The news in September 2018 was once again marked by twists and turns in important cases of breach of public probity, and by new suspicions and scandals worldwide. Discussions within international organizations, such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), or the Council of Europe, have also reiterated that strengthening a culture of integrity requires, in part, the enforcement of clear sanctions. This repressive aspect echoes citizens’ concerns about immunities or lack of transparency, which can sometimes create or exacerbate distrust of public authorities, as reflected by the demonstrations in Guatemala against the presidential decision to put an end to the activities of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and the upheavals currently affecting Brazil, South Africa and South Korea.
Beyond sanctions, prevention, awareness-raising and guidance measures for public officials and institutions are essential, as highlighted by the UNODC Working Group on the Prevention of Corruption during its session notably devoted to preventing conflicts of interest. Numerous initiatives on ethics, transparency and integrity continue to emerge, and many civil society organizations keep stressing the importance of these measures around the world, like in Ivory Coast, Senegal or Czech Republic. All these elements, these actors, and their coordination are absolutely necessary to reinforce or restore connections between public authorities and citizens, in order to revive citizens’ confidence in their institutions and their representatives.
INTERNATIONAL AND MULTILATERAL
From 5 to 7 September, the Working Group on the Prevention of Corruption held a meeting at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna. This working group is a subsidiary body of the Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption. It is responsible for advising the Conference on preventive measures under chapter II of the Convention. During the meeting, discussions focused on preventing and managing conflicts of interest, and on asset and interest disclosure systems for public officials.
On 10 September, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on States to do more to fight corruption for the sake of peace and international security at a meeting of the Security Council dedicated to this issue. Mr. Guterres underlined that, according to World Economic Forum estimates, corruption costs at least five per cent of global gross domestic product. He also linked corruption to many forms of instability and violence. Finally, the UN chief recognized the importance of strengthening the capacities of national anti-corruption institutions.
From 24 to 27 September, UNODC organized a regional anti-corruption workshop in Serbia. By bringing together civil society, private sector and government representatives, this workshop aimed to facilitate collaboration between various stakeholders for implementing the Merida Convention in Southeast Europe.
On 6 September, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body, released a report assessing measures taken by Cyprus to comply with its recommendations related to the fourth evaluation round. GRECO considered that promising moves were made, such as the online publication of asset declarations of MPs. However, the anti-corruption body observed that many results were yet to materialize.
On 12 September, GRECO decided to place Denmark in its non-compliance procedure due to lack of sufficient measures taken to prevent corruption in respect of MPs, judges and prosecutors. In particular, GRECO indicated that there is still no requirement upon Danish MPs to make ad hoc reporting of conflicts of interest. Deeming this requirement essential, GRECO recommended its implementation without delay.
On 18 September, GRECO called on France to make further progress in tackling corruption after the insufficient results noted in its second compliance report of the fourth evaluation round. The anti-corruption body notably recommended that asset declarations of deputies and senators be made easily accessible to the public at large. GRECO regretted that this recommendation was not followed during the drafting of the political trust laws in 2017, as suggested by the High Authority for Transparency in Public Life. Deploring “a missed opportunity”, GRECO argued that the adoption of such a transparency measure could have relieved the current discredit of politicians.
The GRECO President and the Executive Secretary attended the Fundamental Rights Agency Forum, which took place in Vienna from 25 to 27 September. During this event, the importance of preventing corruption for boosting trust in institutions was acknowledged.
On 11 September, the European Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee discussed the suspicions of conflict of interest surrounding Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. A complaint had been submitted by the NGO Transparency International to the European Commission. According to the civil society organization, there is a situation of interference between the private interests of Mr. Babiš, who is accused of controlling the Agrofer group, and his public duties. This alleged situation is viewed as especially problematic since the head of the government is involved in decision-making on the allocation of EU funds, of which Agrofert is a recipient. MEPs urged the European Commission to investigate these allegations.
On 25 September, the General Court of the European Union confirmed the European Parliament’s refusal to grant access to documents relating to MEPs’ subsistence allowances, travel expenses and parliamentary assistance allowances. The Court held that the Parliament was entitled to claim that the documents concerned contain personal data since the applicants – journalists and journalism associations – failed to prove the need for their transfer.
