24 January, the ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as “Lula”, lost an appeal to overturn a conviction on passive bribery and money laundering charges. He was found guilty of receiving a triplex apartment from the construction group OAS in exchange for public contracts of Petrobras, the state-owned oil company at the heart of Operation “Car Wash”. Moreover, the sentence of Lula, which will be carried after all appeals have been exhausted, was increased to twelve years and one month in jail.
The conviction, unanimously upheld by three judges, could rule Lula out as a candidate for October’s presidential election, although he is the favorite to win the race. Indeed, the “Ficha Limpa” (“clean record”) Law, adopted in 2010 under Lula’s presidency, sets out that public officials convicted of corruption are ineligible for eight years. The former head of state claims his innocence. He contends that the judicial proceedings against him aim at removing the left from power.
On 25 January, the ex-president was prevented from leaving Brazil while on his way to a conference in Ethiopia. His passport was confiscated. On 30 January, the Superior Court of Justice turned down a request for a preventative habeas corpus, filed by lawyers on behalf of Lula. The court considered that the plea was not applicable because the imprisonment of the former president is not imminent. Meanwhile, the country’s political crisis worsens. Demonstrations for and against the sentence have taken place, exacerbating the divisions within Brazilian society.
President Lenín Moreno confirmed on 3 January that his vice president, Jorge Glas, was dismissed after being sentenced to six years in prison for taking 13.5 million dollars in bribes from Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht. Mr Glas is the highest-ranking public official in Latin America to be convicted of corruption in connection with the Odebrecht scandal.
On 19 January, during his speech to Peruvian authorities, Pope Francis strongly condemned corruption as a “social virus” that infects everything, with the poor and the environment being the most affected. He called for a greater culture of transparency between public entities, the private sector and civil society. This speech was delivered a few meters from President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, recently accused of corruption. Before Peruvian bishops, on 21 January, the head of the Catholic Church stressed that in many Latin American countries, politics is “sick” with corruption.
PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
On 9 January, General Fang Fenghui, a former high-ranking official of the Central Military Commission, was referred to the military prosecution authority on allegations of corruption. Suspected of giving and taking bribes, the general is targeted by President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
On 4 January, former president Park Geun-Hye – who was impeached in December 2016 and has been tried since May 2017 on 18 counts including corruption and abuse of power – was indicted on additional charges for siphoning off special funds from the National Intelligence Service (NIS). She is suspected of having diverted between 50 and 200 million won per month from 2013 to mid-2016, amounting to 3.8 billion won (nearly 3 million euros) in total. On 8 January, prosecutors filed a request to temporarily freeze the ex-president’s assets in order to confiscate them if she is convicted.
On January 23, former Minister of Culture, Cho Yoon-Sun, was sentenced on appeal to two years in jail for her role in establishing a “blacklist” of nearly 10 000 artists who disagreed with President Park Geun-Hye. The list’s goal was to stifle critical voices by depriving some artists of public subsidies.
On 22 January, Trinh Xuan Thanh, a former Communist Party leader and ex-head of the state enterprise PetroVietnam Construction, was sentenced to life imprisonment for corruption. In last July, armed men abducted Mr Thanh in a Berlin park. He was applying for asylum in Germany. Vietnamese authorities were accused of organizing this forced repatriation.
Following his first conviction, the former high-ranking public official will face a second trial for embezzlement, in which he risks the death penalty. Twenty other individuals related to PetroVietnam received sentences ranging from 22 years imprisonment to 30 months of suspended jail time. These trials are part of the operation “clean hands” conducted by the government. Some observers consider that this anticorruption campaign is politically motivated because it targets people associated with former Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
The thirteenth session of the Central Anticorruption Steering Committee also took place on 22 January. On this occasion, Communist Party Secretary-General Nguyen Phu Trong praised the results achieved in 2017, while calling on the committee to speed up its work.
On 30 January, Barnaby Joyce, Deputy Prime Minister, affirmed that the Australian political system works very well in the absence of a federal anticorruption body. The declaration came before a commitment by opposition MP, Bill Shorten, to establish an integrity commission to investigate and expose corruption and misconduct at the federal level, if his party wins the next election. Mr. Shorten’s pledge was welcomed by civil society organizations. He argued that revolving doors and conflicts of interest should no longer be ignored. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, while questioning Mr. Shorten’s bona fides, has not ruled out supporting an integrity commission and has indicated the government is considering its position.
