On 5 November, on the eve of the opening of the 7th Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released the Paradise Papers, nearly 13,5 million documents leaked in 2016 by an anonymous source that expose tax optimization schemes used by high-ranking public officials, multinational companies and global billionaires to evade taxes on over 400 billion dollars around the world.
These revelations come out one year and a half after the Panama Papers, while States Parties to the United Nations Convention reaffirmed, from 6 to 10 November, their commitment to preventing and combatting corruption in all its forms, and as many countries, like Morocco, Romania, Brazil or the Ivory Coast, faced major challenges in this area.
Just days away from the International Anti-corruption Day on 9 December, we have the opportunity to reiterate the needed commitment to enhance cooperation between all actors involved in these issues and to systematically implement mechanisms for preventing, detecting and suppressing breaches of integrity in the public sector, which are essential conditions to restore the confidence of citizens in their public officials.
INTERNATIONAL & MULTILATERAL
The seventh session of the Conference of the States Parties (COSP) to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) was held in Vienna from 6 to 10 November. This conference is the world’s biggest anti-corruption event, bringing together over 1600 participants. Diplomats, parliamentarians, representatives of national institutions and international organizations, members of civil society and the private sector, researchers and journalists met to exchange views on the challenges and solutions in the fight against corruption. The conference concentrated on key issues regarding the review of the implementation of the Convention, asset recovery, international cooperation, prevention and technical assistance. At the end of the session, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Mr. Yury Fedotov, recalled that the fight against corruption is connected with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As a matter of fact, Goal 16 of the Agenda aims to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
In a report published on 2 November, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption monitoring body, concluded that the main measures for preventing corruption among MPs, judges and prosecutors taken by Andorra are satisfactory, but also calls for a number of improvements. GRECO underlines that Andorran MPs should draw up a code of conduct, disclose conflicts of interest, and establish a system of public declaration of assets and interests. In addition, GRECO recommends that training activities on ethics for judges and prosecutors be consolidated. The implementation of these recommendations will be evaluated in 2019.
On 7 November, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr. Thorbjørn Jagland, opened the European Conference of Judges on “Judicial Integrity and Corruption.” The purpose of this conference, held by the Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE), was to prepare a CCJE Opinion on this subject in 2018, taking into account GRECO’s recommendations. The Presidents of CCJE and GRECO took part in the discussions.
In the framework of the Czech Chairmanship of the Council of Europe, the Czech Ministry of Justice and the GRECO organized a conference in Prague on 9 and 10 November to present the results of the fourth evaluation round regarding corruption prevention in the legislature and the judiciary.
During the conference, a report on trends and conclusions of the fourth evaluation round was officially released. According to this study, solid foundations have been laid in most member states to tackle corruption. However, in general, the implementation of existing rules remains insufficient. The supervision and enforcement of the legislative framework in place still require special attention. MPs, judges and prosecutors are thus encouraged to take ownership of GRECO’s recommendations and to assume responsibility for implementing them in cooperation with their country’s relevant authorities.
Finally, according to compliance report published on 10 November, the United Kingdom has adequately dealt with seven out of eight GRECO’s recommendations in the framework of the fourth evaluation round, issued in March 2013. GRECO indicates that the UK has achieved tangible results in preventing corruption among MPs. In particular, the revision of codes of conduct and the development of clearer guidance on MPs’ dealings with lobbyists were welcomed. Besides, the country has introduced a set of measures concerning the ethical training of judges and prosecutors.
On 10 November, the website EUobserver noticed that MEPs leading a probe on the expenses of members of the European Parliament opposed a number of measures designed to increase the transparency of the aforementioned expenses. This ad hoc working group, composed of eight members, was entrusted with the task of revising the list of expenses to be defrayed under the general expenditure allowance (GEA). The objective of such revision is to improve the existing rules and good practices. Nonetheless, according to the website, the majority of working group members voted against amendments to improve transparency of MEPs expenses as part of a resolution on the draft general budget of the European Union. This voting behavior was criticized by the NGO Transparency International that questioned the commitment of MEPs in reforming the GEA. In reaction, French MEP Elisabeth Morin-Chartier switched her vote.
