As the call for workshop proposals for the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Global Summit in Tbilisi in July 2018 closed on 31 March, a few days after the OECD Global Forum on anticorruption and integrity of 27 and 28 March, transparency and public sector open data as tools to promote integrity in public life remain more than ever a highly topical issue this March 2018.
First, the plenary session of the Group of States against corruption (GRECO) of the Council of Europe, from 19 to 23 March, was the occasion to reassert the importance of strengthening transparency and accountability to ensure integrity in the public sector. A conference will be organized under Croatian Chairmanship, in Zagreb in October 2018.
Several sessions of the OECD Forum also allowed to review ambitions, commitments of countries in this field and their implementation in the framework of national anticorruption reforms. For instance, on 27 March, a panel showcased examples of countries that implemented commitments with regard to opening data in a freely reusable format in the framework of their action in the field of the fight against corruption and promotion of integrity such as the initiatives presented by representatives of the OGP, Ombudsman of the European Union or French High Authority of transparency in public life. A meeting on 28 March also allowed members of the OGP to recall the importance of using international summits and fora to support and give more visibility to projects and best practices in this field.
A workshop of the Network for Integrity, held on 29 and 30 March, also focused on digital instruments that have been implemented to collect, control and publish data with regard to integrity in public life. All discussion pointed to the same conclusion: digital tools have notably allowed to better identify the scope of public officials covered by declarative obligations on the hand, but also to collect and publish better quality data on the other hand. Journalists and civil society organizations have been able to reuse such data and take part in strengthening public sector integrity and reinforcing citizens’ trust in public officials.
On 1 March, the Group of States against corruption (GRECO), anticorruption body of the Council of Europe, published two reports for Greece. The first one assessed Greece compliance with recommendations aimed at preventing and fighting corruption for members of Parliament, judges and prosecutors. The GRECO concluded that recommendations have been implemented in a limited manner given that only 6 out of the 19 recommendations have been satisfactorily implemented. As far as Members of Parliament are concerned, the GRECO welcomed the adoption and publication of a code of ethics with new rules with regard to conflicts of interest, gifts and other benefits. The GRECO also noted improvements on asset disclosure, which are now electronically filed and include more information on MPs’ liabilities, but further reforms remain necessary. The second one is a reassessment of Greece compliance in the third evaluation round on the basis of a specific recommendation with regard to transparency of party funding. This follows a profound reform with regard to anonymous donations.
On 6 March, the GRECO published the compliance report for Portugal in the framework of the fourth evaluation round on corruption prevent in respect of members of parliament, judges and prosecutors. The Group invites Portugal to strengthen and speed up action in this field because only one out of the 15 recommendations formulated in the evaluation report has been satisfactorily implemented and three partially implemented.
On 8 March, the GRECO published the evaluation report of the first country assessed in the framework of the fifth evaluation round, Slovenia. It covers corruption prevention and promotion of integrity in central governments (top executive functions) and law enforcement agencies. The Group notably recommended to strengthen conflicts of interest prevention and transparency, and to allocate more resources to the national anticorruption body. It welcomed gender balance in the Government: the eight ministries are equally distributed between men and women.
On 22 March, the evaluation report on Russia in the fourth evaluation round on corruption prevent in respect of members of parliament, judges and prosecutors. The GRECO welcomed the adoption of certain legal dispositions but also highlighted important shortcomings. It notably recommended to foster transparency in the legislative procedures, adopt a code of ethics for MPs and conflicts of interest prevention schemes. The Group called on Russia on the one hand to make the asset declarations more transparent and accessible to the public, without omitting information on income sources, and on the other hand to couple this with a stricter control and sanctions enforcement when breaches are detected.
Last, on 27 March, the GRECO made public the evaluation report of the fifth evaluation round for Finland. The Group called on the authorities, following recent scandals in police forces, to reinforce prevention and detection of corruption in the government and enforcement agencies. It also recommended to define clear codes of conducts for Ministers and high-ranking civil servants.
On 22 March, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that trilogues, which are negotiation meetings during legislative procedures gathering representatives of the Parliament, the Council and the European Commission behind closed doors in order to speed up negotiations and elaboration of European norms, will have to be more transparent. As a consequence, trilogue works will therefore have to be made public upon request.
On 15 March, the European ombudswoman, Emilie O’Reilly, reactivated the Barroso case, triggered by a meeting between the ex-president of the Commission and now non-executive chairman at Goldman Sachs, and Jyrki Kaitanen, currently vice-president, responsible for competitiveness, growth and jobs. She asked the ethical committee of the Commission to reassess a new ban of lobbying activities towards the Commission for Mr. Barroso by 6 June. This committee had given the authorization – highly criticized – to Mr. Barroso to start his new functions at Goldman Sachs but not allowing him to lobby his former institution. The European ombudswoman believes he did not honored his commitment.