From 11 to 14 September, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Kazakhstan’s Agency for Civil Service and Anti-corruption organized a training seminar on managing corruption risks in the public sector. About fifty representatives from academia, the municipalities and the central government attended the seminar. This educational initiative is part of the OSCE’s efforts to promote good governance by focusing on anti-corruption activities in Kazakhstan.
On 27 September, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released its open government data report. This report analyzes open data policies across OECD member and partner countries. It assesses States’ efforts to improve the availability, accessibility and reuse of open government data. The OECD concludes that it remains critical to support investment to open up government data counting on a sound business case, to provide clear value propositions and present the potential benefits of facilitating open data use, and on ex-post assessments tools to show the realization of such benefits.
On 20 September, the African Development Bank announced the debarment of GEO SCIENCES, a consulting firm, for engaging in fraudulent practices, which were revealed by an investigation of the Bank’s Office of Integrity and Anti-Corruption. While bidding for a contract in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the company made false statements and failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest. As a result, it will be ineligible to participate in projects financed by the Bank for a minimum period of 48 months.
On 19 September, the ethics commission of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) suspended three former North American football executives for life because of their involvement in a massive corruption scandal. Recently judged in the United States, this scandal exposed how millions of dollars of bribes were paid by sports marketing companies to football officials in exchange for promotional and broadcasting rights for tournaments in the American continent.
On 24 September, the Court of Arbitration for Sport established that Jérôme Valcke, former FIFA Secretary General, who was banned for ten years from soccer for corruption, had often used private jets for him and his family, and thus broke FIFA rules on travel. In addition, Mr. Vackle was found guilty of destroying evidence and abusing his position to favor his son.
On 11 September, a press release was issued concerning the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) and the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in last July. International IDEA and OGP committed to work closely together to enhance government transparency and fight corruption.
Published on the International IDEA website on 13 September, an article reported on the organization’s participation in the meeting of the Working Group on the Prevention of Corruption, held at UNODC from 5 to 7 September. International IDEA encouraged States to address the issue of money in politics holistically, and to design preventive measures in a horizontal manner with all the stakeholders. Indeed, the organization emphasized that both management of conflicts of interest and asset and interest disclosure need to be associated with the controls of party and election funding.
On 12 September, the NGO Transparency International released a report assessing the enforcement of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. According to the report, current efforts to crack down on foreign bribery are inadequate. Although the countries and territories reviewed by the report are responsible for more than 80 per cent of global exports, only a minority of them have actually prosecuted companies that bribe officials in foreign countries. France’s commitment was considered limited despite improvements brought by the 2016 anti-corruption law.
On 17 September, Le Point devoted an article to the revelations of the commission of inquiry into the corruption scandal involving former president Jacob Zuma and the Guptas, a family of businessmen. Zuma is accused of granting public contracts and undue benefits to the Guptas, as well as letting them wrongfully influence government decisions. The article points out that the concept of “state capture” is at the heart of this case and defines it as the situation where powerful companies, institutions, or individuals use corruption to influence a nation’s policies, legal environment and economy to benefit their own private interests. According to the article, the South African case highlights the risks faced by emerging countries that do not fight illicit financial flows.
At the Council of Ministers of 20 September, the government approved a bill founding the High Authority against Corruption (HALC), which will replace the National Commission against Corruption, and the Anti-Corruption Observatory. The government specified that the HALC will have extensive powers, and will be the mainstay of the process of combating corruption and related offenses in the public sector. The new institution will issue a public call for applications for the appointment of its members. Any Congolese enjoying civil rights and not sentenced for crimes or offenses, or sanctions involving deprivation of liberty, may apply.
On 5 September, a working group was set up, at the initiative of the High Authority for Good Governance (HABG), to tackle conflicts of interest. Composed of representatives of the HAGB, the State Inspectorate General, the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority, and public procurement officers, the working group aims to propose mechanisms for preventing and managing conflicts of interest, as well as reforms of the legal framework in this domain.
On 12 September, the HABG referred to the public prosecutor three investigation reports on cases of alleged corruption, among the 15 files examined by the institution in the first half of 2018.
