The actions of the High Authority are carried out in an international context marked by current events and growing attention regarding issues of corruption, the promotion of transparency in public life, and the integrity of public officials. The 6th international newsletter reviews the efforts, reforms, and studies conducted to meet these challenges, both within international organizations and civil society and at the national level.
INTERNATIONAL & MULTILATERAL
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
On June 22nd, 2017, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a report on the fight against transnational corruption in the Czech Republic, 17 years after the ratification in this country of the OECD anti-bribery convention, and no prosecution for corruption by foreign public officials has taken place since. The report emphasized that important steps remain to be taken regarding the independence of prosecuting authorities or the protection of whistleblowers, for example, but recognized that the recommendations made by the Working Group against Bribery in 2013, particularly in terms of raising awareness, have been well implemented.
Council of Europe
Adopted in March, 2017, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) made public, on June 9th, 2017, its 17th Annual General Report. It highlights a sustained level of implementation of the recommendations put forth despite a slowdown in the third and fourth rounds of evaluation. GRECO encourages member states to give more importance to preventative measures against corruption. For example, while codes of conduct for members of parliaments have sometimes been introduced, the monitoring of integrity and the prevention of conflicts of interests of members of parliaments must be strengthened overall, as well as the regimes of assets declaration applicable to them. It is also recommended that lobbying activities be more widely regulated. Finally, GRECO notes a growing interest in its activities and recommendations and details the continued implementation of activities of cooperation with other international organizations, such as the OECD.
On June 21st, GRECO additionally made public its assessment of the code of conduct for members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It criticized the mechanism currently in place by pointing out, among other things, “excessively discretionary” decisions. GRECO regrets that the members of the parliamentary assembly are not well informed of and trained in the standards of integrity and their implications.
On June 27th, the parliamentary assembly adopted an amendment to its regulations providing the possibility of removing the president by a two-thirds majority vote, 24 or 48 hours after the tabling of a motion of non-confidence. Indeed, the standing president of the parliamentary assembly, the conservative Spanish senator Pedro Agramunt, has refused to resign for two months, following a controversial trip to Syria and suspicions of corruption.
On June 23rd, GRECO published a second compliance report on corruption prevention for members of the parliament, judges and prosecutors in Finland. GRECO congratulated Finland for its implementation of the recommendations made in the framework of this cycle, which is finalized by this report. Also on the 23rd of June, GRECO made public its compliance report for Estonia on the same issues. Out of 19 recommendations made in 2012, 14 have been fully and 5 have been partially implemented. Estonia has notably strengthened its declaration obligations and adopted a code of conduct for its members of Parliament, along with a guidance document presenting concrete cases of conflicts of interests or offered benefits.
European Prosecutor’s office
On June 8th, 20 member States of the European Union decided to launch a strengthened cooperation aimed at creating a European prosecutor’s office to combat financial fraud, which could handle cases of fraud surpassing € 10,000 or transnational fraud concerning the VAT, for example. While the European Parliament has yet to speak on this matter, the office would be established in Luxemburg and consist of a general prosecutor and 20 magistrates (one per state), with a related unit in each member state. The structure in France, for example, would consist of 8 judges.
On June 15th, 2017, the European Parliament adopted its mandate of negotiation at the Conference of Presidents in the context of future discussions on a new interinstitutional agreement between the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of the EU on a mandatory register of transparency. Among the principal objectives stated in the mandate are the inclusion of the Council of the EU in this common register, the assurance of the proper functioning of the register, the monitoring of declared data by allocating sufficient resources and the necessity to improve the quality of the information collected by the register.
Certain organizations of civil society such as Transparency International EU or Alter-EU have acknowledged the progress in the mandate, but consider it too meek and have accordingly made public a forum and a report calling for European institutions to go beyond the proposed reforms. They notably ask them to widen the scope of the register (for example, to the representatives wishing to communicate with officials of the Parliamentary Secretariat and the Council).
On June 20th, Access Info Europe and 53 applicants filed a complaint to the European Ombudsman for failure to register, process, and respond to communication requests dating back to January 2017 concerning the travel expenses of European Commissioners in 2016. The stated objective is to improve not only the communication of these items to the public but also the maintenance of the archives of the European Commission.
On June 20th, during the conference of the European Network of Ombudsmen, the third work session was dedicated to the presentation of the results of a joint study by the OECD and EU Ombudsman on the role of ombudsmen in the promotion of Open Government, examining 86 institutions in 59 countries, as well as the EU ombudsman. The study revealed that 61% of these institutions have adopted a code of conduct, 69% have mechanisms of declarations of assets and/or conflicts of interest, and 72% have their strategy or plan of action freely accessible to citizens. 45% of these institutions openly publish the results of their investigations under aggregated formats and 22% do so systematically for each investigation. These institutions have strong ties with third-party actors and these relationships have multiple goals: to promote the role of the ombudsman, to strengthen the usage of ombudsmen services by citizens and to strengthen the implementation of their recommendations. The study emphasized that, despite the impact these institutions have on the promotion of transparency and the strengthening of citizen trust, they remain little associated with the national agenda in terms of open government.
