The prevention and management of conflicts of interest, which were highlighted during the discussions of the Working Group on the Prevention of Corruption at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in September 2018, became increasingly important in recent years. Therefore, citizens’ expectations and media coverage about these issues are particularly reflected in this 20th edition of the High Authority’s international newsletter. The month of August 2018 was marked by new debates and cases of suspicion in Canada, the United States, France, Brussels, among others. Moreover, the prevention of conflicts of interest continues to be regularly discussed in international organizations, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations, or the Council of the Europe, but also in the context of initiatives, such as the International Partnership against Corruption in Sport (IPACS) and the Network for Integrity.
Every individual, every public official, has material, financial, moral, direct or indirect interests, and so on. Nevertheless, a situation can be problematic if these private interests interfere or seem to interfere with public duties, hence presenting the risk of a biased public decision, or a public decision made for private purposes rather than for the sake of the public interest. Many countries, in line with the recommendations and commitments made in international conventions such as the United Nations Convention against Corruption, have thus adopted a preventive approach to conflicts of interest, in order to prevent public officials from finding themselves in situations that are criminally reprehensible. This is the case in Romania, Lithuania, France, Canada, Indonesia, or Tunisia with the adoption in July 2018 of a law on the declaration of assets and conflicts of interest.
The preventive approach to conflicts of interest, pedagogy, advice, and guidance for public officials faced with ethical dilemmas are essential to disseminating a culture of integrity in the public sector of all concerned countries.
INTERNATIONAL & MULTILATERAL
On 9 August, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), the anti-corruption body of the Council of Europe, considered that Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia made no substantial progress in implementing recommendations on preventing corruption among members of parliament, judges and prosecutors. In particular, second compliance report of fourth evaluation round underlined the lack of meaningful development to strengthen the control function and the independence of the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (SCPC).
In a report published on 10 August, GRECO found that Switzerland had made no progress in implementing its recommendations on the transparency of party and election campaign funding. The anti-corruption body expressed regret that the Swiss federal government maintained its position of not legislating on the matter.
On 21 August, GRECO released its fifth round evaluation report on Latvia. This round focuses on preventing corruption and promoting integrity in top executive functions and law enforcement agencies. GRECO concluded that Latvia’s integrity and corruption prevention framework was fairly comprehensive, and that significant resources had been injected to curb corruption, strengthen accountability, and enhance public trust. Yet, the body detected a number of shortcomings and advocated improvements. For instance, GRECO recommended that the veracity of asset declarations of political officials be systematically scrutinized in a thorough and independent manner.
On 10 August, the French-speaking Belgian Radio and Television (RTBF) devoted a program to the regulation of lobbying. The guests included Emmanuel Foulon, spokesman of the Socialist Party in the European Parliament, and Raphaël Kergueno, representative of Transparency International EU.
On 12 August, the Financial Times echoed the EU’s willingness to consider sanctions against member states that award citizenships to wealthy individuals from outside the bloc for large sums of money. The European Commissioner for Justice, Věra Jourová, guaranteed that these measures, implemented in eight member states, would be monitored as part of the EU’s action against money laundering and corruption.
In an interview with Libération, published on 31 August, Olivier Hoedeman, coordinator of the Corporate Europe Observatory, a research and campaign group, called for the strengthening of transparency and control of interest representation activities in Brussels. He denounced the disproportionate influence of private lobbies on EU decision-making.
On 14 August, Global News reported on the evolution of FIFA’s code of ethics and observed that the term “corruption” was deleted. “Bribery, misappropriation of funds and manipulation of football matches or competitions” were solely maintained. Henceforth, a prescription period of ten years is applicable to these practices. An article on defamation was also added to the code.
On 6 and 7 August, Buenos Aires hosted the Civil 20 (C20) summit, which gathers civil society organizations in order to amplify the voice of civil society in anticipation of the next G20 meeting. The fight against corruption was at the heart of the debate. Despite numerous anti-corruption commitments from G20 leaders, representatives of civil society considered that the results did not meet their expectations. Transparency International’s chair, Delia Ferreira Rubio, addressed the meeting to advocate for anticorruption action, implementation, and reports.
Transparency updated its “Anti-corruption Pledge Tracker” for 2018. This tool monitors the progress of the commitments made by governments at the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit in London.
