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International Newsletter of HATVP – November 2019

International Newsletter of HATVP – November 2019

International developments during the month of November have been dominated by numerous charges and convictions concerning senior public officials in cases of corruption, fraud and breach of trust. From the Prime Minister of Israel to the President of the United States, and including leaders of the Socialist Party in Andalusia, the need for public integrity appears to translate into an obligation to sanction breaches of probity on the part of leaders at all levels.

Nevertheless, although convictions such as the former president of the Maldives’ five-year prison sentence for money-laundering illustrate the severity of the sanctions imposed on certain leaders, the situation in a number of countries is a reminder that the fight for transparency in public life is far from over. The international community’s concerns regarding the Brazilian Supreme Court’s decisions, and the fall of the pro-European Moldovan government highlight the work that remains to be achieved by stakeholders in public integrity and the need for popular support – illustrated in Iraq and in the Czech Republic by demonstrations on a massive scale – in bringing this culture of integrity to all levels.

INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATIONS

International Newsletter of HATVP – November 2019

By 461 votes “in favour”, 157 votes “against” and 89 “abstentions”, the von der Leyen Commission received the endorsement of the European Parliament on Wednesday 27 November. The Greens group had not wished to lend it their support, pointing to too many contradictions within the Commission. The Greens maintain in particular that the presence of Thierry Breton, who was CEO of the Atos IT group for 11 years, at the head of a large digital sector in itself represents a conflict of interests. (Le Point, 27 November 2019) (France 24, 27 November 2019)

However, at his hearing in the European Parliament on 14 November, Thierry Breton stated that he no longer holds any interests in the companies he directed. According to Autorité des marchés financiers (French Financial Markets Authority) documents, he has sold his shares for the sum of €46 million and has resigned from his directorships. (Le Monde, 15 November 2019)

The question of ethics at a European level was addressed on 28 November by 24 NGOs who sent a list of requests to Charles Michel, the future President of the European Council. Their proposals include the strengthening of the President of the Council’s Code of Conduct, a commitment to meet only with lobbyists who have signed the European Union’s Transparency Register, as well as an encouragement to publish a list of such meetings. The signatories also call on Charles Michel to take a position on the proposed creation of a common “independent ethics body” for all European institutions. (Contexte, 28 November 2019) (Alter-EU, 28 November 2019)

The name of the new European Ombudsman will be announced after the MEPs have cast their votes during the week of 16 December. Two out of the four candidates nominated seem to have a real chance of success. One of them is Emily O’Reilly, the current European Ombudsman who draws attention to her experience in the position and the various investigations she has launched in recent years. The other is Julia Laffranque, an Estonian judge at the European Court of Human Rights, who has the backing of 90 MEPs in her bid for the post, as against Emily O’Reilly’s 84. The four contenders will be interviewed by MEPs from the Petitions Committee on 3 December, when they will set out their respective ambitions. (Contexte, 25 November 2019) (The Parliament Magazine, 21 November 2019)

International Newsletter of HATVP – November 2019

On 13 November, Transparency International asked the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to recommend the establishment of an independent investigative body mandated to examine recent allegations of corruption from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). This collective of investigative journalists has recently published a report that mentions payments made on behalf of a Ukrainian politician, Serhiy Lovochkin, into accounts held by senior European officials. Transparency International is also calling for an investigation into the case of the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, suspected of having received money from Lovochkin whilst he was President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. (OCCRP, 15 November 2019)

GEOGRAPHICAL AREAS

International Newsletter of HATVP – November 2019

SOUTH AFRICA

On Thursday 21 November the former South African Security Minister, Bongani Bongo, was detained on charges of corruption. He is accused of having attempted to influence a lawyer from the Parliament’s commission of inquiry into the state-owned company Eskom in 2017. An ally of the former President Jacob Zuma, he will be summoned to appear in court on 31 January. This arrest, unprecedented in the country, may be the first of many. The prosecutor in charge of corruption cases within the State has stated that various investigations have produced sufficient evidence, which indicates that high-ranking personalities could be brought to justice shortly. This was one of the major campaign promises of the current President, Cyril Ramaphosa. (RFI, 22 November 2019) (Times Live, 25 November 2019)

NAMIBIA

In Namibia, general elections were held on 27 November, against a backdrop of recession and corruption. In the face of an opposition in disarray, victory for the outgoing president, Hage Geingob, 78, seemed assured, despite a very mixed record which includes a corruption scandal. A few weeks ago, WikiLeaks published thousands of documents accusing government officials of having received the equivalent of $10 million in bribes from an Icelandic fishing company. Two ministers implicated in the case were forced to resign a few days from the vote, one of whom was even briefly held in custody. (Le Monde, 27 November 2019) (VOA News, 27 November 2019)

International Newsletter of HATVP – November 2019

ISRAEL

The Public Prosecutor, Avichaï Mandelblit, decided to indict the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on charges of corruption, fraud and breach of trust in the Bezeq case (or “4000 case”). In this case, the courts suspect the current Prime Minister of having granted government favours that may have benefited the owner of this telecommunications company to the tune of millions of dollars, in exchange for favourable media coverage from one of the group’s media outlets, the Walla website. (France 24, 21 November 2019) (BBC, 21 November 2019)

