On 9 December, International Anti-Corruption Day, the international newsletter of the High Authority reviews the events, reforms and stories that made the news in November 2018 in terms of corruption prevention and integrity promotion. This month was marked by new or renewed commitments, and the implementation of reforms, as in Tunisia for instance, but also by developments in a number of cases of ethical breaches or suspicions of conflict of interest, as in Latin America or the Czech Republic.
Indeed, increasing attention is being paid to conflicts of interest on all continents. This is visible both in countries where the prevention of conflicts of interest is a deeply entrenched tradition, like in Canada, as in countries where the issue has recently raised concerns and is emerging as a new priority on the reform agenda related to the promotion of public integrity, like in the Ivory Coast.
These debates draw on discussions and evaluations that are currently taking place as part of the implementation of international anti-corruption conventions. Indeed, assessments of the implementation by the States Parties of the United Nations Convention against Corruption, and more specifically of its Chapter II on corruption prevention, but also the fifth evaluation round of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) of the Council of Europe, recall the importance of managing and preventing conflicts of interest to build robust national integrity systems.
The month of December, and the events that will be held during the International Anti-Corruption Day, will offer new opportunities to discuss the evolution of legislative and regulatory frameworks in this area, and to share good practices and tools developed throughout the world to raise awareness on conflicts of interest and support public officials and their institutions in the management and prevention of these situations.
INTERNATIONAL & MULTILATERAL
On 20 November, Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, was forced to resign following accusations of ethical misconduct. Mr. Solheim was suspected of conflict of interest and criticized because of his travel expenses, which could be as high as 500,000 dollars. According to a draft internal UN audit leaked to The Guardian, this lack of probity was a reputation risk for an authority dedicated to fighting climate change. Indeed, some states announced that they were halting funding for this agency due to the behavior of its chief.
On 6 November, the President of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) attended a conference organized in Dubrovnik by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). On that occasion, he stressed that international commitments against corruption must be translated into concrete actions at the national level. He also recalled that PACE should set an example by complying with GRECO’s recommendations to strengthen its integrity framework following allegations of corruption.
On 4 November, The New Federalist devoted an article to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO). Created in 2017, this body will start operations from late 2020 or early 2021 onwards. It will be competent to investigate and prosecute fraud cases. According to the article, EPPO could remedy the shortcomings of existing agencies and play a major role in the fight against corruption in Eastern Europe.
On 7 November, Transparency International (TI) pointed out that a revision of the European Parliament’s rules of procedure, which should be voted on 21 November, could increase lobby transparency. As a matter of fact, one of the provisions under consideration would oblige rapporteurs, shadow rapporteurs and committee chairs to publish meetings with interest’s representatives on the Parliament’s website. Since these MEPs play a key role in the legislative process, this measure would better regulate the influence of lobbies on EU decisions. On 21 November, the vote about the rules of procedure was postponed because of the delayed distribution of a report by the Parliament’s legal services on the subject.
On 12 November, DW published an analysis of the lobbying efforts of non-EU actors in Brussels. Based on data from the EU Transparency Register, this analysis showed that American firms’ expenses represent a considerable share of the total expenditure related to interest representation activities targeting European institutions. In addition, DW indicated that lobbying fluctuates significantly depending on legislative files.
On 16 November, the European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, made public her decision on the European Commission’s handling of requests for access to documents concerning Commissioners’ travel expenses. After an inquiry, Ms. O’Reilly decided to close the case by approving the Commission’s publication policy, which intends to publish information about each Commissioner’s travel expenses every two months.
On 20 November, the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee adopted the report on the draft directive on EU whistleblower protection. The text proposes reporting mechanisms, protection against retaliation, and the creation of independent public authorities to support whistleblowers in Member States. Transparency International welcomed the vote as a step in the right direction.
On 29 November, an issue of Politique européenne devoted to transparency was published. The articles in this edition explored the different facets of transparency policies implemented by EU Member States and institutions. Special attention was paid to lobbying regulation.
On 29 and 30 November, a meeting of the Working Party of Senior Public Integrity Officials (SPIO) was held at the OECD. The SPIO members shared good practices to facilitate the implementation of the Recommendation of the Council on Public Integrity, which was adopted in 2017. Discussions focused on monitoring integrity, managing corruption risks, and identifying challenges and opportunities related to open government and social media to strengthen accountability and citizen participation.