During a study visit of the Central Office against Illicit Enrichment of Mali, on 17 September in Abidjan, the HABG announced that it has visited 21 regions, put in place 20 anti-corruption platforms and 21 local integrity committees, and raised awareness among 7 661 people in the first semester of 2018.
On 14 September, the Brazilian police seized more than 16 million dollars in cash and luxury goods from Teodorin Obiang Nguema, vice president of Equatorial Guinea, and his delegation. The delegation did not declare these assets to the customs authorities upon arrival in São Paulo. Brazilian police opened an investigation. The Equatorial Guinea’s embassy in Brazil stated that the seizure violated diplomatic norms.
On 20 September, an Italian court delivered the two first convictions in a corruption case involving oil companies Shell and Eni in Nigeria. The two persons found guilty of foreign bribery, a Nigerian and an Italian, had requested an accelerated trial procedure. The defendants, regarded as middlemen in the case, were sentenced to four years in jail. Shell and ENI, who have allegedly paid more than 1 billion dollars in bribes for an oil exploration license, refuted the accusations.
On 9 September, in an interview with the Agence Africaine de Presse, the Civic Observatory of the National Assembly advocated for increasing parliamentary transparency in Senegal. The NGO underlined that the accessibility of information on parliamentary activities could improve citizens’ trust in the legislative power.
On 20 September, Agence France-Presse reported that the president of the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) was dismissed as part of a corruption and abuse of power investigation led by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). FIFA criticized the removal, perceived as an interference of state authorities in the management of SLFA, and threatened to ban Sierra Leone from global football.
On 19 September, President Edgar Lungu dismissed one of his ministers for alleged embezzlement. This decision was made after several countries, including the United Kingdom and Sweden, announced a freeze on aid to Zambia due to suspicions of corruption.
On 19 September, the Italian oil group ENI and its former CEO Paolo Scaroni, suspected of corruption in Algeria, were acquitted. However, Saipem, a subsidiary of ENI, was convicted. The trial, which began in Italy three years ago, concerned the alleged payment of 197 million euros in bribes to Algerian public officials. According to the prosecution, this payment would have allowed Saipem to obtain contracts and ENI to have the approval of the then Minister of Energy to acquire exploitation rights of a gas field.
On 20 September, the BBC published the results of its investigation into corruption in Algerian football. According to the report, the manipulation of matches is a widespread practice that involves many players, as well as referees and sports executives. In response to these revelations, the president of the Algerian Football Federation asserted that the fight against corruption is one of the priorities of the current leadership. Besides, the information collected by the BBC was transmitted to FIFA.
On 3 September, the weekly Jeune Afrique addressed the conclusions reached by an International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff team, which visited Tunisia from August 15 to 31 to discuss authorities’ policy plans under the review of the country’s economic reform program. The IMF team noted that, despite some encouraging signs, additional reforms, which include strengthening governance and enforcement in the fight against corruption, were necessary to overcome investor reluctance and build confidence.
On 7 September, the president of the National Anti-Corruption Agency (INLUCC), Chawki Tabib, acknowledged that the energy sector was marked by signs of corruption and significant conflicts of interest. He recalled that INLUCC had suggested the publication of energy sector contracts to improve transparency, but this proposal was rejected. Mr. Tabib’s remarks followed the removal of the Minister of Energy and other senior public officials suspected of corruption.
On 19 September, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Finance stated that since the introduction of a new anti-corruption framework, tax revenues have increased considerably.
On 20 September, the website Business News reported on the delay, due in part to procedural issues, in implementing the Authority for Good Governance and the Fight against Corruption.
In a report released on 12 September, Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion concluded that federal Minister Dominic LeBlanc placed himself in a situation of conflict of interest during the granting of a fishing license to Five Nations Clam Company when he was Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. According to Mr. Dion, the cousin of Mr. LeBlanc’s wife could have benefited financially from the granting of this permit and therefore the Minister should have withdrawn from the process. Mr. LeBlanc accepted the report’s conclusions and admitted that he should have consulted with the Commissioner before making the decision.