On November 23, the Court of Cassation of Luxembourg hold a hearing on the appeal of Antoine Deltour, “LuxLeaks” whistleblower. The documents made public by Mr. Deltour revealed tax avoidance schemes in Luxembourg. While the lawsuit was under way, the European Parliament adopted a report on the protection of whistleblowers and summoned the European Commission to propose a legislative text on the subject. A petition calling for the protection of whistleblowers at European level, signed by 80,000 citizens, was handed to the Commission.
On 5 November, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) along with 96 media partners released the “Paradise Papers”. These revelations, which plunge into the arcane world of tax havens, are based on leaked files obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung through an anonymous source in 2016. In the framework of this investigation, the ICJ collaborated with more than 380 journalists working on six continents in 30 languages. Journalists tracked down court records, obtained financial disclosures of public officials, filed freedom of information requests and conducted hundreds of interviews with tax experts, policymakers and industry insiders.
Eighteen months after the “Panama Papers”, which mainly exposed cases of money laundering stemming from tax fraud and illicit activities, the Paradise Papers mostly present legal schemes for tax optimization that exploit the loopholes of the international tax system. These loopholes make it possible to evade taxes on substantial sums. According to estimates by Gabriel Zucman, economist and professor at Berkeley, tax evasion costs states over 350 billion euros per year. Sylvie Matelly, deputy director of the think tank IRIS, observes that the policies in place to address this phenomenon are systematically dodged. She argues that today financial interests and stakes are such that legislations are continually undermined. The Paradise Papers unveiled the offshore interests and activities of more than 120 politicians and world leaders, including Queen Elizabeth II and the entourage of President Donald Trump, of over 100 big companies, counting Nike, Apple and Facebook, and many global celebrities, such as singers Bono and Shakira. On 10 November, the judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke warned against the “semblance of legality” given to these financial schemes. He did not exclude that such stratagems might have been used to mask tax evasion or corruption.
Furthermore, on 14 November, Transparency International released the latest findings of its Global Corruption Barometer, a survey conducted among citizens to assess corruption perceptions and experiences around the world. In the last twelve months, one in four respondents paid a bribe when accessing public services. Despite variations between regions, the police and elected representatives are generally perceived as the most corrupt institutions. The majority of citizens (57%) do not think governments are doing well fighting corruption. Nevertheless, most respondents, in particular people aged 24 and under, believe that citizens can make a difference. The results of the Barometer cover 119 countries and are based 162,136 on interviews carried out March 2014 until January 2017.
On 6 November, following revelations of the Panama Papers, the President of the Senate, Mr. Bukola Saraki was suspected of violating the law on the code of conduct for public officials. Mr. Saraki allegedly omitted from his asset declaration, required by law, a firm that he owns and runs in the Caiman Islands. The senator, already implicated in the Panama Papers, denied any wrongdoing.
On 8 November, the Guardian reported on the removal from office of Babachir Lawal, secretary to the government of the federation, accused of corruption on 30 October. The highest ranking civil servant of Nigeria is blamed for diverting humanitarian aid funds by awarding contracts to administer projects in refugee camps and areas affected by the Boko Haram insurgency to companies that he set up. The dismissal of the senior public official was decided after an internal probe led by the vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo. The results of the investigation were not released and prosecution was not yet initiated. President Muhammadu Buhari sacked Mr. Lawal as part of his anti-corruption campaign. Notwithstanding some successes, critics assert that his efforts are insufficient and partial.
Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, former foreign minister and candidate in the 2012 presidential election, was arrested in the United States on 17 November. The U.S. Justice Department charged him with bribing high-level public officials in Chad and Uganda in exchange for contracts for CEFC China Energy, a conglomerate chaired by Chi Ping Patrick Ho, a Hong Kong businessman. Mr. Ho was also indicted for corruption.
On 16 November, the Council of ministers adopted a decree defining measures to prevent and manage conflicts of interests. This decree establishes that a public official in a situation of conflict of interests is obliged to declare and to abstain, under penalty of sanctions. When informed of a conflict of interests, hierarchical superiors need to relieve the concerned agent and report to the High Authority for Good Governance. This mechanisms is aims to ensure the impartiality and integrity of public officials.
At the beginning of November, the Committee on General Legislation of the Assembly started discussions about the draft law on asset declaration, fight against illicit enrichment and conflicts of interest in the public sector. Put forward by the government Youssef Chahed, this text aims to strengthen the legal framework against corruption. On 1st November, the president of the National Authority for the Fight against Corruption in Tunisia (INLUCC), Chawki Tabib, proposed to tighten sanctions provided for by the law.