In the latest issue of Revue française de l’administration publique, published on 22 November, professors Annie Bartoli and Cécile Blatrix assessed the impact of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in terms of transparency and public accountability, using comparative analysis based on the initiatives implemented in the United States, Brazil and France. They noted that, since its establishment in 2011, the OGP has contributed to international homogenization of national transparency policies while also increasing their visibility. They highlighted that, despite its shortcomings, the OGP has had positive effects on government accountability and may be a sign of a deeper wave of transformation that is stimulating new forms of responsible public action around the world.
On 16 November, prosecutor Olivier Thormann, head of the Economic Crime Division of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Swiss Confederation, resigned. Mr. Thormann, who was in charge of investigating FIFA’s corruption cases, was suspended in October after being suspected of breaching professional secrecy, obstructing criminal prosecution, granting undue advantage and passive corruption. Nonetheless, the procedure to clarify these allegations was closed.
On 20 November, Sundra Rajoo, Malaysian deputy chairman of the FIFA Ethics Committee’s Adjudicatory Chamber, was detained by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. He has been accused of using his position to gain financial favors. Mr. Rajoo was suspended by FIFA. In addition, he resigned as director of the Asian International Arbitration Center.
On 18 November, the winners of the Innovation in Politics Award, whose jury is made up of European citizens, were announced. In the category “democracy”, a project of the French National Assembly was rewarded. The Assembly launched in early 2018 an online consultation platform to strengthen citizen participation in parliamentary work. Since its launch, 10 consultations were held, receiving around 150,000 contributions from 13,475 citizens.
In the context of the G20 summit, held in Buenos Aires on 30 November and 1 December, the NGO Transparency International (TI) and its local chapter conducted an awareness raising campaign. The streets in the Argentinean capital were lined with posters featuring the slogan “#G20TakeAction: Implement Your Anti-Corruption Commitments”. This campaign aimed to put the fight against corruption at the heart of the meeting by calling on state leaders to enforce concrete measures in this area.
On 2 November, the BBC reported that President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged to prioritize the fight against corruption and criticized the government of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, of which he was vice president.
On 19 November, Pravin Gordhan, a former finance minister who had been fired by Mr. Zuma, testified before the commission of inquiry into corruption scandal involving the former president and the Guptas, a family of businessmen of Indian origin. Mr. Gordhan mentioned suspicious appointments to leading positions in state-owned companies, and accused Mr. Zuma of fostering a climate of impunity favorable to corruption.
On 28 November, the South African public prosecutor’s office announced the temporary dropping of charges against some of Mr. Zuma’s allies, including a member of the Gupta family, because of the shortcomings of judicial cooperation with India. These individuals are suspected of misappropriation of public funds. However, according to the prosecution, they could not be charged because information necessary for the investigation has not yet been provided by Indian authorities.
On 22 November, during a visit to Lisbon, President Joao Lourenço reiterated his determination to fight against corruption and to work for the recovery of public funds diverted by the previous government. This commitment raised concerns in Portugal because the former colonizing country had received significant Angolan investments.
On 3 November, the High Authority for Good Governance (HABG) organized a seminar for members of local integrity committees, which are bodies responsible for preventing and combating corruption in the various regions of the country. The training aimed to improve the operational capacities of these committees, so as to enable them to fully carry out their missions.
On 2 November, the implementing texts of the law on the prevention, detection and repression of corruption were validated after a three-day workshop that brought together several actors involved in the fight against corruption in Guinea. Magistrates, law enforcement officials and members of civil society exchanged views on the implementation of the law. In particular, they discussed asset disclosure for public officials, procedures for receiving complaints and whistleblower protection. These discussions helped to clarify the Guinean integrity framework.
On 19 November, two former governors were sentenced to 10 and 12 years in prison for corruption in an appeal trial. Both were found guilty of embezzlement of public funds.
On 26 November, the BBC reported that a Milan court is planning to charge the companies Eni and Shell for corruption because of a controversial oil deal that is believed to have costed Nigeria about 6 billion dollars. The firms are accused of bribing Nigerian officials to acquire oil rights. The NGO Global Witness estimated that this agreement deprived the Nigerian state of twice its annual budget dedicated to education and health.