On 20 August, a judicial commission of inquiry began investigating corruption charges against former President Jacob Zuma, who is suspected of granting public contracts and undue benefits to a family of businessmen, the Guptas. The conclusions of this special commission, led by the vice president of the Constitutional Court, may be transmitted to the prosecutor’s office. The opening of the hearings was marked by the testimonies of Mcebesi Jonas, former Deputy Minister of Finance, on 24 August, and Vytjie Mentor, former MP, on 28 August. The two former public officials described how the Guptas offered them senior positions in Zuma’s government, and thus exposed a system of influence peddling.
On 6 August, the director general of the Republican police launched a nine-day training session on ethics for his agents. This training, which was organized in collaboration with the United States Embassy in Benin, made police officers aware of integrity issues in various aspects of their work.
On 21 August, former president and current opposition leader, Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, charged and detained in connection with an investigation into embezzlement during a large-scale passport fraud. He was accused of corruption, misappropriation of public funds, and forgery.
On 30 August, Radio France Internationale reported the words of the president of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, who defended the action of his institution while asserting its independence. He refuted the criticisms raised during an investigation involving the Minister of Hydrocarbons, who is suspected of misappropriation of public funds. The Commission was accused of disrespecting the adversarial principle and the presumption of innocence in the course of its investigation.
On 31 July, the secretary general of the High Authority for Good Governance (HABG), Marc-Antoine Koffi Kablan, took stock of the institution’s activities five years after its creation. Since 2013, the HABG established fifteen anti-corruption platforms, 17 local integrity committees, and raised awareness on its subjects amongst 6,172 people. Mr. Koffi Kablan announced the rates of asset declarations of different categories of public officials, and recalled that the HABG referred three files to the public prosecutor’s office.
On 5 August, the disciplinary board of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) decided to impose penalties, ranging from a ten-year suspension to a permanent ban, on seven Ghanaian referees and one technical instructor for corruption. In the documentary “Number 12”, investigative journalist Anas Aremayaw uncovered that large sums of money had been paid to referees prior to some matches in Ghana.
On 12 August, as part of International Youth Day, President Uhuru Kenyatta called on young Kenyans to take action against corruption. Since his re-election in 2017, the head of state has adopted measures to tackle this phenomenon. Some of them, such as the use of lie detectors for public procurement officials, are nevertheless criticized.
On 14 August, the BBC relayed the judgment of senior Kenyan officials accused of corruption. They are believed to have sold public land for the construction of a railway line before paying a compensation of two million dollars to the buyers. The latter were charged with illegal purchase of public property.
On August 28, the vice president of the Supreme Court was arrested. She is suspected of having taken advantage of her position for personal enrichment.
On 9 August, the Independent Anti-Corruption Bureau (BIANCO) organized a workshop to raise awareness on anti-corruption issues amongst local public officials. District leaders and mayors benefited from this presentation.
On 28 August, BIANCO and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) formalized their partnership as part of a capacity building project for the Malagasy anti-corruption body. GIZ will allocate 250,000 euros to this project, which will be implemented with the assistance of national and international experts.
On 30 August, the mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall was sentenced on appeal to five years in jail for embezzlement. Mr. Sall, who wanted to run for president in February 2019, would intend to file a cassation appeal with the Supreme Court.
On 24 August, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) arrested six people, including four members of the Immigration Services and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The suspects are accused of enabling the illegal sale of passports.
On 10 August, the Ethics Committee of Fédération internationale de football association (FIFA) suspended the president of the Football Federation of Zambia (FAZ), Kalusha Bwalya, on corruption charges. Mr. Bwalya, who was found guilty of offering and accepting gifts in the internal elections of the international body, will not be able to engage in any football-related activities for the next two years.
On 20 August, the website GlobalNet presented the content of the law on asset disclosure, fight against illicit enrichment, and conflicts of interest in the public sector, adopted on 17 July. The new reporting obligations concern many public officials, including the president and the head of government, as well as senior officers of media companies, NGOs, political parties, trade unions, and private firms under contract with the state. The declarations must be submitted electronically to the Tunisian Anti-corruption Agency (INLUCC).