On 15 November, the INLUCC launched a competition for amateur short films on good governance and the fight against corruption. The winner of the award will be announced on 9 December, the International Anti-corruption Day.
On 23 November, Mr. Tabib, presented the 2016 annual report of the INLUCC, listing all its activities and recommendations. He stated that the institution received 9 027 cases during 2016, of which 2 198 cases were in its sphere of competence. He specified that 140 cases concerned public procurement, and 1 729 cases related to financial corruption and economic crimes. He notably indicated that 94 cases were already referred to justice.
On 15 November, the decree on the creation of the National Anti-corruption Commission was published in the Official Bulletin. The Commission will be responsible for implementing the national anti-corruption strategy. It will evaluate and monitor anti-corruption programs, review the recommendations issued by the National authority for probity, prevention and fight against corruption and make the necessary arrangements for their execution. In addition, the institution can submit proposals to strengthen international cooperation in this area. The Commission is composed of representatives of government authorities, governance bodies and other institutions, as well as representatives of civil society organizations.
In the context of the anti-corruption campaign of the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, a wave of arrests took place between 4 and 5 November. Several hundred Saudi ministers, businessmen and princes were arrested for corruption and detained at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh. After freezing 1,200 bank accounts, the Saudi government announced its intention to confiscate assets derived from corruption. In total, 800 billion dollars could be recovered by the state. On 6 November, the newspaper Les Échos analyzed the possible underlying motivations of this campaign. According to the paper, Prince bin Salman seeks to consolidate his power and introduce economic reforms to boost the attractiveness of the kingdom, which plummeted in recent World Bank rankings. On 7 November, the U.S. President Donald Trump publicly supported the anti-corruption campaign of the Saudi monarchy.
The government of Quebec confirmed, on 1st November, that it would continue to implement the anti-bribery ISO standard proposed by MP Guy Ouellette, regardless of the controversy surrounding his arrest on 25 October 25 by the Permanent Anti-Corruption Unit (UPAC). According to the government, there is no connection between the criminal investigation involving Mr. Ouellette and the recommendations he made, which notably concern the UPAC. In February, the MP was mandated by Prime Minister Philippe Couillard to write a report on ISO 37001 standard with the aim of “improving the fight against corruption in Quebec”.
On 1st November, Radio-Canada emphasized that, six months after its launch, the federal anti-corruption hotline has received numerous reports but no charges were filed.
On 3 November, MP Donald Arseneault resigned following the controversy he sparked by accepting a position as director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU). His new position was criticized because it entailed lobbying activities and risks of conflicts of interest. When he resigned, Mr. Arseneault asserted that he was not the only MP to hold a second job or to have private interests. In fact, 13 MPs, including four current or former ministers, have disclosed their financial interests or their participation in the activities of a company.
On 10 November, the Ethics Commissioner opened an investigation to assess whether Minister of Finance Bill Morneau placed himself in a situation of conflict of interest by tabling a bill on pension funds. According to some conservatives and new democrats, the adoption of this bill would benefit Morneau Shepell, the firm founded by the minister’s father.
On 16 November, the Minister for Integrity in Public Procurement Robert Poëti asked the Auditor General Guylaine Leclerc to explain apparent conflicts of interest, which emerged during her investigation of the Authority of Financial Markets (AMF) and the UPAC. Ms. Leclerc is suspected of having obtained untendered contracts from the AMF at the time she ran her own business. In addition, her enterprise allegedly offered a trip to an employee of the AMF.
Finally, on 23 November, former Minister Vic Toews withdrew his court challenge of a ruling by federal ethics commissioner. The ruling found that he violated the Conflict of Interest Act when he received money for services from two Manitoba First Nations not long after leaving office.
On 9 November, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), Walter Shaub, published a set of 13 propositions to improve government ethics. These propositions, discussed with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman, aimed to ensure the independence of OGE by protecting the ethical program from political retaliation, to strengthen transparency and to increase effectiveness of agency oversight capacity.
On 13 November, the New York Times noticed that Brett J. Talley, President Donald Trump’s nominee for federal district judge, did not disclose his wife’s profession, a senior lawyer in the White House, in the questionnaire he submitted to the Senate. The Senate, which is responsible for confirming judicial nominations, asked Mr. Talley to identify family members and others who are likely to present potential conflicts of interest. The omission of his wife and her links with the White House Counsel’s Office has been criticized.