On 8 November, two former ministers of ex-president Robert Mugabe were prosecuted. One former minister is suspected of corruption related to the award of a public contract to a Chinese company, while the other is accused of having granted illegal favors to the sister of the former first lady. Indeed, many members of Mr. Mugabe’s entourage were charged with corruption.
On 8 November, the police said they had evidence of the involvement of David Shimron, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyer, in a corruption and money laundering case. The case concerns alleged corruption in the purchase of military submarines from the German company ThyssenKrupp. The ex-chief of staff of Mr. Netanyahu and the former navy commander are also targeted by this investigation. The Attorney General will decide on the indictment of the suspects.
The first edition of the International Anti-Corruption Film Festival (RIFAC) was held from 29 October to 1 November in Tunisia. Organized by the National Anti-Corruption Agency (INLUCC) in partnership with the South Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), the festival aimed to raise public awareness on the challenges of fighting corruption through cinema.
On 7 November, Business News reviewed the main provisions of the law on asset disclosure, the fight against illicit enrichment and conflicts of interest in the public sector, adopted in July. Under the new law, over 350,000 people will have to submit declarations to the INLUCC. These mandatory declarations will be used to prevent, detect, and combat probity breaches.
On 20 November, the INLUCC released a list of people who declared their assets and interests since 16 October. As of 19 November, 1425 declarations have been received. Only 0.5 percent of those concerned by the disclosure system met their obligations.
On 23 November, the INLUCC called on presidents of associations, political parties and structures mentioned in the law to provide a list of persons subject to disclosure requirements in order to register them on its database. An e-mail address was made available for this purpose.
On 19 November, the schedule of Valérie Plante, the mayor of Montreal, was made public in order to increase the transparency of her administration. From now on, the mayor’s public activities will be published online.
On 20 November, Ariane Mignolet, the Ethics Commissioner of the National Assembly of Quebec, opened an investigation into the alleged ethical breaches of Pierre Fitzgibbon, MP and Minister of Economy and Innovation. Mr. Fitzgibbon is suspected of having favored the financial interests of a company of which he was a shareholder. He denied the allegations and assured that he had not placed himself in a position of conflict of interest.
On 27 November, Ms. Mignolet opened an investigation targeting MP Marie-Louise Tardif for non-compliance with the Code of Ethics and Conduct of Members of the National Assembly of Quebec. Ms. Tardif was notably accused of violating provisions on the incompatibility between a parliamentary mandate and secondary activities.
On 28 November, Radio-Canada reported on a reform put forward by Premier of Ontario Doug Ford. The local government proposed that the Legislative Assembly should be able to hire, dismiss or suspend independent senior officials, such as the Auditor General or the Ombudsman. This measure was criticized because, according to the opposition, it could threaten the independence of these officials.
On 5 November, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) pointed out that Ivanka Trump, daughter and advisor of President Donald Trump, continues to have business interests in China despite the closure of her fashion brand. According to CREW, these interests could interfere with her work at the White House and appear to cast doubt on the impartial performance of her duties.
On 7 November, Transparency International urged U.S. leadership, including Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, to defend the independence of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian involvement in the presidential election. Indeed, Mr. Whitaker has criticized this investigation. The NGO underlined that any attempt to influence inquiries related to the head of state was cause for concern.
On 16 November, the Brookings Institution featured an article on the U.S. withdrawal from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) one year ago. The article noted that, notwithstanding this regrettable decision, other American actors, such as civil society organizations or congressmen, are continuing their efforts to enhance transparency and accountability in the governance of natural resources.
On 20 November, CREW noticed that Mr. Whitaker’s financial disclosure report has been edited several times. As a result, the organization filed a request with the Department of Justice to access earlier versions of the form, as well as the list of staff who reviewed and approved it. According to CREW, this disclosure report is essential to monitor the Acting Attorney General’s potential conflicts of interest. In addition, other civil society organizations detected issues in Mr. Whitaker’s tax returns, such as the lack of transparency of funding raised by a foundation that he managed.
On 29 November, Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the business ties between the President and Russia. In particular, Mr. Cohen stated that he lied about a proposed Trump Organization skyscraper in Moscow. He initially claimed that the project was abandoned in early 2016. Now Mr. Cohen admits that discussions on the project and contacts with Russian officials continued until June 2016, i.e. after the nomination of Mr. Trump as the Republican Party presidential candidate. The President disputed the statement of his ex-lawyer.