IRAQ

In Iraq, two MPs were arrested on charges of corruption following the lifting of their parliamentary immunity, upon orders from the Anti-Corruption Court. Since early October, Iraq has seen mass demonstrations denouncing poor living conditions and persistent corruption. This protest movement, along with Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani’s call for change pushed the Prime Minister, Adel Abdoul Mahdi, to announce his resignation from Parliament on 29 November. (Anadolu Agency, 26 November 2019) (Le Figaro, 29 November 2019)

International Newsletter of HATVP – November 2019

THE UNITED STATES

The judiciary committee of the US House of Representatives has invited Donald Trump or his lawyers to “participate” in a hearing on 4 December, which will mark the opening of a new phase in the impeachment investigation against him. The Democrats blame Donald Trump for asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, one of his potential opponents in the 2020 presidential elections. They accuse him of abusing his power for personal gain, including freezing military aid to put pressure on Kiev. Given the Democratic majority in the lower house, it is anticipated that Donald Trump will be impeached, which has only happened to two other presidents before him. He will then be judged by the Senate where the Republican majority remains supportive, making his dismissal unlikely. (Le Temps, 27 November 2019) (CNN, 27 November 2019)

BRAZIL

In Brazil, international organisations such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) are concerned about the risks of a push back in its efforts to combat corruption. The FATF has communicated its concern regarding a Brazilian judge’s ruling that limits the exchange of information between the Brazilian Financial Intelligence Unit and the judiciary. According to the OECD, the vagueness of the new law on judges’  “abuse of authority”, which will come into force next month, also threatens the “full capacity and independence of law enforcement authorities to investigate and prosecute corruption”. (Les Echos, 25 November 2019) (OECD, 13 November 2019)

International Newsletter of HATVP – November 2019

KYRGYZSTAN

Hundreds of people protested in front of the Kyrgyz government headquarters on 25 November, demanding that the authorities follow up on a $700 million money-laundering case involving former senior officials. An investigative report published by a number of local and international media outlets alleges that, for a number of years, a well-organised group has been smuggling Chinese products into Kyrgyzstan and then channelling its profits out of the country. (Reuters, 25 November 2019)

THE MALDIVES

The Maldives’ former president, Yameen Abdul Gayoom, was given a five-year prison sentence and a $5 million fine for money-laundering. The former president was found guilty of laundering $1 million dollars of public money for personal gain during his presidency. He lost last year’s election to current president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. (The New York Times, 28 November 2019)

International Newsletter of HATVP – November 2019

SPAIN

Nineteen former leaders of the Socialist Party in Andalusia, the former stronghold of Spain’s ruling Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), were convicted on 19 November in one of the country’s biggest corruption scandals in recent decades. These 19 former members of the Andalusian government and the regional administration were convicted for operating a totally opaque grants system which diverted hundreds of millions of euros from a fund designed to provide support for dismissed employees and businesses in difficulty. Individuals and companies, some of whom were allies of the PSOE and not affected by social plans or economic difficulties, were amongst those who received this assistance. (Le Point, 19 November 2019) (The Guardian, 19 November 2019)

MOLDOVA

In Moldova, Maïa Sandu’s pro-European government, which had made the fight against corruption and the influence of oligarchs its priority, received a no-confidence vote on 12 November. Its attempted reform, which would have given the government the power to appoint the Public Prosecutor (rather than the current commission, whose decisions were described as “biased ”), provoked a vote of no confidence from the Socialists, who up until now formed part of the coalition government. Following the vote, Ion Chicu, who was backed by the Socialists and the Democrats, took over as leader of the pro-Russian government on 14 November 2019. An EU press release has described this no-confidence vote as a “worrying sign”. (Le Figaro, 12 November 2019) (Foreign Policy, 22 November 2019)

LATVIA

The Governor of Latvia’s Central Bank appeared in court in Latvia on Monday on charges of corruption; this is the first ever such trial involving a European Central Bank Governor. Ilmars Rimsevics, 54, is suspected of having accepted and in part received the sum of €500,000, promised by two shareholders in the Trasta Komercbanka at a time when the institution’s future was under threat, in exchange for his advice within the context of an investigation by the Latvian Financial and Capital Markets Commission. Ilmars Rimsevics is liable to receive an unconditional prison sentence. (Challenges, 4 November 2019) (Reuters, 4 November 2019)

CZECH REPUBLIC

On Saturday 16 November, the eve of the thirtieth anniversary of the Velvet Revolution which marked the collapse of the Communist regime in former Czechoslovakia, more than 200,000 Czech citizens took over the centre of Prague to demand the departure of the prime minister, billionaire Andrej Babis. Andrej Babis faces a series of corruption charges and a European Commission investigation into a possible conflict of interests around his holding company, Agrofert, which combines different activities on its vast farms, in the media and in the chemical sector. Babis rejects these allegations. (Le Monde, 16 November 2019) (Al Jazeera, 16 November 2019)

MALTA

On 1 December, two years after the assassination of the anti-corruption blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia, and under intense pressure to leave office, the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, announced that he will be resigning next month. The journalist’s family, the opposition and various civic movements accuse him of interfering in the investigation, particularly to protect his chief of staff, Keith Schembri, whom the businessman Yorgen Fenech described as the « real mastermind » behind the murder. (TV5 Monde, 2 December 2019) (CNN, 2 December 2019)

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