International Newsletter of the HATVP – May 2018
The current context and more broadly speaking 2018 are marked by electoral campaigns and elections in an important number of countries across the world (Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Malaysia, Italy, Iraq, etc.), during which a certain number of scandals and political and financial cases occurred. After India adopted, in January, a new law to strengthen transparency of political funding, while consequences of the “Lava Jato” case in South America involved again high level public officials, after an unprecedented decision was pronounced in Spain against the Popular Party, among other examples, transparency of political party funding and electoral campaign is more than ever a topical issue.
Several actions have been implemented to enhance transparency in this area:
The American electoral campaign in 2016 had already illustrated the challenges of financial transparency in political life. The Federal election commission (FEC) then published on its website all amounts collected and expenses of each candidate in the presidential and legislative elections under very short delays. All data had been reused by journalists to inform the wider public on how money is spent during elections and by civil society in its ethical monitoring of political life.
Latvia adopted a system guaranteeing more transparency in political parties funding and the publication of information on the website of the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB). The Group of States against corruption (GRECO) of the Council of Europe welcomed in a report published in May the reform currently being discussed in Liechtenstein on this matter. In April, it also stressed the results reached in Cyprus in this field, with the publication of donations received but also a scale of sanctions for candidates who violate the law on electoral disclosure, etc.
As transparency of public funds or transparency of public officials in the exercise of their duty, financial transparency remains a core element to strengthen citizens’ trust in their institutions and representatives.
INTERNATIONAL & MULTILATERAL
On 15 May, the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunity and Institutional Affairs of the Parliamentary Assembly took sanctions against Pedro Agramunt, Cezar Florin Preda, Jordi Xuclà and Samad Seyidov – 4 members of the Parliamentary Assembly – on corruption charges for the benefit of Azerbaijan, in the “caviargate” affair. Pedro Agramunt was President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) until 6 October 2017. The representatives are temporarily deprived from several rights but still exercise their mandate.
On 22 May, the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy of the PACE published a declaration on the establishment of an academic network on Council of Europe conventions against corruption. The network aims at enhancing knowledge sharing and awarding more scholarships and innovation in the fight against corruption.
In its 18th general activity report, released on 3 May, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) – the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body – reviewed a dark year on the fight against corruption. Greece, Romania and Poland were specifically targeted.
On 17 May, the GRECO made public the evaluation report of the fifth evaluation round for the United Kingdom. It covers corruption prevention and promotion of integrity in central governments (top executive functions) and law enforcement agencies. The Group notably called on the authorities to strengthen transparency on lobbying activities towards the government.
On 22 May, the GRECO published the compliance report on the fourth evaluation round for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Group concluded that the country had implemented none of the 15 recommendations from the evaluation report. It indicated that “timid steps timid steps have been made by Parliament to strengthen its integrity system”.
In an interview given to The Guardian, on 4 May, Christine Lagarde, the President of the International Monetary Fund, called for the improvement of anti-corruption measures in order to increase confidence in public institutions. According to her, priority must be given to enhancing transparency, especially in the use of public funds. In that perspective, new technologies constitute an opportunity to be seized.
On 7 May, the African Development Bank decided a three-year debarment for the Chinese company CHINT Electric.Co for fraudulent practices. The company was sanctioned for releasing false information relating to its experience and to other conditions of certification in order to take part in tenders partly funded by the institution. The sanction also applies to projects financed by the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank Group. The duration of the suspension could be reduced in case of good cooperation with the Bank fraud office.
The 8th Commonwealth Conference of Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Africa took place in Nigeria between 14 and 18 May. Opened by a speech delivered by the President, Muhammadu Buhari, this event aimed at exchanging ideas and good practices to tackle corruption.
On 22 May, the European Parliament published a video in which it recalled its commitment to enhance the EU transparency register as part of the current negotiations on a new inter-institutional agreement between the Parliament, the Council and the Commission. While the existing register is voluntary and only covers the Commission and the Parliament, these negotiations seek to make it mandatory and to extend it to the Council.
On 17 May, the European Ombudsman published its activity report for 2017. Citizens’ participation and their access to the European Union decision-making process was one of Emily O’Reilly’s priorities. She notably welcomed the fact that the Commission uses the guide for EU officials on the “DOs and DON’Ts” of dealing with lobbyists that was drafted by her services.
Mrs. O’Reilly also sent, on 17 May, a special report to the European Parliament on her inquiry to improve the accountability of the legislative work of the Council. This report followed the unanswered recommendations previously addressed to the Council. The Ombudsman asked for the support of the Parliament in order to increase the transparency on national governments activities in Brussels.
