International Newsletter of the HATVP – January 2022
In January 2022, a draft report from the special committee of the European Parliament was adopted, highlighting foreign influences exerted – by Russia and China in particular – on senior national and European officials.
The Transparency International NGO’s annual report on the Public Sector Corruption Perceptions Index published corruption rankings for 180 countries and territories in the year 2021. France was in 22nd place in this ranking.
In South Africa, a draft report by the European Parliament’s Inge committee highlighted endemic corruption in the public sector during the tenure of former President Jacob Zuma. In the United States, the issue of conflicts of interest has occupied political debates, following revelations of unethical behaviour within the American judicial system.
The draft report by the European Parliament’s special committee on “Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation” was adopted by a large majority on 25 January. The plenary session is expected to proceed to the final vote on the report some time in March. Most prominently, several former European Prime Ministers, a former German Vice-Chancellor, former Ministers responsible for finance, the economy and foreign affairs and a former Minister of Defence have worked – or are said to have worked – to serve Russian or Chinese interests. The report asks for an end to the financing of national political parties by powers outside the Union and for improved monitoring of the “revolving door” network of former European politicians and civil servants working for third-party governments hostile to the interests of the Union. A French government report produced by CAPS (the Centre for Analysis, Planning and Strategy of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs) and IRSEM (the Military School Strategic Research Institute) also highlights the risks of interference represented by this “manipulation of leading former European statesmen”. In its efforts to deal with these recurring moves, the European Parliament could draw inspiration from existing measures in Canada or Australia which prohibit former members of government from carrying out lobbying activities for a period ranging from 18 months to 5 years. (Contexte, 27 January 2022)
France’s MoDem and UDF parties have been indicted for complicity and concealment of embezzlement of public funds in relation to the fictitious employment of parliamentary assistants to MEPs. The opening of this investigation in 2017 had prompted the resignation of several members of the Government, including former Keeper of the Seals François Bayrou. While the police report claims the existence of a “system” of “misappropriation”, the MoDem, the UDF and the current High Commissioner for Planning continue to dispute these accusations. (Libération, 6 January 2022)
The annual report on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) was published by the Transparency International NGO. The report ranks 180 countries and territories according to the level of perceived public-sector corruption on a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to one hundred (low corruption). For ten years, the world average on this scale has remained at 43. The top-ranked countries are Denmark, Finland and New Zealand, with a score of 88. In 2021, France moves up one place to take 22nd spot in the ranking, between Uruguay and the Seychelles. In this report, Transparency International calls on governments to respect their commitments in the fight against corruption and respect for human rights, despite a situation in which the international Covid-19 crisis has led to a weakening of the rules of transparency and control over public procurement in the European Union. The NGO has issued a warning regarding the situation in Slovenia, which held the rotating presidency of the EU last semester. The NGO deplores the stance adopted by Prime Minister Janez Jansa regarding limitations imposed on the right to demonstrate and the threats to freedom of assembly in the country.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has announced that he wants to strengthen the legal framework for raising moral standards in public life and fighting corruption by creating a high authority responsible for investigating enrichment among civil servants. On 2 January, the presidential directive was examined by the Council of Ministers with a view to determining the structure, composition and operation of the country’s High Authority for transparency, prevention and the fight against corruption. The scope of action to be assigned to this high authority in the fight against corruption has not been specified. (Jeune Afrique, 6 January 2022)
A Raymond Zondo Commission Report into corruption in South Africa during former President Jacob Zuma’s tenure (2008-2019) was handed over to current President Cyril Ramaphosa. After 4 years of investigation, interviews with more than 300 witnesses and the implication of nearly 1,500 people, the first part of the report highlights endemic corruption within the public sector, most prominently involving state airline South African Airways and its subsidiaries. Also affected are the South African Revenue Service, the tax authorities, and The New Age, a newspaper owned by the Gupta family, now fugitives in Dubai. The Gupta family are accused of having influenced the appointment of ministers and heads of state enterprises with the intention of embezzling funds from public contracts. One of the testimonies collected was from businessman Angelo Agrizzi, who in January 2019 spoke of the existence of an “underground” system facilitating the collection of bribes by members of the African National Congress (ANC) in exchange for government contracts. In addition, Jacob Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison in June 2021 for obstructing justice. He has been on parole since September on medical grounds. (BBC News, 5 January 2022)