On the same day, Christian Dubé, ex-MP and former first vice president of the Quebec Deposit and Investment Fund, who recently announced his political comeback, denied allegations of conflict of interest. He claimed to have declared his potential conflicts of interest regarding the activities of his spouse, who sits on the board of directors of a company that benefited from investments of the Fund, and to have refrained from intervening in transactions related to this company.
On 17 September, the nonprofit organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) published a list of ethics measures, proposed by President Donald Trump in January 2017 to avoid potential conflicts of interest related to his company, that have not been implemented. In particular, the president would have retained a management authority over the Trump Organization, breaking his earlier promise. On the following day, CREW welcomed a Supreme Court ruling that requires the disclosure of the identities of all contributors who gave more than 200 dollars in a year for advocacy ads.
On 21 September, the Palm Beach Post echoed the concerns of civil society organizations regarding the president’s activities at his estate in Mar-a-Lago. These concerns were rekindled by the recent publication of journalist Bob Woodward’s book. According to Mr. Woodward, important government events, like the National Security Council meeting, happened at Mar-a-Lago. Watchdog groups worry about the lack of transparency of public decisions made at this private residence.
On 26 September, the president of Zimbabwe revealed that he had offered to give land to Mr. Trump to build a golf course. This proposal would be an attempt at rapprochement with the United States, which imposed sanctions on the African country.
On 29 September, a panel of experts, convened by the Center for Public Integrity, an investigative journalism organization, concluded that the politicization of ethics and the near-constant stream of scandals make public pressure less effective to compel public officials to comply with ethics standards. Indeed, panelists indicated that lack of congressional oversight, voters’ fatigue, and ideological polarization favor the government’s ethical breaches.
On 3 September, Senator and former President Cristina Kirchner appeared before Judge Claudio Bonadio, who in charge of investigating the “corruption notebooks”, a scandal involving the Kirchner administration. As in her previous hearing in August, she refused to answer the judge’s questions. Instead, she released a written statement in which she contended that the accusations were slanderous. Ms. Kirchner and Nestor Kirchner, her late husband and former president, were allegedly responsible for a system of bribery in exchange for public contracts.
On 17 September, the former head of state was indicted for corruption. Judge Bonadio also requested her detention on remand. Ms. Kirchner will nevertheless remain at liberty thanks to her parliamentary immunity. As a senator, she can be charged, tried and convicted, but not incarcerated. Her imprisonment would only be possible if the majority of the Senate voted to waive her immunity.
On 1 September, the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) invalidated the candidacy of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, to the presidential election of October. Convicted on appeal and imprisoned for corruption, Lula was found to be ineligible under the “Ficha Limpa” (“clean record”) law. This 2010 law, proposed by a popular initiative that collected over 1.6 million signatures, prohibits anyone convicted on appeal from standing for election.
On 6 September, in an article devoted to the Brazilian presidential election, The Guardian highlighted that candidates on opposite sides of the political spectrum have been charged of corruption. Fernando Haddad, former mayor of São Paulo and vice presidential candidate of the leftist Workers’ Party (PT), was accused of taking illegal donations for his municipal campaign from a construction firm. Likewise, Geraldo Alckmin, former governor of the state of São Paulo and presidential candidate of the rightwing Social Democratic Party, is suspected of taking unreported donations for his 2014 campaign from Odebrecht, the construction conglomerate at the heart of the corruption scandal “Car Wash”.
On 19 September, the daily Les Échos published an analysis of the political and economic crisis in Brazil. According to the newspaper, the country is failing to recover from the multiple corruption scandals that have shaken society and undermined prosperity. Corruption is believed to have corroded public confidence and contributed to the radicalization of political struggle, marked by increased violence.
On 27 September, the United States Justice Department announced that the oil giant Petrobras will pay an 853 million dollars fine to American and Brazilian authorities to settle charges related to the “Car Wash” probe. The company’s executives are accused of bribing politicians and political parties, and of concealing the payments to deceive investors and regulators.
On 4 September, President Jimmy Morales declared persona non grata Iván Velásquez, the Colombian lawyer who heads the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). The United Nations mission, whose mandate was not renewed in late August, is investigating illegal campaign funding allegations involving Mr. Morales and requested lifting his immunity.
