Beyond the ever-present news related to anti-corruption and integrity, the end of January 2019 was particularly marked by renewed concerns about transparency in public decision-making. On the one hand, in the European Union, members of the European Parliament debated amendments to their rules of procedure on 31 January and, at the request of some of them, voted on transparency measures regarding their relations with interest representatives by secret ballot. On the other hand, at the global level, Transparency International released its Corruption Perceptions Index for the past year on 29 January and expressed its concern about the crisis of democracy, although significant efforts were recently made in certain countries and regions.
However, the European Parliament did adopt the provisions on the publication of meetings between the key negotiators of the EU legislative process (rapporteurs and committee chairs of the European Parliament) and interest representatives. This step forward in terms of transparency was accompanied by further progress in ethics and integrity, with, for example, the strengthening of ethical rules in the European Central Bank and the entry into force of a new code of conduct for lobbyists in Ireland.
Reforms and discussions on new draft laws for the prevention of corruption, as in Algeria, and the increasing scrutiny of the media and civil society regarding potential probity breaches, in the United States, Tunisia or Hungary, tend to confirm an enhanced awareness and debates about these topics. If the persistence of corruption and the rise of populism around the world remain challenges to the establishment of high standards of integrity and of coherent and inclusive national strategies for promoting ethics in the public and private sectors, the fact remains that numerous actions, reforms, reflections are under way in many countries to achieve the consolidation of a common culture of integrity.
INTERNATIONAL AND MULTILATERAL
On 16 January, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) published the 2nd addendum to the 2nd compliance report of the 3rd evaluation round on Belgium. While noting the progress that has been made, GRECO urged the Belgian authorities to give fresh impetus to the work on the transparency of political party funding.
As part of the 5th evaluation round on preventing corruption in central governments and law enforcement agencies, GRECO released its report on Poland on 28 January. It highlighted the absence of a coherent legal framework to guarantee transparency for all persons exercising top executive functions. Moreover, the verification of asset declarations of public officials was considered unsatisfactory, and concerns were raised about the independence of the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, as it is under the authority of the Prime Minister. GRECO called on the Polish authorities to take further measures to improve transparency and promote integrity.
On 29 January, GRECO published the 2nd compliance report of the 4th evaluation round on Croatia, which reviewed the implementation of recommendations on corruption prevention in respect of MPs, judges and prosecutors. In particular, GRECO regretted that the Croatian Parliament still did not adopt a code of conduct for its members. Nevertheless, the anti-corruption body praised the work of the Commission for the Prevention of Conflicts of Interest that supports and advises parliamentarians in order to reinforce compliance with ethical obligations.
The new code of conduct of the European Central Bank (ECB) entered into force on 1 January. It aims to strengthen the ethical standards applicable to high-levels officials of the institution, including governors of national central banks. The code improves the management of potential conflicts of interest by introducing specific rules for post-employment activities, private financial transactions and relations with interest groups. It also foresees the publication of declarations of interests on the ECB’s website.
On 10 January, in a speech marking the official start of the Romanian presidency of the EU, the president of the European Commission recalled that there was no compromise possible with regard to the respect of the rule of law and the fight against corruption, alluding to the controversial judicial reforms sponsored by the Romanian government. On 22 January, the Commission warned Bucharest against a draft decree that could overturn corruption convictions for politicians.
On 11 January, Heidi Hautal, Finnish MEP and vice president of the European Parliament, published an opinion piece in which she criticized the way the institution opposed reforms that could have strengthened transparency rules applicable to its members. Ms. Hautal argued that the Parliament urgently needs to improve its practices in order to restore the confidence of citizens in the run-up to the European elections.
In an interview published on 17 January, former French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve advocated for the creation of an EU anti-corruption prosecutor’s office. He stressed that it was necessary to have an EU directive regulating the fight against corruption and imposing common rules for all EU countries.
On 17 January, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the European Ombudsman’s inquiry on the transparency of legislative discussions in the preparatory bodies of the Council of the EU. MEPs shared the Ombudsman’s view that the treaties impose a legal obligation to ensure that citizens are able to understand, follow in detail and participate in the legislative process. The Parliament therefore endorsed the Ombudsman’s recommendations to the Council and urged the latter to implement them.