On 16 November, the trial for corruption of Democratic senator Robert Menendez was canceled because the popular jury could not reach a unanimous decision. The senator was accused of using his office to defend the interests of a friend in exchange for gifts and campaign funds. The jury was unable to decide whether Mr. Menendez’s favors amounted to corruption or to friendship alone. Despite the cancellation of the trial, the senator could be judged by his peers. The opening of an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee has been requested.
On 20 November, new allegations of conflict of interest were raised against President Trump were raised because a weekend in his DC’s hotel was being offered as a prize for donating to the Republican Party. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which issued the fundraising solicitation, rejected these allegations. Nonetheless, critics of Mr. Trump accused him of personally profiting off the presidency by favoring his business interests.
On 26 November, the website of McClatchy Washington Bureau highlighted that top staffers of the Trump administration, including former chief strategist Steve Bannon, did not file their financial reports, required by law, when leaving office. Failure to submit these reports, intended to disclose financial activities of high-ranking White House officials, is considered as a breach of transparency in public life.
On 29 November, the Department of Justice adopted the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enforcement Policy that further encourages companies to voluntary disclosure of FCPA violations. The deputy attorney general, Ron J. Rosenstein, announced the end of the pilot program that was launched in April 2016 and the incorporation of the enforcement policy in the United States Attorney’s Manual. He described its main axes, notably the choice for a more transparent approach in terms of decision taking and benefits available if companies satisfy the requirements. The main evolution lies in the creation of a presumption that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will decline to bring enforcement actions “when a company satisfies the standards of voluntary self-disclosure, full cooperation, and timely and appropriate remediation”. That presumption may be overcome only if there are aggravating circumstances, or in the event of a repeated infringement.
Accused of illicit enrichment and money laundering, Amado Boudou, vice-president of Cristina Kirchner from 2011 to 2015, was placed in pre-trial detention on 3 November. Suspicious sums of money and anomalies were detected in his income declaration.
On 21 and 22 November, the Americas Regional Meeting of the Open Government Partnership took place in Buenos Aires, as part of the Open Government Week organized by Argentina from 20 to 24 November. The event brought together more than 2,000 representatives of governments and civil society, developers, journalists and researchers to share their experiences and promote open government in the face of today’s global challenges.
Even though he was convicted for corruption, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva declared in an interview with Le Monde that he was ready to regain power in 2018, during the next presidential election. He defended himself against the judicial charges he is currently facing.
On 26 November, the website Mediapart reported that Brazilian justice authorities and the FBI are investigating a payment from Qatar of 22 million dollars made to Ricardo Teixera, former head of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), in order to buy his vote for awarding the 2022 World Cup to the country. Mr. Teixeira, who was Brazil’s representative on the FIFA Executive Committee until 2012, is implicated in several corruption cases.
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
In an article published in the Tribune on 16 November, the researcher Gabriel A. Giménez Roche observed that, confronted with multiple corruption scandals and popular protests, the government might be tempted to dismantle the “Chaebol”, the conglomerates of companies owned by powerful families. According to Mr. Roche, the Chaebol play a vital role in the country’s economy. Instead of dismantling them, he advances that the government should strengthen financial transparency and reduce incentives for tax evasion to effectively address corruption.
On 20 November, the speaker of the Parliament, Setya Novanto, was detained by Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for his suspected implication in a massive corruption scandal involving an electronic identity card project. It is alleged he is among a group of legislators and businessmen that siphoned off millions from the project, costing Indonesia 145 million euros in state losses. Before his arrest, Mr. Novanto had repeatedly dodged calls to be questioned by KPK. Chairman of the country’s second political force, he is one of the most important public officials to be arrested by this independent agency.
On 6 and 7 November, members of the National Assembly examined the reports of the President of the Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Prosecutor and the government on the fight against crime and corruption. Lawmakers highlighting the need to prevent corruption in law enforcement and oversight agencies.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan on 2 November, where he should be tried in a corruption case. He denies any wrongdoing by claiming to be a victim of a political trial. On 29 November, Mr. Sharif was accused of exerting undue influence on the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to prevent the institution from appealing the judgment of the Lahore High Court in the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case, which involved a company allegedly used by the Sharif family for money laundering.