On 13 November, at the opening of the trial of Joaquín Guzmán, aka “El Chapo”, a powerful Mexican drug dealer, incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto and his predecessor Felipe Calderón were accused of receiving bribes from a drug cartel. Mr. Guzmán’s lawyer affirmed that hundreds of millions of dollars were transferred to the two heads of state. They rejected the allegations. Other senior public officials, such as a former Secretary of Public Security, were also accused of corruption in connection with organized crime.
On 1 November, Judge Sérgio Moro accepted the position of Minister of Justice and Public Security proposed by President-elect Jair Bolsonaro. Mr. Moro gained notoriety for his leadership role in Operation “Lava Jato” (Car Wash), a major corruption investigation targeting senior public officials. In particular, the magistrate convicted former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, who is currently in prison, of corruption and money laundering. Mr. Moro’s participation in the future government raised controversy. Despite the approval of a part of the public opinion, this decision also fueled suspicions that the judicial system was biased and politicized.
On 19 November, a judge accepted a complaint filed in September against Fernando Haddad, the former presidential candidate of the Workers’ Party, by the public prosecutor’s office of São Paulo. Like his mentor Lula before him, Mr. Haddad will be prosecuted for corruption. He is suspected of illegally receiving nearly 1 million euros from a construction company to repay a debt incurred during his municipal campaign in 2012.
On 26 November, Lula was accused of money laundering. According to the public prosecutor’s office of São Paulo, the former head of state interceded with the president of Equatorial Guinea on behalf of a Brazilian firm to favor its business interests in the African country. In exchange, he allegedly received bribes in the form of donations to the Lula Institute, a non-profit foundation.
On 29 November, Luiz Fernando Pezão, governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, was arrested as part of Operation “Lava Jato”. He is accused of receiving about 9 million euros in bribes. Since 1998, the last four governors of Rio have been imprisoned for corruption, Pezão is nevertheless the first to be arrested during the exercise of his mandate.
On 13 November, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced the opening of an investigation into the deaths of Jorge Enrique Pizano, a key witness in the Odebrecht case, and his son. The Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht is at the heart of the biggest corruption scandal in Latin America. In Colombia, the company is suspected of having paid several million euros in bribes and funded electoral campaigns in order to win public contracts.
Mr Pizano, who claimed to have essential information on the case, died on 8 November. Forensic experts initially described his death as a heart attack. Three days later, Mr. Pizano’s son was poisoned with cyanide after drinking water from a bottle left at his father’s desk. The investigation aims at determining the origin of the poison.
On 15 November, Bloomberg revealed that Mr. Pizano was negotiating with U.S. authorities for shelter in exchange for documents in his possession. Both the U.S. Embassy in Bogota and the FBI declined to comment.
On 31 October, Keiko Fujimori, opposition leader and daughter of ex-President Alberto Fujimori, was placed in pretrial detention for 36 months due to a high risk of flight. Ms. Fujimori is accused of receiving illegal funds from the Brazilian group Odebrecht.
On 18 November, former President Alan Garcia sought asylum at the Uruguayan Embassy in Lima after being banned from leaving the country as part of a corruption investigation. Mr. Garcia is believed to have received bribes from Odebrecht during the construction of a metro line in the Peruvian capital. The former head of state said he was the victim of political persecution.
On 27 November, in the United States, Alejandro Andrade Cedeno, former head of the National Treasury Office under the government of Hugo Chavez, was sentenced to ten years in jail for corruption. Mr. Cedeno pleaded guilty to using his position to receive bribes from people seeking foreign currency at favorable rates.
On 30 November, Yao Jinqi, a former public official, was extradited to China from Bulgaria. Mr. Yao, who allegedly received bribes, fled his country in 2005. According to the news agency Xinhua, this is the first successful extradition of a Chinese official suspected of corruption from an EU Member State.
On the same day, Xinhua reported that Meng Hongwei, the ex-Interpol chief facing corruption charges, was expelled from Chinese government advisory assembly. Mr. Meng’s wife claimed that her husband was the target of political persecution.
On 1 November, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment of two Goldman Sachs ex-bankers and a Malaysian financier as part of an investigation into the laundering of 4.5 billion dollars diverted from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB. The former executives were also accused of bribing Malaysian public officials to convince them to choose Goldman Sachs as their consulting bank.