On 31 August, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Renewable Energy was dismissed, as well as several officials in his ministry. The Head of Government Youssef Chahed explained that this decision was made following suspicions of corruption. He reiterated his commitment to guaranteeing the rule of law based on transparency. The Public Service Control Commission and the Financial Control Authority will conduct an in-depth investigation.
On 17 August, the police questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is involved in several corruption investigations. Mr. Netanyahu is believed to have granted government favors to the Bezeq telecommunications group in exchange for positive media coverage. He denied the accusations.
On 29 August, Juan Angel Napout, the former president of the South American football confederation, was sentenced to nine years in prison as part of the “Fifagate”, a corruption scandal involving senior officials of the international football federation. After a trial in the United States, Mr. Napout was found guilty of receiving several million dollars in bribes.
Between the 1st and 3rd of August, several high level public officials and public works contractors were arrested and questioned by Judge Claudio Bonadio, in connection with the “corruption notebooks” case. Oscar Centeno, the driver of the head of public works at the Ministry of Planning, wrote the names of the suspects on notebooks, in which he recorded the payment of bribes by companies to officials of the Kirchner Government in exchange for securing contracts.
On 6 August, many business leaders, including the cousin of President Mauricio Macri, Angelo Calcaterra, acknowledged the payment of large sums of money to public officials. Mr. Calcaterra affirmed that he was pressured by public officials demanding money to finance election campaigns between 2013 and 2015. Attorney Carlos Stornelli estimated that the sums improperly collected by public officials amounted to 160 million dollars. Mr. Centeno’s notebooks also mentioned bribes to the former President and current Senator Cristina Kirchner.
Summoned to appear before Judge Bonadio on 13 August, Ms. Kirchner decried “political persecution” and did not answer questions. The judge requested the waiver of her parliamentary immunity to allow the search of her three homes. On 21 August, thousands of people demonstrated to call on the Senate to authorize the search. The next day, senators agreed to waive Ms. Kirchner’s immunity, and the police conducted its first operations in her various residences on 23 August.
On 15 August, in light of “corruption notebooks” case involving Cristina Kirchner, La Croix published an infographic presenting the main corruption scandals in Latin America.
On 13 August, Guido Mantega, a former finance minister, was charged with money laundering in the Odebrecht case. He was accused of receiving bribes from the construction conglomerate in exchange for his support in adopting measures in its favor.
On 15 August, the presidential candidacy of former head of state Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, currently imprisoned for corruption, was filed with the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE). The TSE has until 17 September to decide on its eligibility. In view of the “Ficha Limpa” (“Clean Record”) Law, which provides for the ineligibility of any person condemned for corruption, Lula’s participation in this election seems to be compromised. However, on 17 August, the UN Human Rights Committee considered that Lula’s appeals before the courts have still not been completed and thus requested Brazil to authorize his candidacy. The lawyers of the former president had seized this Committee, which is composed of independent experts that monitor implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On 20 August, José Maria Marin, former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, was sentenced to four years in jail by a US federal court due to his involvement in FIFA’s corruption scandal. He was found guilty of bribery, bank fraud, and money laundering.
On 3 August, construction conglomerate Odebrecht filed a lawsuit against the Colombian government to recover 1.3 billion dollars. The firm claimed that it had been expropriated illegally because of the termination of contracts by the state. These contracts were canceled after Odebrecht’s corrupt practices were unveiled. Considering this decision contrary to international law, the Brazilian conglomerate would like to bring this dispute before an international court of arbitration.
On 26 August, an anti-corruption referendum was held. About 36 million people were called upon to vote on proposals to strengthen the fight against corruption. In spite of the strong mobilization on social networks, the popular consultation missed the required quorum of voters to force the congress to adopt the proposals. Nonetheless, the sponsors of the vote praised the participation of 11 million Colombians and pledged to promote these anti-corruption measures directly to parliamentarians.
On 31 August, President Jimmy Morales announced his decision not to renew the mandate of the United Nations anti-corruption mission in his country due to its alleged interference in national affairs. Created in 2007, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Cicig) will cease its functions in September 2019. Mr. Morales’ decision was criticized by civil society organizations. The latter denounced a maneuver aimed to hinder the fight against impunity.
On 1 August, the Washington Post published an article on the alleged connections between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. According to the newspaper, the accusation of collusion against the current head of state encompasses several crimes and offenses, including first and foremost conspiracy. The case also includes suspicions of confidential data theft and corruption.