On 2 November, the directors and editors of eight major media organizations called on the European Commission to open an independent investigation after the murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Executives of renowned newspaper, such as Le Monde, The Guardian and El País, sent an open letter to Frans Timmermans, the Commission’s first vice-president in charge of promoting the rule of law and respect for the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. They urged Mr. Timmermans to support journalists who work for the public interest.
On 8 November, the Paradise Papers revealed that, although Malta renounced to its tax haven status in the 1990s in order to join the European Union, the island is still seen as an “offshore site” by large firms specialized in tax optimization. The son of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s son also appealed to Brussels to tackle this situation.
On 5 November, some 35,000 Romanians took to the streets of Bucharest and several major cities to “defend the independence of justice”, which was allegedly threatened by a draft law under discussion in Parliament. This reform plans to reduce the competences of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA). According to the protesters, the project would place the judiciary under the political control and weaken efforts to fight against corruption. The European Commission had already warned Romania against any measure likely to undermine progress in this area. In its report published on 15 November, the Commission that potential breaches of the judicial independence remained a source of concern.
On 24 November, the DNA’s chief prosecutor Laura Kosevi denounced the political attacks that attempt to derail her institution’s anti-corruption drive. According to her, the reform would cause the subordination of prosecutors to political leaders and hinder ongoing investigations. She recalled that the independence of the judiciary is one of the pillars of democracy. On 26 November, thousands of citizens demonstrated against the government and demanded the withdrawal of the bill.
In parallel, a new criminal investigation for corruption was opened against Liviu Dragnea, leader of the Romanian Social Democratic Party (PSD) and president of the Chamber of Deputies. On 13 November, he was summoned to the headquarters of the DNA. Mr. Dragnea, who controls the parliamentarian majority, is suspected of abuse of power, creation of fictitious jobs and fraud to illegally obtain EU funds. Prosecutors accused him, along with eight other people, of having favored the company Tel Drum in call for tenders. The firm was allegedly awarded public contracts that allowed the diversion of 21 million euros. Some of these funds would have been redirected to the PSD. Mr. Dragnea’s personal assets were frozen as part of the investigation.
On 16 November, Malcolm Simmons, a British judge, resigned, denouncing malfunctions including cases of corruption, in the work of European Union Rule of Law mission in Kosovo (Eulex). He was Eulex Chief judge since 2014. According to this authority tasked with missions of ovsersight of police and justice in Kosovo, Mr. Simmons was the subject of several investigations into alleged wrongdoing.
On 1 November, several newsmedia reported on the detention for corruption of the son of the Interior Minister. On 31 October, Alexandre Avakov was arrested and heard by agents of the National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU) on an illegal taking of interest case dating back to 2014-2015, during the Donbass war. The Avakov clan is suspected of embezzlement with rigged tender procedures.
On 13 November, Transparency International (TI) and its Ukrainian chapter called on the authorities to protect anticorruption activists from persecutions and violence that they have been facing recently. Over the last few months, two anticorruption campaigners in the city of Kharkiv who led surveys for TI Ukraine were attacked. Similar reports were sent by activists from Poltava and Odessa, as well as by investigative journalists in Kiev. TI Ukraine would have been the target of a defamatory target because of its advocacy for stolen asset recovery by former President Viktor Ianoukovitch. Moreover, some civil society organizations were subject to illegal inspections and judicial proceedings. The executive director of TI Ukraine, Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, assert that the NOG will not be intimidated and will keep fighting for anticorruption institutions that are adequate to the needs of the country, including an independent and effective anticorruption court.
On 14 November, during a press conference of Prime Minister Volodymyr Groïsman, the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, urged Ukraine to fulfill its commitment to create a special anticorruption court, asserting that this would allow to attract important investments. In October, the Head of State, Petro Porochenko, declared that the anticorruption court would be set up in 2018, after the adoption of the required legislation by the end of the year. Yet, he is suspected by his opponents to block the creation process of this institution.
On 15 November, a law on whistleblowing was approved by the Chamber of Deputies. The new legislation protects employees who report wrongdoings, and peculiarly corruption cases, in the public administration and private sector. This law had been proposed by Riparte il futuro, a civil society organization fighting against corruption, and supported by 66 000 signatures of citizens.
On 10 November, because he believes that Genevois members of the Parliament should not hold positions in boards of public enterprises, member of the Parliament Mathias Buschbeck announced he drafted a bill in that sense at the Parliament. The bill aims at preventing plurality of offices that, according to Mr. Buschbeck, represents a source of conflicts of interests.
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