On 16 September, the Constitutional Court decided to suspend the presidential decision against the head of the UN mission. Defying the Court, the Interior Minister said that Mr. Velásquez would not enter the national territory. On 20 September, thousands of demonstrators defended the CICIG and demanded the resignation of the head of state.
On 12 September, former President Elias Antonio Saca was sentenced to ten years in jail for embezzling public funds and money laundering. The Prosecutor General’s Office pointed out that it was the first time that a former Salvadorian head of state was convicted of corruption.
On 19 September, The Guardian launched a podcast on lobbying transparency in Australia. The podcast focused on the limits of the register and the code of conduct of interest representatives. It also underlined the importance of ensuring the accessibility of information on interest representation actions to determine their influence on public decisions.
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
On 6 September, as part of former President Lee Myung-bak’s corruption trial, the prosecution demanded a twenty-year prison sentence and a fine of approximately 20 million euros. President from 2008 to 2013, Mr. Lee was charged in April with corruption, abuse of power, embezzlement and tax evasion. He allegedly received bribes from Samsung group in exchange for a presidential pardon.
On 6 September, Voice of America published an article on the work of Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). This independent agency managed to remove many public officials suspected of corruption, and enjoys the support of the people. Nevertheless, the KPK’s activities are threatened by attacks, budget cuts, and proposed amendments to the criminal code that could limit its investigative powers.
Former Prime Minister Najib Razak, accused of embezzling 628 million dollars from 1MDB, a state-owned investment fund, was arrested on 19 September. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, which conducts the investigation, indicated that Mr. Razak will be indicted for embezzlement.
On 5 September, the National Assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee examined the reports of the government and the judiciary on the fight against corruption in 2018. Some MPs deplored the lack of effective control in this area, and demanded an investigation into cases of abnormal enrichment. These reports, which will be submitted to the October session of the Assembly, specify that only 44 cases were controlled among over 1.1 million asset declarations collected.
On 31 August, the Prime Minister dismissed three members of his government following a bus accident. The accident, which killed several people, was caused by inappropriate asphalt. For many Bulgarians, corruption in the construction and maintenance of roads is responsible for this disaster.
On 17 September, the head of government Pedro Sánchez proposed a constitutional reform aimed at ending the legal protections enjoyed by members of the government, MPs, judges and the royal family. Nowadays, these individuals can only be tried in civil or criminal cases by the highest judicial institution of Spain. The goal of this reform is to strengthen public trust. According to Mr. Sánchez, society demands “equality between citizens and their representatives”.
On 4 September, the EURACTIV website devoted an article to the consequences of the indictment of Ilmārs Rimšēvičs, Latvia’s central bank governor, for corruption. Accused of receiving bribes, Mr. Rimšēvičs was forbidden to perform his duties in February without having been convicted. The European Central Bank (ECB) challenged this decision and referred the matter to the European Court of Justice. The Court did not question the suspension of Mr. Rimšēvičs but asked Latvia to allow him to appoint his substitute. According to the article, this affair has weakened the ECB’s Governing Council, confronted with the challenge of guaranteeing the independence of its members from national governments while also striving to prevent corruption cases.
On 20 September, MP Ian Paisley thanked his voters for keeping him in office. He would have lost his mandate if 10 percent of the electorate in his constituency signed a petition for his removal. It was the first time that this petition device, created following the Westminster expenses scandal to punish offenses or ethical breaches committed by MPs, was triggered. Mr. Paisley was sanctioned because he failed to declare holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government and then lobbied other British public officials to favor the country.
On 27 September, the police arrested several people suspected of involvement in the assassination of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée in last February. On the next day, three suspects were charged. On 30 September, a fourth person was charged with murder. Shortly before his death, the journalist had investigated the alleged connections between Slovak senior public officials and the Italian mafia. The assassination sparked major protests against the government and led to the resignation of the Prime Minister in March.
On 18 September, the Parliament passed a law on transparency in extractive industries. The new law sets out legal principles for the collection, disclosure and dissemination of data on the country’s extractive industries. Its aim is to harmonize Ukrainian legislation with the EITI Standard, a global standard for the good governance of oil, gas and mineral resources, and the EU Accounting Directive.