European Food Safety Authority
On June 14th, the Corporate Europe Observatory published a report showing that close to half of the experts of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) find themselves in a situation of conflicts interest with actors regulated by their agency. The EFSA rejected the conclusions of this organization of civil society and published a press release on the measures newly adopted by the authority to strengthen its independence.
On June 7th, Transparency International EU and other organizations of civil society created the coalition ALL Alliance for democracy. This alliance aims to promote European cooperation and dialogue on matters of democracy, good governance, and anticorruption reforms.
On June 21st, the Transparency Group of the College of Europe presented its work to the direct of the department of political and administrative studies, Olivier Costa, a representative of Transparency International EU, Léo Hoffmann-Axthelm. The contributions will shortly be published on the website of Transparency International EU.
On June 21st, upon the initiative of the High Authority for Good Governance, an integrity committee was created at Bondoukou. Its mission is to supervise and denounce agents of corruption at the local level. This implementation is part of the strategy of the HABG that aims to form a national coalition against corruption and similar infractions. Its creation took place in parallel with an awareness campaign to sensitize public officials to the HABG’s missions and the population to the consequence of corruption, in order to promote the prevention of corruption.
On June 23rd, public officials and citizens of Abegourou were also given training by the HABG on the consequences of corruption. Again, a local integrity committee was set up for citizens, presided over by the President of the Communal Youth, Adou Richard Désiré, as well as an anticorruption platform consisting of public, traditional and religious officials, and chaired by the prefect.
On June 5th, a coalition of organizations of civil society presented to the central government of Abuja an ultimatum threatening to file a complaint against the State if it did not cancel its decision to grant a contract to an Italian petroleum group (ENI), considering the criteria of this contract too ambiguous. Four days later, on June 9th, the State Secretary of Petroleum announced that a new process of court appeals would be introduced, in the political context in which President Buhar is awaiting results from his “war on corruption .” After two years of this struggle, while funds were effectively repatriated and certain public officials are now accountable to the judiciary, some continue to point out that no court convictions have been issued yet.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
On June 23rd, members of the government signed the “The Act of Involvement of Ethics for Good Governance and Anti-Corruption .” The Secretary General of the Government, Xavier Bonane Ya Nganzi, oversaw the translation of the government’s political will to guarantee transparency and integrity in the management of public affairs by the government of the DRC. Out of 58 members, more than 40 have already signed the act.
On June 1st, the deadline imposed by the law, 30 to 40% of the 8,000 Malagasy public officials under the obligation to submit a declaration of assets to the Independent Anti-Corruption Bureau (BIANCO) had not yet sent this document. Two ministers were among those overdue. The Director General of BIANCO recognizes that certain members were unaware of their duty to submit such a declaration. Reminder letters were thus sent out, leaving two months for late members to complete the document, failure of which was subject to prosecution. In Madagascar, failure to declare or submission of a false declaration is now punishable by six months to five years in prison.
On June 9th, at the hardware reception at the French Embassy, the Director General of BIANCO encouraged citizens to submit observations if they discovered instances of potential illicit enrichment by public officials, emphasizing that thanks to the reminder letters, he hoped that 90% of officials will have sent in their declarations by the end of July.
On June 19th, the first trial “ill-gotten gains ” began in Paris. Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, son of the President Teodoro Obiand and vice president of Equatorial Guinea, is accused of embezzlement of public funds and corruption amounting to more than 100 million euros in a case opened in 2007. The French Justice is also investigating assets in France of families of other African leaders, such as those of Denis Sassou Nguesso (Congo-Brazzaville), of the deceased Omar Bongo (Gabon) and the fallen Central African President François Bozizé.
In the first week of May, thanks to the help of an informant, the South African press released hundreds of emails between Gupta, a rich family of businessmen close to President Jacob Zuma, and members of the government. Certain ministers may have been able to travel using funds from businessmen or benefit from their support shortly before their appointment, for example. On June 14th, the ombudsman of the Republic announced the launch of a preliminary investigation into the President and his family, and also into corruption and enrichment of senior officials of public enterprises. According to the published exchanges, the Gupta family may have, for example, received around 370 million euros upon the signature of a contract between Transnet, the South African railway company, and a Chinese company for the purchase of locomotives.