On 22 January, negotiators from the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the Commission reached an agreement on a revised directive that will facilitate the availability and re-use of public sector data. On this occasion, the Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society underlined the importance of open data for democracy as it increases transparency and supports a facts-based public debate.
In a report presented on 23 January, the European Commission identified the risks of investor citizenship and residence schemes in the EU, in particular as regards security, money laundering, tax evasion and corruption. These “golden” passports or visa schemes, operated by several Member States, lack transparency and oversight, according to the Commission. The latter proposed a number of measures, such as the establishment of a system of exchange of information and consultation, to better monitor the schemes in question. The NGOs Transparency International and Global Witness, who denounced the risks of “golden visas” in October 2018, deemed that the measures put forward were not strict enough to combat the problem.
On 23 January, Politico devoted an article to the lobbying efforts deployed by the American company Facebook towards the European Commission. Internal Commission documents revealed that Facebook representatives had met several times with senior EU officials to push back against rules that could affect the interests of the firm.
On 31 January, after a vote by secret ballot, the European Parliament adopted changes to its rules of procedure to operate in a more transparent way. Indeed, the key actors of the legislative process – MEPs steering legislation through parliament (rapporteurs, shadow rapporteurs and committee chairs) – will now be required to publish online all scheduled meetings with interest representatives named on the Transparency Register. Other MEPs are also encouraged to publish online any meetings they hold with lobbyists. In addition, the Parliament’s website will have to be technically adapted in order to allow members to publish information on their use of the General Expenditure Allowance. These new rules were welcomed by civil society organizations.
On 10 January, Tsunekazu Takeda, president of the Japanese Olympic Committee and a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), was indicted for active bribery as part of a French judicial investigation into the awarding of the 2020 Olympic Games to Tokyo. Mr. Takeda is believed to have bought votes from African IOC members before the election of the Japanese capital. As a matter of fact, suspicious payments were allegedly made to a lobbying firm linked to Papa Massata Diack, the son of the former head of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), who is himself involved in several investigations into corruption in sport. Mr. Takeda denied the accusations.
On 29 January, Transparency International (TI) released its 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index, which is relies on 13 surveys and expert assessments to measure public sector corruption in 180 countries, using a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). In 2018, Denmark led the ranking, followed by New Zealand and Finland. Perceived levels of corruption were higher in Somalia, Syria and South Sudan, countries that had been affected by violent conflict in recent years.
More than two-thirds of countries scored below 50, with an average score of 43. Since 2012, 20 countries, including Argentina and Ivory Coast, significantly improved their scores, and 16 significantly decreased their scores, including Australia, Chile and Malta. With a score of 72 points, France moved up two places compared to 2017, and now occupies the 21st position. In contrast, the United States dropped in the ranking. According to TI, the American low score coincides with an erosion of ethical norms at the highest level of power.
Furthermore, TI drew attention to the link between public probity breaches and the weakening of democratic institutions. Indeed, the NGO highlighted that corruption contributes to the crisis of democracy around the world, and favors the election of populist candidates.
On 21 January, Business Day published an editorial on the corruption scandal involving the security firm Bosas. Angelo Agrizzi, a Bosasa executive, revealed that each month thousands of euros in bribes were paid to about 40 politicians and senior state officials in exchange for public contracts. According to the editorial, this new case demonstrates that corrupt practices are deeply rooted in the South African public sector.
On 28 January, former head of state Jacob Zuma was accused of accepting bribes from Bosas. During his testimony before the commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture, Mr. Agrizzi said that he bribed Mr. Zuma to halt an investigation against his company.
In an interview published on 24 January, the president of the National Anti-Corruption Authority (ANLC), Jean-Baptiste Elias, took stock of the past year and presented the outlook for 2019. He mentioned the missions carried out by the ANLC in 2018, in particular those related to the application of Benin’s law on asset declarations of public officials. Besides, Mr. Elias announced that the ANLC action plan for the new year will focus on four themes: prevention, raising awareness, training and sanctioning.
On 21 January, President Alassane Ouattara, while attending the seminar of representatives and directors of technical assistance centers of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Africa, held in Abidjan, pledged to strengthen the fight against corruption by 2020. He notably emphasized that he would curb impunity, and that sanctions would be applied for breaches of probity.