On the occasion of the 18th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations’ Convention against Corruption, on 23 May, the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), Antonio Guterres, recalled that corruption is a global phenomenon that affects both developed and developing countries. Mentioning impunity as “corrosive”, he insisted on the UN’s crucial role, notably in supporting Member States in their efforts to fight against corruption.
On 22 May, the Open Government Network for Europe was launched in Brussels by the Open Government Partnership and the Democratic Society. This project aims to gather the “champions” working on transparency and citizens’ involvement across Europe. Open to practitioners from inside and outside the European institutions, the network will ease the exchange of good practices on open Government.
In an article published by Le Monde on 23 May, Rémy Rioux, Director of the French Development Agency, welcomed the cooperation between African countries and France on public use of new technologies. Mr. Rioux notably evoked the successful collaboration developed in the Open Government Partnership.
On 24 May, the South-African Government decided to replace several heads of state-owned enterprises. These changes occurred in response to the situation of “generalized corruption” identified by the Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan.
Since 21 May, the province of Gauteng has been using drones in order to reduce the risk of corruption. This measure seeks to support the control of civil engineering in a country affected by scandals of corruption relating to the construction of 2010 football World Cup infrastructures.
South-African citizens were invited to award the most exemplary public servant under the program Integrity Idol led by the NGO Accountability Lab and its partners. At the end of the vote – open between 4 and 18 May – the policeman Vinny Pillay obtained the majority of the votes thanks to its commitment for those in need.
On 9 May, Marc-Antoine Koffi Kablan became Secretary General of the High Authority for Good Governance succeeding Yves Yao Kouamé. The new Secretary General wishes to develop dissuasion as a tool to fight corruption. Efforts in this field should continue in a country where media have been denouncing President Alasanne Ouattara’s helplessness in stamping the scandals out.
Since the indictment of the French businessman Vincent Bolloré on 25 April in the affair relating to the management of his ports in Guinea and Togo, the Guinean President Alpha Condé asserted his intention to file a complaint for slander, on 3 May. On the same day, in Togo, the opposition asked the Government, which announced that it will cooperate with the French judiciary, to provide explanations.
The French judiciary is still investigating on suspicions of “money-laundering by an organized group” and “fiscal fraud” related to the businessman Maminiaina Ravatomanga’s housing investments. The properties purchased in Levallois-Perret by the advisor of the presidential candidate Andry Rajoelina, are targeted by another inquiry on embezzlement.
On 4 May, the Chadian President Idriss Deby signed the decree which enacted the 4th Republic Constitution. The text – which contains several provisions against illicit enrichment from corruption – was severely criticized by the opposition that boycotted the vote in the Assembly. It notably denounced the empowerment of the President and the absence of a referendum.
On 22 May, Le Parisien evoked the anti-corruption operation led in Riyad between November 2017 and January 2018 by order of Crown Prince Mohamed Ben Salmane. Stating that almost 10% of Saudi public spending were plucked by corruption, Mr. Ben Salmane sought to establish agreements with the individuals concerned to recover the embezzled funds. However, the hospitalization of some defendants and the death of the retired General Ali Al-Qahtani generated suspicions on potential use of torture during the operation.
On 12 May, Iraq organized its first legislative election after the fall of ISIS. At the end of a poll marked by a low participation rate (44.52%), Prime Minister Haider el-Abadi’s list was defeated by two “anti-system” lists. Allied to the communists on an anti-corruption platform, the Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr was the main winner of this election which worries Tehran and Washington.
The first legislative election in nearly 10 years took place on 6 May. They happened in a climate of suspicion on corruption and vote buying. In this context, Transparency International raised awareness on the unfairness generated by the candidature of several ministers. The NGO called for a drastic improvement of the voting process. The President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, stated that the new government should focus on anti-corruption in the public administration. He decided to reappoint Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
On 24 May, the Member of Parliament Omar Ezzerrad was sentenced to three years in prison by the Court of First Instance in Fès. The MP and his deputy were found guilty of corruption and abuse of power. They were sentenced two days after the Government launched a call center to denounce corruption cases. Open all days from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm, the center allowed, only two days after its inception, the disclosure of three corruption cases involving civil servants and middlemen who were arrested by the police.