On 27 and 28 March 2018, the OECD organized its 6th Global anticorruption and integrity Forum that gathers yearly hundreds of representatives from governments, international organizations and civil society organizations to discuss reforms, new approaches and best practices in this field. Under the topic Planet integrity: Building a fairer society», the issues addressed were the strengthening of integrity norms and the creation of a level playing field for enterprises, as well as reduction of inequalities and a fairer distribution of globalization benefits. On this occasion, new publications of the OECD were released such as Behavioral insights for Public Integrity or Education for Public Integrity.
On 16 March, South-African Justice dismissed the action challenging accusations against the ex-president Jacob Zuma, forced to resign in February, in an alleged corruption case in a vast armament contract. The ex-president faces 16 charges relating to more than 700 instances of alleged wrongdoing, including 12 for fraud, 2 for corruption et one for money laundering. Mr. Zuma, who denies any wrongdoing, will appear before Durban High Court on 6 April and faces serious jail time in this case that has known several developments since 2005.
On 28 March, the son of former president of Angola, Jose Filomeno dos Santos, was charged for fraud, embezzlement, influence peddling, money laundering and criminal association in the framework of the anticorruption campaign launched by the new president of Angola, Joao Lourenço. From the same movement as the former president, he did not hesitate to dismiss a certain number of high-ranking public officials. The former director of the Central Bank of Angola, who was dismissed at the beginning of the year, is also charged in the same case of suspicious transfer of funds to a Credit Suisse bank account.
On 15 March, the first trial of a high-ranking Gabonese public official for embezzlement started before the Special Criminal Court. This Court was created in January 2018 to judge managers of the Gabonese administration suspected of embezzlement.
On 5 March, Transparency international organized a conference on open data to foster transparency of public spending in Madagascar. According to the NGO, there is a strong correlation between opening administrative data and the performance in the fight against corruption. Yet, this type of projects is confronted with the fact that today, only 2 out of the 24 million inhabitants of Madagascar have access to internet.
According to a press release of the anticorruption independent Bureau dated 22 March, on 21 March 2018, the former Minister of Finance, Jean Razafindravonona, was arrested and temporarily detained for embezzlement, in a fictive public contracts case.
According to the study published in March by the national Office against fraud and corruption, which was financed by the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP), a quarter of Senegalese has been exposed to corruption in the public or private sector. The study highlights that users are more likely to propose corruption than agents. Acceptance rate would be 55%. This study aims at mapping corruption in Senegal in order to create the basis on which indicators that will be monitored and analyzed once future reforms are adopted.
In a speech pronounced on 8 March for the fiftieth birthday of the Court of Auditors, the Head of Government, Youssef Chahed, recalled the central role of the Court in the fight against corruption and promotion of good governance. He also reasserted that the fight against corruption remains a priority of the government. On the same day, a source from the customs services informed that proceeds from the anticorruption operation launched by the Chahed Government in May 2017 amount to more than a billion dinars (more than 300 million euros). Several smuggling networks have been identified and allowed to seize counterfeit goods and large amount of money.
On 26 March, the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was interrogated in the framework of investigations in a corruption cases relating to a big Israeli telecommunication group following information given by a key witness and close confidant of the Prime Minister, Nir Hefetz. The Prime Minister’s wife, son and the main shareholder of the company were also interrogated. Mr. Netanyahu keeps claiming his innocence, after 9 interrogations in diverse cases and after police services recommended his detention in February.
On 2 March, the ethics commissioner of the National Assembly, Ms. Ariane Mignolet, announced the initiation of an investigation about the Health Minister, Gaétan Barrette. This inquiry followed several controversies on the Minister’s decision taking procedures.
In addition, ethics of elected federal officials was discussed again in March, following to the controversy related to the Aga Khan’s gifts to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in December 2016. After his recent nomination, the new federal Ethics Commissioner, Mr. Mario Dion, a recensé les améliorations jugées souhaitables dans la loi, lors d’un entretien. He recalled the commissioner’s control missions for more than 3 000 public officials that fall within the scope of his missions and the priority investigations at the moment.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
On 2 March, the Guardian revealed that an ex-advisor and close confidant of President Trump, Carl Icahn, would have sold more than 31 million dollars of actions detained in a company related to steel imports. This operation would have taken place a few days only before the announcement of a rise in steel tariffs of 25% and of aluminum tariffs of 10% made by the President of the United States and while he had not bought or sell any action of this company since 2015 2015. An investigation was open by American judicial authorities. Carl Icahn was already the object of criticisms and suspicions of conflicts of interest while he was advisor to the President and kept managing his private affairs while performing his public duties.