On 3 January, President Roumen Radev vetoed an anticorruption law passed by Parliament in December. This decision comes as Bulgaria has just taken the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, on 1 January. Mr. Radev disputes the effectiveness of this new legislation, which provides for the creation of a special anticorruption unit. The presidential veto obliges the Parliament to re-examine the law, but its modification is not required.
On 25 January, the government survived a parliamentary vote of no-confidence brought by the opposition Socialists over what they said was a lack of progress in fighting rampant corruption. Socialist MPs accuses the government, which holds the majority, of doing close to nothing to bring high level corrupt officials behind bars and for passing anti-graft legislation which they believe would not yield the needed results.
On 9 January, the trial of two former presidents of the region of Andalusia, and of 20 other accused, began. They face accusations of corruption punishable by imprisonment. After 7 years of investigation, the Spanish public prosecutor accuses them of diverting 741 million euros between 2010 and 2011. They are suspected of having used a national fund, the Expedientes de regulación de empleo (ERE), designed to finance plans for the dismissal and reclassification of employees in companies in difficulty. In particular, they are believed to have used this fund for paying bribes to stay in power in the region.
On 15 January, the court delivered its verdict in the context of the Barcelona Palace of Music case, known as “caso Palau”. Sixteen defendants were tried for siphoning off 24 million euros between 1999 and 2009. For nearly 10 years, the party Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC) took bribes from the transport company Ferrovial, via Barcelona’s Palau de la Musica, in exchange for public contracts: the party received 3% of illegal commissions on these contracts, that is to say nearly 6,6 million euros for public works carried out in the region. Twelve of the sixteen defendants were convicted of trading in influence and money laundering.
On 22 January, the newspaper El País underlined that investigations into the numerous corruption scandals surrounding the People’s Party (PP) are beginning to have stronger legal bases and threaten the head of government, Mariano Rajoy. According to the newspaper, these investigations are getting closer to Mr. Rajoy and undermine his leadership, already weakened by the crisis in Catalonia.
The corruption trial of former Angolan vice president Manuel Vicente, which is a source of diplomatic tensions between Portugal and Angola, began on 22 January in Lisbon. Mr. Vicente, who was at the head of the state-owned oil company Sonangol at the time of the alleged events, is accused of bribing the Portuguese prosecutor Orlando Figueira, by giving him 763 500 euros to close two investigations initiated in 2011 on suspicions of money laundering. The ex-vice president denied all accusations.
On 15 January, Prime Minister Mihai Tudose resigned following a conflict with Liviu Dragnea, president of the Social Democrat Party (PSD). This is the second time in less than a year that the PSD brought down the government, exacerbating the country’s political crisis. Mr. Tudose was replaced by a close friend of Mr. Dragnea, MEP Viorica Dancila.
On 20 January, more than 30 000 Romanians demonstrated in Bucharest and in a dozen major cities to denounce the laws adopted in late December. By limiting the independence of the judiciary, these laws are considered to hinder the fight against corruption. They are supported by the Prime Minister and the ruling majority. The center-right president, Klaus Iohannis, did not indicate whether he would promulgate these texts.
On 24 January, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, expressed his concern over the controversial judicial reforms. In a joint statement with Vice President Frans Timmermans, Mr. Junker called on the Romanian Parliament to rethink the course of action proposed.
On 31 January, the United Kingdom introduced a new instrument: the Unexplained wealth order (UWO) a mandate issued to target suspected corrupt wealth. After securing a court order, UK law enforcement authorities can issue a UWO to individuals deemed to own suspicious wealth, which asks them to explain how they were able to afford the asset with legitimate funds. Transparency International UK, which has campaigned for the establishment of this power, estimates that about 4.4 billion pounds worth of property could be targeted by the new mechanism.
On 25 January, Transparency International published a study that assesses the financial transparency and anticorruption programs of 200 largest Russian companies. The NGO remarked that profits from these firms comprise more than 70% of Russia’s national income and their taxes are crucial to the state budget. Therefore, these companies have significant economic and political influence, yet 84% of them were judged insufficiently transparent.
On 28 January, Alexei Navalny, anticorruption blogger and opponent of President Vladimir Putin, was arrested for organizing an unauthorized demonstration to denounce March’s presidential election as a “sham”. Thousands of Russians answered to his call and gathered in Moscow. A hundred activists were detained. According to Mr. Navalny, the next election is a fraud because outcomes of votes are known in advance. Declared ineligible, the opponent cannot be a candidate but he intends to influence voter turnout by promoting abstention.