During a press conference, on 2 May, Sofiène Selliti reviewed the activity of the Judicial Office on Economic and Financial affairs since September 2017. The Office spokesman announced that 38 individuals had been arrested for suspicions of corruption, money laundering and custom crime. In the same period, 95 corruption cases were transmitted to the Office by the National Anti-Corruption Body. Invited to take part in a radio program, Mr. Selliti wished that the People’s Representatives Assembly waives the immunity of several MPs suspected of financial crimes. In connection with this, the NGO I Watch asked for publication of the names of these parliamentarians.
On 11 May, the Tunisian Government announced the digitalization of the tendering procedure for public procurements. This measure, which will take effect in September 2018, should increase transparency and anti-corruption efficiency.
President Michel Temer will not stand for re-election. On 22 May, in view of corruption suspicions hanging over him, he appointed Henrique Meilleres – his former Minister of Finance – to represent the Brazilian Democratic Movement in the presidential election to be held in October. On 8 May, Joaquim Barbosa announced that he will not stand as a candidate in this election. The former President of the Supreme Court, member of the Brazilian Socialist Party, is considered as a model of integrity by large sections of the population, frustrated by recent corruption scandals.
On 23 May, the UN Human Rights Committee rejected Lula’s appeal for interim measures, made ahead of his incarceration last month. The interim measures requested by Lula would have been applied if the committee believed the defendant was “at risk of being tortured or was facing an imminent execution”.
On 18 May, José Dirceu – his former Minister and Head of cabinet – was sentenced on appeal to thirty years and nine months in prison for corruption as part of the “Car Wash” operation. His immediate incarceration was ordered.
In response to criticism expressed by the opposition on the electoral bill C-76, Justin Trudeau said he was not opposed to parliamentary amendments. The official opposition would like that the bill frames governmental publicity and minister’s spending, in addition to a ban on their official trips during the last three months before an election.
On 18 May, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner of Canada opened an investigation on Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard. There are suspicions of conflicts of interest in the issuance of a fishing permit to a company related to the Liberal Party of Canada.
Philippe Couillard – the Premier of Quebec – made transparency his priority when he entered into office four years ago. On the initiative of his Government, the Parliament will discuss a bill to improve citizens’ access to information held by public institutions. This announce occurred on 17 May while the Prime Minister is engaged in a controversy with Pierre Moreau – his Minister of Natural Resources – about the nomination of the businessman Alexandre Taillefer as Chairman of Mr. Couillard’s electoral campaign. As the chairman of several boards and media owner, Mr. Taillefer may be in situation of conflict of interests, according to Mr. Moreau. The Prime Minister considered that the issue did not come into play because the position was not elective.
On 6 May, Jean-François Routhier – Quebec Commissioner of Lobbying – asked for a legislative change. He proposed to administer the lobbyists’ registry – which is currently managed by the Ministry of Justice – and increase transparency on their activity.
Tony Accurso’s trial started on 7 May at the Laval Law Court. After a first acquittal, the entrepreneur appeared in court for the second time for corruption suspicions in the municipal affairs. During the trial, a witness stated that Mr. Accurso would have given 200,000 dollars in cash to the mayor’s fundraiser, Gilles Vaillancourt, who was sentenced in 2016 for fraud, collusion and breach of trust.
On 27 May, the right-wing candidate Ivan Duque won the first round of the presidential election, followed by Gustavo Pedro, candidate of an “anti-system left”. The fight against corruption is one of the main issues of this ballot. The results will be known on 17 June.
On 17 May, Colombia allowed the extradition of Luis Gustavo Moreno to the United States. Former head of anti-corruption, he was sentenced in his country for a corruption case in the Colombian Supreme Court. His testimonies uncovered a scandal that led to the arrest of the former Chief of the Court and the replacement of several of its judges. In the United States, he will face charges of money laundering before a Floridian court.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
On 2 May, the President of the United States of America claimed again his “absolute immunity” regarding some complaints related to the continuation of his business during his mandate. New suspicions on conflict of interests appeared after he decided to ease sanctions against China in return for getting good business relationships between a Chinese state-owned company and one of his own companies.
On 9 May, the House Armed Services Committee rejected an amendment that would have improved transparency on the use of military aircrafts by senior officials of the Trump administration.
On 16 May, Donald Trump published his financial disclosure for 2017. The acting director of the Office of Government Ethics sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to inform him that Mr. Trump mentioned in his disclosure the repayment of a loan to the lawyer Michael Cohen. This repayment should have been included in his previous disclosure. This decision followed a complaint submitted on 3 May by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) about a debt hidden by Donald Trump for the payment of 130,000 dollars to the actress Stormy Daniels, possibly for her silence. CREW welcomed that the head of the Office of Government Ethics transmitted the information.