On 2 August, the NGO Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint against ten members of President Trump’s administration. According to CREW, they would have ignored the duty of reserve and impartiality established by law when using an official Twitter account to publish partisan content. The following day, CREW welcomed a court ruling that strengthens the transparency of campaign funding. A judge ruled that an organization, having spent at least 250 dollars for campaign advertising, must report every contributor who gave at least 200 dollars in the past year as well as their regular donors.
On 3 August, the Washington Post devoted an article to the commercial relations of the president’s group with foreign powers. In particular, the article reported on the outstanding results recorded by the Trump International Hotel in New York, whose revenues went up 13 percent in the first three months of 2018, partly thanks to the stay of a Saudi delegation. In July, a judge in Maryland allowed a lawsuit on the grounds of a constitutional violation due to this kind of revenue. The following week, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced that she would open an investigation into Trump’s commercial activities in her state.
On the same day, the family of Jared Kushner, son-in-law and advisor of the president, which owns a real estate company, agreed to lease its 666 Fifth Avenue building to Brookfield Asset Management for 99 years. The deal was closed after the failure of negotiations with Anbang Group, an insurer with connections to the Chinese government. According to the Wall Street Journal, this transaction reflects the Kushner family’s wish to avoid any deals with sovereign funds. In May, however, criticisms were raised about the risk of conflicts of interest caused by a Qatari sovereign fund’s shareholding in Brookfield Properties, a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management.
On 7 August, in a column published on the USA Today, Mindy Finn, who ran for vice president with independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin in 2016, denounced Mr. Trump’s “pyramid scheme of public fraud”. For her, the White House generalized clientelism and wasted public funds to compensate for inefficient economic decisions. As she criticized the connections between several officials and lobbyists, Ms. Finn claimed that Mr. Trump’s lawyer and his former campaign director profited from their proximity to the president, who allegedly encouraged corrupt practices. In order to counter these practices, she called on citizens to keep high ethical standards and to demand more transparency from their government.
Also on 7 August, Emory Rounds, the new director of the Office of Government Ethics, issued a statement informing citizens of the goals of his action. He asked for sufficient means to fulfill his duties and expressed his determination to fight against practices that jeopardize the public’s trust in its government.
On 8 August, the organization Open Secrets released the results of a study, which estimated that over 530 million dollars were spent by foreign interest representatives to influence public decisions in the United States. South Korea was the country that spent the largest sums.
On the same day, Chris Collins, a Republican member of the House of Representatives, was charged with insider trading. While sitting on the board of an Australian pharmaceutical company, he would have provided his relatives with confidential information that would have allowed them to sell their shares before their value fell. Even though Mr. Collins pleaded not guilty, the Democratic opposition asserted that his case reflected the “culture of corruption” rampant in Washington.
On 9 August, an article of the Washington Post criticized Mr. Trump’s choice not to make his tax returns public, contrary to the practice of his predecessors in the past fifty years. The publication of this document would enable a better understanding of how the Trump Organization works and shed light on the revenue it generates. Besides, the president could benefit from tax exemptions made possible by provisions recently adopted by the Republican majority. If the Democrats win the House of Representatives elections in November, they may be able to publish the contents of the declaration.
On 13 August, Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University and former governor of Florida, wrote a column for the Washington Post about the risks of excessive transparency. Using the example of emails, Mr. Daniels argued that their communicability could paralyze exchanges between several services. In addition, he pointed that disclosure demands discourage talented people from applying for public office. Finally, he claimed that transparency sometimes prevented compromises in negotiations.
On the same day, Forbes echoed recent revelations related to a meeting, on 18 May 2017, between Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and the CEO of the railcar manufacturer Greenbrier Companies, a firm in which Mr. Ross had a financial stake. In a report, the Campaign Legal Center, a government watchdog organization, revealed that Mr. Ross made decisions that could affect his shares in the company, and hence violated a federal law.
On 21 August, a Virginia jury found Paul Manafort guilty of eight indictments, including bank and tax fraud. The condemnation of the Mr. Trump’s former campaign director reinforced suspicions held by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is in charge of the case of Russian collusion in the presidential campaign, and whose investigation had shed light on the practices of Mr. Manafort. This judgment came the same day as the revelations of Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer. Mr. Cohen acknowledged that he had paid large sums of money to two women in exchange for their silence about their relationship with his client in order to protect his chances of winning the election. Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty of bank and tax fraud, and of violation of the electoral legislation.