North Africa and the Middle East
On June 4th, in an interview with Tunisian newspapers, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed stated he was determined to “tear down corruption.” The arrests made since May were not an action initiated by him, but by policies in place since the summit of the State and that sometimes were based on investigations that lasted for months. The President of the Republic, Beji Caied Essebssi, congratulated the government for its engagement in this matter and also called for “continuing the war on corruption.” In its June 25th edition, the New York Times published an article about the actions currently underway in the country.
On June 15th, Chawki Tabib, President of the National Anticorruption Forum (INLUCC), announced that 10 regional centers will soon be opened across the country. He also took the opportunity to point out that within the larger anticorruption operation launched by the prime minister, where neutrality was concerned, it was not the INLUCC’s responsibility to divulge the names of persons involved, and that a large number of the cases involved smuggling. Corruption in Tunisia is not limited to this, which led him to state that in matters of public markets or of administrative corruption, the main cases had not yet been exposed.
On June 22nd, a Tunisian delegation visited the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, as part of Tunisia’s application for accession to the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO). In addition to this application, the visit aimed to strengthen the cooperation between Tunisian authorities and the Council of Europe in matters concerning the promotion of good governance and the fight against corruption.
On June 5th, ICI Radio Canada was able to attend one of the trainings given by the Permanent Anticorruption Unit (UPAC) to Canadian officials, an opportunity to present its missions and its results since its creation in 2011. The article touched on the content of these trainings targeting some 25,000 officials over the course of 900 sessions that were organized to present the workings of corruption and conflicts of interest. After training the civil servants, UPAC expects to offer trainings to companies in contact with the government.
On June 9th, the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, announced the six-month extension of the terms of office of the Ethics Commissioner, Ms. Mary Dawson, and the Lobbying Commissioner, Ms. Karen Shepherd, noting the difficulties in selecting and nominating their successors. This process of selection is all the more complicated since these two officers have opened investigations involving the Prime Minister, regarding, respectively, his vacation and the presence of lobbyists in fundraising activities of the Liberal Party.
THE UNITED STATES
After several months of waiting and of requests made by the Director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), on May 31st, the White House released the ethics waivers granted to certain members of the Trump administration who remain in contact with organizations for which they have worked in the past, such as the advisor to the President, Kellyane Conway, or former lobbyists. The document, published on May 31st, takes into account only the exemptions granted to the White House, not those of federal agencies. According to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, it appears that the Trump administration had given waivers to as many people in 4 months as the Obama administration did in 8 years. According to editorialists of the Washington Post, this seems to show that the current President wants to rely more on lobbying and in less transparent and open ways, as in parallel, the President removed a measure introduced by President Obama that had made public White House visitors’ log.
On June 12th, prosecutors in Washington D.C. and the state of Maryland prosecuted the President of the United States for violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution by remaining the owner of his company and regularly receiving updates on the financial health of the group, and by collecting millions of dollars in payments and benefits from foreign governments since taking office. In January, a similar complaint on the President’s conflicts of interests was filed by the organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. On June 14th, 196 Democratic members of Congress announced that they were prosecuting the president for “conflicts of interest with at least 25 countries.” If the court determines that the plaintiffs have the right to sue, the prosecutors would request access to the fiscal declarations of the President, which Donald Trump had previously refused to publish.
On the night of June 16th, the OGE published the financial statements of President Trump, less detailed than tax returns, which does not make it possible, for example, to evaluate the exact amounts withheld. The Center for Responsive Politics published the information contained in the document in the form of a table. In light of this publication and the publically accessible documents on the Trump empire, Alex Baumgart, author for Open Secrets, assessed the evolution of the financial situation of the President over the course of the past three years. He concluded that during the last year and a half, the various activities of the group have allowed him to acquire some 1.3 billion dollars.
On June 24th, Cristina Kirchner, the former president of Argentina during 8 years (2007-2015), declared herself a candidate for the Senate. Her election would allow her to benefit from Parliamentary immunity, as she is currently the subject of investigations regarding several cases of corruption. She may be judged and convicted, but not imprisoned.
On June 7th, the President of Brazil reiterated his confidence in the law, while his judges of the Superior Electoral Trial debate the validity of the 2014 presidential election, tainted with suspicions of illegal financing in the Operation Car Wash case, which could deprive Mr. Temer, Vice President of Dilma Rousseff who became President once she was impeached, the Presidency. In fact, in mid-May, a record seemed to show that Mr. Temer had given his approval for the payment of the silence of Eduardo Cunha, the former deputy who is now in prison. On June 9th, the 7 judges agreed upon the dismissal of the case against President by a very narrow majority. However, in the same case, on June 3rd, a collaborator of President Temer, Rodrigo Rocha Loures, was arrested. He had been filmed picking up a suitcase of bills shortly after the recording involving the President. He is suspected of collecting bribes for President Temer.