According to Reuters on 17 May, the fact that Kushner Companies and Brookfield Property Partners may sign a partnership agreement could possibly put Jared Kushner in a situation of conflict of interests. The familial company of Jared Kushner – Donal Trump’s son-in-law and advisor – would be close to concluding an agreement with this Canadian enterprise, held by a Qatari sovereign fund for 7%.
On 2 May, the State of Puebla suspended 185 municipal police officers from the city of San Martín Texmelucan. Suspected to be accomplices to criminal groups specialized in fuel stealing, they will be questioned to determine the nature of their links with local mafia.
On 14 May, media reports revealed that Meryl Streep will be the headliner of the movie The Laundromat. Based on the book Secrecy World by Jake Bernstein, this Steven Soderbergh’s movie will follow the line of the Panama Papers affair.
Three days before the presidential election that led to Nicolas Maduro’s reelection on 21 May, Diosdado Cabello, who is notably suspected of drug trafficking and money laundering, was targeted by sanctions of the United States. These sanctions against the vice-president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and three others individuals were taken by the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control. Mr. Cabello, who denied on 16 May to have accounts in these countries had already been sanctioned by Panama and Switzerland. He is deemed inadmissible on their territory.
After a conviction for corruption, on 8 May, the former chief of the Communist Party of the province of Chongqing, Sun Zhengcai, was sentenced to life in prison. He had been given gifts in return of his support in awarding public contracts. Since Xi Jinping came into power in 2013, nearly 1.5 million public officials were convicted for corruption.
The Institute for International and Strategic Relations published on 24 May, in its collection Asia Focus, an analysis of the documental Always on the Road, about the implementation of anti-corruption measures. Produced by both China Central Television and the propaganda’s department of Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the documental presented the stories of corrupt officials condemned by justice, which illustrated the commitment of the State to deal with these issues.
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Heard on 23 May by the Central Court of the district of Seoul for corruption cases, former President Lee Myung-bak claimed his innocence. The 76-year old man said that he was dismayed by some charges and qualified the trial as an “insult” to him. He is notably charged for accepting bribes from the national security intelligence service and the payment of his legal fees by Samsung Electronics. Prosecutors also suspected him of a 35 billion won diversion to political and personal ends.
On 15 May, Choi Soon-sil was sentenced to three years in prison by the South-Korean Supreme Court. The friend of former President Park Geun-hye asked for a special treatment for her daughter’s admission to university. This decision occurred three months after she was sentenced to twenty years in prison for her involvement in the scandal that led to the condemnation of the former President.
Surprisingly, on 9 May, the opposition won the legislative election. After 61 years in control, the pro-government coalition Barisan Nasional lost the majority in the country’s lower house. The financial scandal “1MDB” (a sovereign fund) involving the Prime Minister Najib Razak was decisive in the voters’ decision. The new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad appointed Shukri Abdull as head of the anti-corruption committee which has been questioning Najij Razak since 22 May. Back from his exile in the United States after facing strong pressures from the former Government, Mr. Abdull resumed the investigation that he led between 2015 and 2016. The first investigations questioned Najib Razak’s 9-million euro transfer from a subsidiary of the sovereign fund to his own bank account. In connection with this case, his home was searched by police on 17 May.
On 7 May, former Minister Armand De Decker was indicted for influence peddling as part of the Belgian inquiry on “Kazakhgate” scandal. Mr. De Decker, a lawyer of the Kazakh oligarch Patokh Chodiev, would have facilitated a compromise procedure to the benefit of his client in 2011, according to the prosecutor’s office of Mons.
On 23 May, Brussels’ lower court cancelled the concession contract for the Royal Circus hall concluded between the City of Brussels and its association Brussels Expo. The judge considered that the awarding process of the contract violated principles of competition due to risks of partisanship and conflicts of interest. Four members of the association were part of the College of Aldermen when the contract was concluded.
On 24 May, the People’s Party – in power in the country – was sentenced for illicit enrichment in a case of corruption, financial wrongdoing and money laundering, called the “Gürtel case”. The court judged that a network of public contracts awarding against financial favors had existed between 1999 and 2005. The former treasurer of the party and the businessman Francisco Correa, who was sentenced to more than 51 years in prison, were among the 29 convicted persons. The Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy – sentenced to repay nearly 250,000 euros for lucrative participation to this reward system – announced that he will appeal the sentence. In this context, a no-confidence vote was introduced in the Assembly by the Socialist Party. The vote of 1 June seemed to be difficult for the Prime Minister and could lead to his resignation and to the Constitution of a new Government led by the socialists.