On 13 November, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said that bankers at Goldman Sachs “cheated” the country in dealings with state fund 1MDB. He mentioned that U.S. authorities have promised to help return the fees the Wall Street bank earned from the fund.
During the month of November, shares of Goldman Sachs have plummeted due to its involvement in the 1MDB corruption scandal.
On 9 November, Imelda Marcos, congresswoman and widow of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was sentenced to several decades in prison for corruption. However, it is unlikely that she will see any jail time because she is 89 years old and still can file appeals. Ms. Marcos is accused of creating foundations in Switzerland to hide her illicit enrichment. Indeed, her late husband and his entourage are suspected by the Philippine authorities of embezzling 10 billion dollars of public funds.
On 22 November, a workshop on standards of ethical conduct for public officials was organized by Uzbek authorities, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Gathering some 300 investigators and prosecutors from all regions of Uzbekistan, the workshop focused on asset declaration, restrictions on accepting gifts, prevention of conflicts of interest and other relevant principles of behavior and values in the public service.
On 29 November, Deutsche Bank’s head office and other locations in Frankfurt were raided as part of a money laundering probe. Following the revelations of the “Panama Papers”, a leak of documents related to offshore firms, the bank is suspected of helping clients to set up companies in tax havens to launder money from criminal activities. The raid was conducted by 170 magistrates, police officers and tax investigators.
On 19 November, Howard Wilkinson, the whistleblower who revealed Danske Bank’s money laundering scandal, was heard by the Danish parliament. He indicated that other banks were involved in the suspicious payments totaling 200 billion euros made through the Estonian branch of the Danish bank between 2007 and 2015 via non-resident accounts.
In particular, Mr. Wilkinson referred to the American subsidiary of a European bank. Although Deutsche Bank was not openly mentioned, the German bank is under suspicion as it was Danske Bank’s main correspondent bank in Estonia for U.S. dollar-denominated transactions until 2015. During his hearing, Mr. Wilkinson also criticized the inaction of regulators.
On 20 November, Transparency International, and its chapters in Macedonia and Hungary, urged the Hungarian authorities to extradite former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who was sentenced to two years in prison for corruption. Mr Gruevski is currently in Hungary, where he is seeking political asylum.
On 16 November, at the universal periodic review, a mechanism that assesses the human rights records of all UN Member States, the Maltese government was called upon to improve the protection of journalists. This recommendation came after the murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, a crime that brought to light shortcomings in the state of the island’s rule of law.
On 18 November, the Times of Malta reported that investigators identified individuals suspected of planning the assassination of Ms. Caruana Galizia. They also ensured that the investigation was at an advanced stage, without providing precise information on the alleged perpetrators of the car bomb attack.
On 23 November, the government of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš survived a motion of censure, which was introduced by the opposition following allegations regarding his son and a fraud case. Mr. Babiš, who is indicted since 2017 for embezzlement of European funds, was accused of sending his son to Crimea, annexed by Russia, to keep him away from the investigation of this case. The head of government denied the accusations.
On 8 November, the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) announced the opening of an investigation targeting Senate President Calin Popescu-Tariceanu. The latter is believed to have received bribes in the process of buying Microsoft licenses when he was the head of government in 2008.
On 13 November, in the context of the judicial reform undertaken in Romania, the European Commission deplored a decline in the fight against corruption and independence of justice. In a resolution adopted the same day, the European Parliament criticized this reform. As a matter of fact, Brussels is worried about threats to the rule of law in Romania, as the country prepares to assume the rotating presidency of the European Union in January.
On 8 November, Mauro Poggia, a member of the Council of State of Geneva, affirmed that the transparency and control of the expenses of the administrative councilors of the city of Geneva must be strengthened. In this perspective, Mr. Poggia is committed to publish his expense reports for the years 2017 and 2018.
On 4 November, Kateryna Gandziuk, an anti-corruption activist who denounced police misconduct, died. On 31 July, an assailant doused her with sulfuric acid. After three months of hospitalization and eleven surgeries, she succumbed to a stroke. This attack has particularly alarmed members of civil society that are being intimidated in Ukraine.
On 23 November, France 24 devoted a program to the outcome of the Euromaidan revolution in 2013. Five years after the demonstrations that called for a rapprochement with the EU and a better governance of the country, many Ukrainians are disappointed because no official was convicted of corruption. Nevertheless, some activists remain optimistic and point out that may reforms were adopted thanks to their pressure.