On 16 January, Ahmed Husein, a journalist who investigated corruption in African football, was murdered in Accra. He was involved in the making of the documentary film “Number 12”, in which journalists use hidden cameras to trap dozens of referees, as well as several leaders of the Ghanaian federation by offering them bribes. Following the scandal, over fifty referees were suspended by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), and the president of the Ghanaian federation was forced to resign. The police have not yet identified the perpetrator. However, a MP from the ruling party is implicated in the case because he had recently broadcast the picture of Mr. Husein on national television, promising a reward to the person who would assassinate him.
On 25 January, President Uhuru Kenyatta appealed to all officials to put an end to their businesses with private companies. Moreover, Mr. Kenyatta asked the Attorney General to draft a bill banning these practices, with a focus on preventing conflicts of interest.
On 29 January, the Mozambican Parliament voted to lift Manuel Chang’s parliamentary immunity. This former finance minister and MP from the ruling party is in custody in South Africa. He was arrested on corruption charges following a U.S. court order. Mr. Chang is notably accused of receiving 5 million dollars in bribes, paid in exchange for secret loans granted to public companies. Crédit Suisse bankers were also been indicted in this case.
On 2 January, the weekly Jeune Afrique devoted an article to the upcoming presidential election, which will pit the current president Muhammadu Buhari against Atiku Abubakar, a multimillionaire businessman and former vice president of Olusegun Obasanjo’s government. On the one hand, Mr. Abubakar is suspected of corruption, illicit enrichment and conflicts of interest. On the other hand, Mr. Buhari, who enjoys a reputation for austerity and rectitude, shows a mixed record regarding the fight against corruption, one of the priorities of his mandate. While concerns over public probity are at the heart of the presidential campaign, the article points out that the election promises to be uncertain.
On 31 January, the National Office for the Fight against Fraud and Corruption (OFNAC) announced that its outreach activities in 2018 directly affected nearly 115,000 people in different regions of the country.
On 22 January, the Committee on Legal and Administrative Affairs and on Freedoms of the National People’s Assembly consulted with jurists and academics as part of the review of the draft law amending and supplementing the law on the prevention and the fight against corruption. The purpose of this consultation was to gather expert advice to improve the Algerian anti-corruption system.
On 30 January, the Saudi authorities announced that they had recovered about 107 billion dollars in settlements concluded as part of the anti-corruption campaign, launched in November 2017 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Indeed, the authorities specified that, at the end of this campaign, 381 individuals were summoned, 87 made financial agreements in exchange for their release, and 64 were still detained.
On 7 January, in a televised address, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the corruption investigations against him. Threatened with possible indictment, three months before the legislative elections, the head of the Israeli government reiterated his innocence and asked to confront prosecution witnesses in order to contradict their statements. According to polls, Mr. Netanyahu is the favorite to win the elections. Nevertheless, an indictment could jeopardize his chances. In fact, the opposition and one of his ministers consider that he should resign if he is charged. Mr. Netanyahu, whose indictment was recommended by the police last December, is suspected of granting government favors to a telecommunications group in exchange for positive media coverage.
On 23 January, a former minister and an ex-director of customs were arrested for alleged corruption. They are suspected of being involved in a case of cigarette smuggling.
On 3 January, the Council of Government focused on the findings of the review report on the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption by Morocco. The recommendations of the report, including the adoption of a law on conflicts of interest and the strengthening of control over asset declarations of public officials, were discussed during this session.
On 18 January, the governance departments of the government’s presidency and of the ministry of national defense, in partnership with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), held a conference in Tunis under the theme “Integrity and Governance in the Defense Sector: Strengthening Democracy and Development”. The event brought together parliamentarians, diplomats, experts and representatives of civil society. Discussions focused on the importance of codes of conduct for the clarification of ethical principles and the prevention of corruption in public institutions.
On 22 January, the National Anti-Corruption Agency (INLUCC) announced that it resumed receiving asset declarations of persons who did not submit their declarations within the legal deadline, which expired on 31 December 2018.