After a first complaint dismissed in December 2017, on 28 March, a federal judge ruled that the District of Columbia and Maryland may proceed with a lawsuit for conflicts of interest of June 2017 against President Donald Trump for benefitting from his presidential functions and receiving payments from foreign governments thus violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution of the USA. Indeed, foreign delegations were accommodated at the Trump International Hotel, open in September 2016 by Mr. Trump. Judge Peter Messitte considered that the situation was detrimental to competitors and that there was an actual prejudice, clearly related to the President’s actions.
The Presidential electoral campaign in Mexico opened on Friday 30 March 2018. Corruption is perceived as a central issue. Former mayor of Mexico (2000-2006) and candidate for the third time, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, promises notably to put an end to the ongoing endemic corruption in the country; nonetheless he is perceived by the opposition as an authoritarian demagogue. The candidate of the PAN, right-wing party, Ricardo Anaya, is currently facing accusations of money laundering in the sale of a familial property. The third candidate, José Antonio Meade, successor of President Peña Nieto, must defend a mitigated record in the field of the fight against violence and corruption. Last, Margarita Zavala, ex-wife of President Felipe Calderon, is candidate as an independent and currently gathers in the polls 10% of voting intentions.
Facing legal proceedings in the Odebrecht scandal, Peruvian president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned on 21 March 2018. On 22 March, the Parliament accepted this resignation, even if it could have refused and preferred an impeachment procedure, as his predecessor, Alberto Fujimori, faced in 2000. He is the first president to resign following the corruption scandal related to the Brazilian giant Odebrecht that nonetheless already embroiled numerous Brazilian ministers and members of Parliament and led to the resignation of Ecuador’s vice-president, Jorge Glas, now imprisoned. Odebrecht would have paid close to 5 million dollars between 2004 and 2014 two consulting firms that are suspected to be relating to Mr. Kuczynski who denied being involved.
On 23 March, the first vice-president and ambassador of Peru to Canada, Martin Vizcarra, was sworn in by the Parliament. He will assume the interim position until the end of the current mandate in July 2021, in a period of strong political instability in Peru and when he will face “fujimorist” forces embodied by former president Alberto Fujimori’s children, Keiko and Kenji. In his inaugural speech, this engineer who had not belonged to any political party before taking office as a vice-president in 2016 stressed the importance of the fight against corruption.
On 7 March, Aldemir Bendine, ex-CEO of the oil company Petrobras and former director of the public bank Banco do Brasil, was sentenced to 11 years in prison by the anticorruption judge Sergio Moro for receiving about 750 000 euros in bribes from Odebrecht in his former functions.
Sentenced to 12 years in the same corruption scandal, the ex-president of Brazil, Lula, had filed a request for recourse that was rejected unanimously on Tuesday 6 march by the Superior Court of Justice of Brazil. He requested a preventative « habeas corpus », which he then tried to obtain in front of the Supreme Court, to avoid a jail-time sentence against him pronounced by the Court of second instance of Porto Alegre for a luxurious flat on the seaside that Odebrecht would have offered to him. On 22 March, by 7 votes against 4, the Supreme Court delayed its decision until 4 April. Lula will not be jailed until that day. Seven months before presidential elections, with his eligibility at stake, the latest polls give Lula 35% of the voting intentions.
Also on 22 March, a Brazilian series, O Mecanismo, appeared on Netflix. If the proper order of facts has been altered, José Padhilha, also director of Narcos, the series is based on the Petrobras corruption scandal and the “Car wash” case. As soon as 27 March, ex-president Dilma Rousseff, impeached as her predecessor, Lula, in the framework of this scandal, expressed her anger and accused the series to spread lies.
PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
On 9 March, the Supreme People’s Court published a work report recalling that between 2013 et 2017, 101 former public officials at the provincial and central levels were convicted in corruption cases. 195 000 cases involving more than 260 000 persons were closed according to the report. 13 000 were found guilty for offering bribes.
On 13 March, the supervision law at the National People’s assembly for the third time. It aims at creating a national supervision network and a new anticorruption and State supervision framework. Once it is adopted, new supervision commissions will be created at the State, province, city and district levels to deal with integrity breaches (abuse of power, embezzlement, bribes, etc.).
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
On 22 March, an arrest warrant was issued against former President of the Republic of Korea (2008-20013), Lee Myung-bak. He is accused embezzlement, fiscal evasion and corruption. Lee is notably suspected of receiving bribes amounting to several million dollars against favours to CEOs of Samsung and another public bank. He faces a 45-year jail sentence.
On 29 March, le Indonesian prosecutors sought at least a 16-year jail sentence against ex-president of the Parliament Setya Novanto, in a corruption scandal in a contract to introduce a national electronic identity card. He is accused of accepting bribes amounting approximately to 7 million dollars. Prosecutors demanded that he repays them to the State. 440 million dollars have been embezzled in this case that reached other government officials and directors in the private sector.