On 31 July, Mario Dion released his first quarterly activity report as Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. He highlighted the importance of his advisory role regarding parliamentarians and public officials.
On the same day, Brook Simpson, a cabinet member of the federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, was fined 100 dollars for not reporting certain activities to the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Interest Commissioner.
On 29 August, Quebec MP Éric Caire recognized that he placed himself in a situation of conflict of interests by accepting a loan from the mayor of Ancienne-Lorette, a city located in his constituency. On 30 August, François Legault, the leader of the Coalition Avenir Quebec, an opposition party of which Mr. Cairo is a member, defended the MP arguing that conflicts of interests should not be judged in the same way if the concerned person belongs the opposition or to the government. His statement was criticized. Experts stressed that ethical rules are equally applicable to all members of the National Assembly.
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
On 24 August, the Seoul appeals court increased the prison sentence for former President Park Geun-hye to 25 years in a case stemming from a far-reaching corruption scandal that removed her from office in 2017. Ms. Park was notably accused of forcing South Korean conglomerates to bribe her for political favors.
On 8 August, former Prime Minister Najib Razak was charged with embezzlement in the 1MDB sovereign fund scandal. Mr. Najib, who pleaded not guilty, faces up to 15 years’ imprisonment for each of the three charges against him, in addition to the penalties he faces for breach of trust, in another part of this case.
On 21 August, Jaak Gabriëls, Minister of State and former mayor of Bree, announced the end of his political career as he is likely to be involved in a corruption trial with other members of his party, the Open VLD. Mr. Gabriëls is suspected of embezzling funds from the city of Bree and local companies through a system of fake invoices for the benefit of his party. Accordingly, printing and advertising costs would have been billed to the city and some twenty companies, whereas the services provided benefited the local chapter of the Open VLD.
On 10 August, Transparency International (TI) expressed concern about the rise of corruption due to the authoritarian excesses of President Viktor Orban and his party, Fidesz. The NGO especially decried the establishment of a legal system to grant public resources to the party. Jozsef Peter Martin, executive director of TI’s Hungarian chapter, described the country as a “laboratory of transparent corruption” and underlined that transparency was not a sufficient condition for preventing corruption.
On 4 August, the Czech chapter of Transparency International (TI) announced its decision to file a complaint against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš for conflict of interests. He is suspected of controlling Agrofert, a conglomerate holding company that owns media outlets, while in public office. These suspicions were based particularly on the consultation of the Slovak Register of public sector partners, in which Agrofert is registered.
On 10 August, thousands of people marched in Bucharest to protest against corruption. The leader of the Social Democratic Party was especially targeted by protesters. More than 400 of them were injured by the police. President Klaus Iohannis, opposed to the leftist government of Viorica Dancila, criticized the police operation and stressed that the conditions in which this operation took place should be clarified before court. The next day, rallies were held again in the Romanian capital and in numerous major cities throughout the country.
On 24 August, the daily La Croix reported on the mobilization of Romanian citizens to support an initiative to ban convicted individuals from holding public office. A petition calling for this ban was signed by over one million people, thus exceeding the minimum number required for requesting a referendum to amend the Constitution. This request will now need to be approved by MPs.
On 16 August, the Commission of political institutions and external relations of the Grand Council of Bern rejected the introduction of a transparency obligation on party funding. This decision contrasted with the choice of the cantons of Schwyz and Fribourg that forced political parties to disclose their funding sources.
On 29 August, the Federal Council rejected an initiative on party transparency, mentioning its incompatibility with the Swiss political system. Alternative measures were not suggested. The project, which has collected nearly 110,000 signatures, will nevertheless be subject to a referendum. One of its main proposals is to force political parties to disclose donations over 10,000 francs.
On 9 August, the Ukrainian police arrested a former first deputy chairman of PJSC Ukrgazvydobuvannya. He allegedly attempted to give a 200,000 dollars bribe to a prosecutor in exchange for assistance in lifting a freeze on property related to a criminal proceeding involving former President Viktor Yanukovych.