On June 17th, Mr. Batista, the head of agri-food company that had broadcasted the tape that had incriminated President Temer in mid-May, gave another interview with the Brazilian press, in which he accuses the President of directing “the most dangerous criminal organization in the country.” These revelations from mid-May had pushed the Supreme Court to authorize the opening of an investigation against the President for passive corruption and obstruction of Justice. He mentioned dozens of millions of dollars in bribes to various political organizations, including that of the President, which replied with a statement calling the interview a “fabric of lies.” On June 20th, a preliminary police report nevertheless revealed the existence of evidence of passive corruption of the Head of State in this case.
On the night of June 26th, the Attorney General Rodrigo Janot submitted a formal bribery charges against the President. In order for the President to testify before the Supreme Court, this indictment must receive the approval of two-thirds of deputies, after which he will be dismissed of his position for 180 days, the duration of the proceedings. In addition, Rodrigo Janot may issue new indictments for obstructions to justice and association with wrongdoers, following the publication of the abovementioned police report.
On June 12th, the former President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, was arrested at Coral Gables on the basis of an arrest warrant from the Department of Justice, at the request of Panama. He is under investigation for corruption and for spying on opponents.
THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH KOREA
On June 23rd, Choi Soon-sil, the confident of the ex-president of the Republic of Korea and the main defendant in the scandal that has rocked the country since November 2016 was convicted in a first trial in this much-publicized case to 3 years of prison for having bribed employees of a university to admit her daughter. If she is found guilty on other counts, she could be sentenced to several dozen years in prison. In fact, she is also suspected of having profited from relations with Park Geun-hye to receive millions of dollars from large Korean conglomerates like Samsung.
On June 26th, the citizens of Mongolia were called to elect their new President of the Republic. The three candidates are all involved in cases of corruption concerning foreign bank accounts, traffic of public employments, and donations to a sect. At the end of the first round; on June 27th, the results were still being contested and counted. No one was able to obtain an absolute and a second round must be organized for the first time in the history of the country on the upcoming 9th of July.
On June 11th, the Prime Minister of Pakistan received a letter asking him to appear on June 15th before a Commission charged with investigating allegations of corruption against his family following the revelations of the Panama Papers.
On June 6th and 7th, 2017, a conference on implementing and assessing the impact of assets and interests declarations systems was co-organized in Tbilisi by the Civil service Bureau in Georgia, the regional anticorruption initiative, the anticorruption division of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). These two days were focused on a future report by the OCDE on the subject, to be published in 2018, and made it possible to review the experiences of practitioners from twenty-plus different states on the matter. All the exchanges highlighted the common obstacles encountered by agencies and institutions responsible for collecting and/or checking declarations of assets and interests, whether in France, Portugal, Latvia, Slovenia, Romania, Kosovo, Indonesia, Armenia, and Bulgaria, for example.
On June 22nd, 2017, the mayor of Orhei, detained by the National Anticorruption Center in June 2016, was condemned to 7 years and 6 months in prison for fraud and money laundering. He fraudulently obtained more than 5 billion lei (approximately 245,400,000 euros) from the Savings Bank of Moldova. The mayor testified in 2016 on the affair regarding the former prime minister of the Republic of Moldova, also detailed by the NAC and condemned to 9 years in prison for passive corruption and traffic of influence. From 2010 to 2013, the former prime minister extorted and received from the mayor of Orhei, who at the time was director of a company, financial means, goods and services to an amount of 60 million dollars. In the case of the mayor of Orhei, the District Prosecutor will appeal to the decision to obtain a heavier punishment before the Court of Appeals.
On June 13th, the New York Times reported on the affairs of corruption and the conflicts of interest that have affected Belgium in recent months, at the occasion of the resignation of the Mayor of Brussels on June 8th, following the Samusocial case. An audit revealed that the mayor had received € 36,000 for attending the meetings of an organization helping the homeless, without proof that these meetings actually took place.
On June 1st, the head of the national anticorruption prosecutor in Spain, in office since February 2017, resigned. The opposition had called for his resignation since infoLibre, a Spanish media, had published information showing that he owns shares in an offshore company in Panama that owns real estate in a locality in Madrid. In addition, between 2003 and 2015, the magistrate reportedly obstructed Justice in the context of an investigation on the financial arrangement of a company created by the former President of the Madrid region, Ignacio Gonzalez.
On June 12th, and after important demonstrations in March of 2017, a new day of demonstration against corruption was organized upon the initiative of Alexeï Navalny, leader of thousands of people across dozens of Russian cities. He was arrested outside of his house, brought before a judge and sentenced to 30 days in prison. In total, more than 1,500 other people were arrested. The European External Action Service responded in a statement by their spokesperson and called for Russian authorities to release the arrested individuals and to respect freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
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