The corruption trial of one of the main opposition leaders, Mr. Lim Guan Eng, in started on Monday 26 March 2018. He is accused of wrongdoing in buying a house and faces a 20-year jail sentence.
On 1 March, the Chamber approved the bill and special bill on public representatives’ transparency obligations following scandals such as Publifin and Samusocial that provoked turmoil in Belgium in 2017. Categories of person subject to the declarative obligations have been extended and income perceived in different public and private functions will have to be published.
In the night from 28 to 29 March, as a consequence to the same scandals, the Walloon Parliament adopted decrees in the field of governance and transparency of public mandates and incomes perceived in local public entities. About 20 000 persons are covered. These decrees notably create new incompatibilities with other functions and for relatives in order to prevent conflicts of interest.
On 5 March, the trial for corruption in Nigeria of companies ENI and Shell opened in Milan. Both oil companies are suspected of bribes amounting to one billion dollars to obtain a contract for offshore oilfield. The main part of the sum would have been given to the former minister of petroleum of Nigeria, Dan Etete, already convicted in his country for corruption and appeared again before the court in Milan. The audience only lasted 30 minutes. The case was transferred to the 7th Criminal section and the beginning of the trail postponed to 14 May.
On 6 March, the trial of Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev opened. He is accused of receiving 160 000 euro bribes from a businessman to allow privatization of land in a City where he served as a Mayor prior to his current position. Zoran Zaev denies any wrongdoing.
On 1 March, in a case in which the investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his partner died on 25 February, the Slovakian police arrested several Italian businessmen targeted in his investigations. In his draft article, Jan Kuciak raised a fiscal fraud case related to the Italian businessman Antonino Vadala and the entourage of the Slovakian Prime Minister, Robert Fico. On the day before, two collaborators of the Prime Ministers had already resigned, including Maria Troskova, who was suspected by the journalist for alleged links with Mr. Vadala, while one thousand demonstrators protested in front of the seat of the government. On 2 March, they were 25 000 to protest in Bratislava.
On 3 March, Slovak police released the 7 Italians arrested two days before. In this context, on the day after, in a speech, the President of the Republic of Slovakia, Andrej Kiska, called for a profound ministerial reshuffle or anticipated elections to respond to this crisis that reopened the debate on freedom of press and corruption in the country. Prime Minister Robert Fico rejected these options.
On 12 March, facing this crisis, the criticisms of the opposition and demonstrators, the Vice-prime minister and Minister of Interior Robert Kalinak resigned. Indeed, his opponents blamed him for his incapacity to guarantee, as the head of police forces, an independent investigation on the assassination of Jan Kuciak and his partner. The Minister of Interior is also suspected of obstruction to Justice in an alleged corruption case. He and the former Minister of Finance Jan Pociatek would have received commissions for 200 million euros in call for tenders for services and material for the Ministry of Interior.
The European Union remains vigilant on this case. An ad hoc delegation composed of 6 Members of the European Parliament visited Slovakia on 8 and 9 March. On 14 March, a discussion on Mr. Kuciak’s revelations with regard to the abusive use of European funds in Slovakia and links between organized crime and Slovakian politicians was added to the agenda of the session of the European Parliament. This discussion was based on the conclusion of the ad hoc delegation’s visit. A resolution will be put to the vote before the European Parliament in the plenary session between 16 and 19 April.
On 14 March, as the opposition and protestors had asked it for several weeks and as only 13% of Slovak citizens believed he should remain in office, Prime Minister Robert Fico resigned. In this context of political crisis, the President accepted his resignation on Thursday 15 march and a new government led by Peter Pellegrini was formed on 21 March. The organization of anticipated elections was cancelled. Yet, the political crisis and debate on corruption remain open.
On 4 March, two canton initiatives in Fribourg and Schwyz, providing for the adoption of rules for transparency in political party funding, were adopted respectively by two third of voters and a small majority. They are the 4th and 5th cantons to adopt such dispositions. In Fribourg, political parties will have to publish the names of donor companies from the first franc they will give and individuals donating more than 5 000 francs a year. Elected officials from cantonal authorities will have to publish incomes perceived in their mandate. In Schwyz, all parties and political organizations will make public their financing. The initiative initially provided for the exclusion of any candidate from a party or group in violation of the transparency obligations. This disposition was retained by Parliament considering it was in contradiction with the passive election right guaranteed by the Constitution. A federal initiative was tabled last year after the Group of States against corruption (GRECO) of the Council of Europe encouraged several times Switzerland to adopt regulations in this field.
As far as international corruption is concerned, the Working group on bribery of the OECD that gathered from 13 to 15 March took note of a significant increase in the number of proceedings and condemnations for corruption of foreign public officials in international commercial transactions in Switzerland. Nonetheless, the group called for the establishment of a legal and institutional framework for whistleblowers’ protection in the private sector and regretted that sanctions zre not dissuasive enough, notably with regard to legal persons.