On 23 January, Alexandre Deschênes, former integrity commissioner of the province of New Brunswick, lamented the fact that only 115 interest representatives joined the register inaugurated in April 2017. Mr. Deschênes, who resigned on 31 December due to a heavy workload, stressed that the monitoring powers of the commissioner, who is responsible for managing the register, need to be strengthened.
On 4 January, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Department of Justice concerning a possible violation of the conflict of interest law by Ivanka Trump. According to CREW, the daughter and adviser to the president would have personally and substantially participated in the implementation of a new tax law benefitting the financial interests of her husband, Jared Kushner. The watchdog organization requested that an investigation be conducted.
On 14 January, the president signed into law the open government data act, passed by Congress last December. The new law requires federal agencies to publish all government data considered as non-sensitive in an open format that is freely usable and usable by an automated processing system.
On 26 January, CNN reported that lobbying activity in Washington surged to 3.4 billion dollars in 2018, the highest level since 2010. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce posted the highest lobbying bill, spending nearly 95 million dollars.
On 18 January, Le Point published an article on the revelations of the trial of Joaquín Guzmán, aka “El Chapo”, a powerful Mexican drug dealer. Witnesses to the trial, which opened in November 2018, said that Sinaloa’s cartel, headed by El Chapo until his arrest in 2016, paid bribes to many public officials at all levels of the state. In particular, at the top of the executive branch, former President Enrique Peña Nieto was accused of receiving 100 million dollars in bribes.
On 1 January, Jair Bolsonaro was inaugurated as president of Brazil. On this occasion, he reiterated his pledge to permanently free the country from the “yoke of corruption”. Indeed, the fight against corruption was one of the central themes of his victorious electoral campaign.
On 24 January, while Mr. Bolsonaro’s son is suspected of corruption, Justice Minister Sergio Moro assured that the government would not intervene in the ongoing investigation. The president also said that his son should be punished if the financial malpractices of which he is accused are proven.
On 11 January, thousands of people demonstrated in Bogota and in several other Colombian cities to demand the resignation of Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez, suspected of involvement in the corruption scandal linked to the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. Mr. Martinez is accused of failing to report Odebrecht’s illicit activities that he was aware of when he worked as a lawyer at a firm associated with the Brazilian conglomerate.
On 2 January, Attorney General Pedro Gonzalo Chávarry reinstated two prosecutors who were investigating the corruption cases related to the Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht, after removing them from office on 31 December 2018. Mr. Chávarry reversed their dismissal following strong pressure from public opinion and criticism by President Martín Vizcarra. The latter presented to Congress a draft law declaring the public prosecutor’s office in a state of emergency, a text that provides for the suspension of its officials, including the attorney general, and their replacement by others, mandated to investigate the decisions of prosecutors.
On 3 January, demonstrations were held in Lima and other major Peruvian cities to demand the resignation of Mr. Chávarry, suspected of involvement in a network of judicial corruption and of obstruction of the investigation against Odebrecht. Despite the protests, the attorney general refused to step down.
On 7 January, the Guatemalan authorities announced the termination of the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), set up by the United Nations in 2007. The UN Secretary-General stated that this decision was contrary to the legal obligations established by the agreement signed between the international organization and the Guatemalan government. The latter accused the CICIG, which notably investigated irregularities in President Jimmy Morales’s campaign funding, of interference in internal state affairs.
On 24 January, during his visit to Panama as part of the World Youth Day, Pope Francis decried corruption, calling on all public officials to exercise their duties with dignity, honesty and justice.
On 6 January, the daily El País devoted an article to the economic impact of corruption in Venezuela. According to a calculation by the opposition MP Freddy Superlano, who chairs the finance committee of the Venezuelan Parliament, about 450 billion dollars in corrupt assets left the country in the last 20 years. The article indicated that the main drivers of corruption in Venezuela are fraudulent manipulation of currency controls, which generates capital flight, as well as malpractices in the state-owned oil company PDVSA.
On the same day, Christian Zerpa, a Venezuelan Supreme Court judge who fled to the United States, stated that people connected with President Nicolás Maduro’s entourage are involved in corruption cases. He also questioned the legitimacy of Mr. Maduro’s second term in office, by asserting that the May 2018 election was not free.