President of the Republic of Benin Patrice Talon announced in the Council of Ministers the creation of a unit for analysing and processing complaints and reports regarding acts of corruption (the CPD). This anti-corruption body collects complaints and reports of acts of corruption. Its composition and size are not yet known, but the unit is expected to include financial professionals and magistrates. (RFI, 21 January 2022)
The lawyer for former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2009-2021), accused of corruption, breach of trust and embezzlement, met Attorney General Avichaï Mandelblit with a view to exempting the former minister, aged 72 years old, from being required to serve his prison sentence. Netanyahu is proclaiming his innocence and accusing the legal authorities of leading a “coup” against him. (AFP and The Times of Israel, 17 January 2022)
Banque du Liban (BDL) governor Riad Salamé is the subject of judicial investigations for embezzlement, suspicion of fraud and money laundering in Lebanon and abroad (including France and Switzerland). The governor has also been accused by many Lebanese of having precipitated the government’s bankruptcy and the collapse of the national currency, in connection with a corrupt political establishment. (Le Monde, 25 January 2022)
The question of conflicts of interest is the focus of political debate in the United States following the revelation of unethical behaviour regarding the personal investments of three leaders of the Federal Reserve, leading to their resignation in recent months. Additionally, a Wall Street Journal enquiry highlighted ethical failings within the US justice system. The newspaper claimed that 131 federal judges were in conflict of interest by handling cases involving companies in which they held shares, in contravention of a 1974 law. Elected members of Congress are also said to have failed in their reporting obligations imposed by the 2012 STOCK Act. In response, elected members of Congress have tabled bills aimed at prohibiting elected officials and their relatives from holding individual shares, or requiring them to manage their assets via blind trusts. (Les Echos, 17 January 2022)
The Peruvian Public Ministry intends to open an investigation against current President Pedro Castillo at the end of his term, scheduled for 2026, on suspicion of aggravated influence peddling and collusion against public administration. Under current rules, presidential office in Peru grants Castillo absolute immunity. More specifically, Castillo is accused of having intervened in a public tender for the construction of a road bridge over the Huallaga River in the north of the country. He is also said to have intervened in the process of acquiring biodiesel on the local market by giving preferential treatment to the Heaven Petroleum Operators company, enabling it to win a $74 million contract. Finally, Castillo is suspected of influence peddling and illegal sponsorship in relation to the promotion of military officers sympathetic to his government. (Le Figaro, 5 January 2022)
In Malaysia, protests have taken place in Kuala Lumpur against the head of the anti-corruption agency (MACC). A member of the anti-corruption agency for more than 36 years, Azam Baki took over the management of MACC in 2020 and is facing numerous accusations due to a controversial stock transaction of more than 200,000 euros. Mr Azam was placed under surveillance on suspicion of improper proxy trading after granting his brother access to his account. This is not the first corruption scandal in Malaysia: in 2018, the country’s former Prime Minister was arrested in connection with the 1MDB case, a financial scandal involving the embezzlement of public funds worth 8 billion dollars. (France Info, 25 January 2022)
In Switzerland, an initiative on transparency in the financing of political life will be voted on by residents of Jura on 13 February. In particular, it provides that any party, campaign committee or organisation participating in elections or cantonal or communal voting must publish its accounts and its sources of financing. The identity of donors must be made public for all donations under one franc for legal entities, and under 750 francs for natural persons. None of the other cantons has adopted such strict rules. The limit is generally around 5,000 francs. This initiative was challenged by a less restrictive counter-proposal by the Parliament (Grand Council) in September, supported by the right-wing majority (PDC, PLR, UDC). Switzerland has been criticized by the Council of Europe’s GRECO (Group of States against Corruption) body for its lack of legislation in this area, and the country plans make rapid progress in this area by making transparency a central feature of its policy. (Le Temps, 19 January 2022)
Vladimir Tokarev, the Russian deputy minister of transport, regional development and construction, in office since 2018, has been arrested on suspicion of large-scale fraud. According to the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, the latter had been involved in cases of embezzlement while holding the position of first deputy director general of Spetstransstroy – one of the main construction companies working for the national railway company RZD – between 2016 and 2018. Searches were conducted in his office and at his home. Furthermore, Alexeï Navalny, founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation which specialises in investigating acts of misappropriation and embezzlement by regional and national elites, and an opponent of President Vladimir Putin, is currently in jail. (Le Figaro, 20 January 2022)