As part of an inquiry on a possible fraud related to subsidies of the local Council of the Province of Barcelona, police officers of the economic and fiscal crime department initiated a vast anti-corruption operation in several Catalan cities. This operation, which started the 24 May, has to determine whether the two million euros that had been embezzled contributed to support the referendum of independence of 1 October 2017.
Journalists of the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium published on 16 May an investigation on the investments system from outside the European Union. Between 2013 and 2017, an extra-European investor who wanted to invest in Hungary had to buy a special state bond – which used to cost between 250,000 and 300,000 euros – to one of the eight companies with exclusive rights to sell them on behalf of the government. The investigation seems to highlight that this exclusive status would have favored some companies at the expense of others in violation of existing laws in the country.
The “Contract for the Government of Change” presented on 18 May by the new coalition in power in Italy covers several measures to tackle corruption. It includes increase in penalties, lifetime ban from civil service or the use of integrity testing to test officials’ honesty.
In the country, nearly 200 journalists investigating on mafia are living under police protection. The New York Times published an article on 20 May about their working conditions and recalled that some of them were murdered over the past years.
On 23 May, the former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was found guilty of abuse of power for having personally used a Mercedes which had been purchased for 600,000 euros on public funds. Sentenced to two years in prison, Mr. Gruevski’s lawyer said that he will appeal the decision. Furthermore, he will appear in court for five other cases of corruption cases or electoral fraud.
“Anti-corruption campaigners must not be intimidated”. That is the point of a press release published by Transparency International on 15 May. The NGO asked the Government to put an end to pressure on citizens involved in the fight against corruption.
On 8 May, Olivera Lakić was shot in the leg while she was at home in Podgorica. The journalist who worked on organized crime notably wrote articles on presumed illegal companies related to high civil servants. She was already attacked six years ago.
The Portuguese chapter of Transparency International expressed its disappointment about the decision of 10 May by the Lisbon Court of Appeal on the case of the Angolan Vice-President Manuel Vicente. Accused of having paid more than 760,000 euros to a Portuguese prosecutor in return of the dismissal of criminal investigations against him for corruption and money-laundering, Mr. Vicente will be judged in his country. Members of the NGO questioned the independence of Portuguese justice as they worry his crime may never be sanctioned. The NGO considered it may have succumbed to external pressures.
A TV report broadcasted on France 3 on 16 May focused on the daily public gatherings which happened outside the Social Democratic Party in Sibiu, in the center of the country. Launched on Facebook and named “Vă vedem” (“We are watching you”), this initiative aimed to protest against the judicial reform passed at the end of 2017 which weakened Romanian anti-corruption policies.
On 1 May, the British Parliament passed a bill on money laundering that oblige overseas territories to introduce public ownership registers revealing the beneficial owners of companies incorporated in their jurisdictions. This decision, which will come into force in 2020, was welcomed by anti-corruption activists. It extended a policy that applied in the rest of the country and which will be introduced in all the EU Member States in 2020. A comparable project is thought to be currently considered in the United States. Maggie Murphy, senior global advocacy manager at Transparency International UK stated that some US states will no longer be able to justify the permissiveness of their own regulation based on the status of British overseas territories. The NGO’s Director of Policy welcomed this change and analyzed it as a “hugely significant moment in the fight against corruption, not just in the UK but around the world”.
The Guardian published a full investigation about the British Government fight against dirty money from Russia, after the assassination of Sergei Skripal. According to Thomas Piketty, half of Russian financial resources are located outside the country but it is difficult to know exactly where. The battle against corruption is facing numerous obstacles. The most striking one is the huge difficulty to prove the criminal origin of the money. By the end of the Second World War, British financial recovery was hastened by the Soviet Union that preferred storing its dollar reserve in the City rather than in American banks. The problem for the British Government is that there were no investigation at the time when this money entered its territory.
To commemorate the assassination of Jan Kuciak and his fiancée in February 2018, thousands of citizens gathered to defend press freedom and to ask for early elections. The investigation led by this journalist – specialized in mafia corruption – revealed suspicions of relations between the Calabrian mafia and the then Prime Minister Robert Fico’s entourage who resigned subsequently.
On 14 May, the Swiss chapter of Transparency International called for a reform of the Interdepartmental Working Group on Combating Corruption. In an open letter sent to the Finance Delegation of the Federal Assembly, the NGO denounced the institution’s lack of democratic legitimacy. The chapter asked for an extension of the group’s competences and for the strengthening of his human resources so that the working group effectively contributes to tackle corruption.