On 7 January, the news agency Xinhua reported that, according to data from the Chinese supreme anti-corruption body, 180,100 persons were sanctioned for involvement in corruption cases or for violations of the code of conduct since the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in late 2017.
On 11 January, the CCP announced that, as part of President Xi Jinping’ anti-corruption campaign, 1,335 fugitives, including 307 party members and government officials, were returned to the country and more than 519 million dollars in ill-gotten gains were recovered in 2018. In the last four years, over 5,000 fugitives were arrested.
On 9 January, explosive devices were discovered at the homes of the chair and deputy chair of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Transparency International condemned these attacks and stressed that it is essential that the KPK, considered a pillar of the rule of law and the fight against corruption in Indonesia, be able to carry out its activities without intimidation.
On 29 January, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad unveiled his five-year plan to fight corruption in the public sector. The plan would entail a reform of the appointment process for key posts, require legislators and ministers to publicly declare their assets, and introduce new laws to regulate political funding and lobbying. These measures are aimed at preventing probity breaches following a massive corruption scandal, involving the previous government and the 1MDB state fund.
On 10 January, La Croix devoted an article to Albania’s efforts to fight organized crime and corruption. The article notes that reforms of the judicial system and measures to promote integrity in law enforcement agencies were implemented in order to speed up the process of accession of the country to the European Union.
On 22 January, the Commission on Ethics of High-Ranking Officials (CEHRO) announced that it achieved the highest results among other Armenian anti-corruption authorities in the context of an assessment carried out by the European Union and the Council of Europe. This assessment, covering the period 2017-2018, reviewed the effectiveness and independence of specialized anti-corruption in the Eastern Partnership countries.
On 23 January, RFI reported that the Attorney General’s Office withdrew the new charges against anti-corruption blogger and human rights defender Mehman Huseynov, who is currently serving a two-year prison sentence for defamation. Mr. Huseynov was on a hunger strike to protest the new lawsuits, which put him at risk of up to seven years of additional detention. Several civil society organizations called for the release of the blogger, considered a political prisoner. As a matter of fact, Mr. Huseynov exposed integrity breaches in the high echelons of the Azeri ruling establishment. His most recent work was about President Ilham Aliyev naming his wife as the country’s vice president
On 10 January, contrary to his habits, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán held a press conference, giving journalists the rare opportunity to question him. Many questions were asked about the suspicious enrichment of his relatives and the involvement of his son-in-law in a fraud probe over EU funds. Mr. Orbán responded that he never interfered in EU procedures and that the government was fighting corruption.
On 1 January, a code of conduct for lobbyists, compiled by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPOC), came into effect. It was developed following a public consultation process, and takes into account international best practices in this area. The new code sets out a series of ethical principles that apply to all interest representatives in order to provide practical guidance on transparency and ethics in lobbying. Thus, this instrument aims to ensure that interest representation activities are conducted with honesty, integrity and respect for institutions and public officials.
On 4 January, a Portuguese court absolved the majority of defendants in a corruption trial related to the granting of “golden visas” to foreign investors. Among the 17 defendants, two were sentenced to suspended prison terms, and two Chinese nationals to fines. Former Minister of Home Affairs Miguel Macedo, forced to resign in 2014 following the scandal, was acquitted of the charges of dereliction of duty and influence peddling.
On 10 January, the Portuguese chapter of Transparency International submitted a formal request, for the third time since April 2018, to the Ministry of Home Affairs to release information about the controversial residency-by-investment program.
On 11 January, a bill to terminate the “golden visas” scheme was rejected by the Portuguese Parliament. Nonetheless, another bill, which provides for the granting of “green visas” in exchange for investments in environmental projects, was approved.
On 8 January, the Romanian media reported that the former chief prosecutor of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA), Laura Kovesi, lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) following her dismissal in July 2018. Ms. Kovesi asserted that several rights provided for in the European Convention on Human Rights were violated at the time of her removal from office.
On 20 January, the justice minister presented a draft decree that allows those convicted of graft since 2014 to challenge the verdicts handed down by the Supreme Court. Many public officials convicted of corruption, like the leader of the ruling social democratic party Liviu Dragnea, could benefit from this measure. On 22 January, the European Commission criticized the draft decree as a threat to the rule of law.