By Christopher Connell
Corruption has no borders, and corruption-related problems concern rich and poor countries alike.
“You cannot deal with it just by pointing fingers at the developing world,” said Adrian Fozzard, director of the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative, a United Nations/World Bank project. Businesspeople paying bribes for concessions and contracts in developing nations often come from wealthier countries, and proceeds from corruption often go back to their financial centers, he said.
THE LONG ARM OF THE LAW REACHES FARTHER
Law enforcement authorities increasingly recognize they cannot fight bribery or embezzlement without the cooperation of their counterparts overseas: The long arm of the law must reach across oceans, borders and jurisdictions these days. Two major international laws — the 1997 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and the 2003 U.N. Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) — have given law enforcement agencies the legal ground to pursue their anti-corruption efforts beyond their national borders.
National authorities such as the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Britain's Scotland Yard and Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption are not the only ones on the trail of corrupt corporate officers and leaders who loot national treasuries. Private lawyers such as Swiss attorney Enrico Monfrini are in the fray too. They bring civil cases to recover proceeds from corruption. James Maton, a commercial litigator in London, helped Nigeria recover $120 million of the billions that Sani Abacha stole during his five years as dictator and hid in bank accounts in the United Kingdom.
Maton, a partner with the law firm of Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge LLP, said civil lawsuits to recover assets sometimes move forward when criminal investigations stall. In the Abacha case, “we’ve had enormous assistance from the law enforcement agencies that carried out the investigation,” he added.
In the United States, government agencies collaborate to fight bribery and kleptocracy. The FBI has an entire squad dedicated to investigating violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a 1977 law that makes it illegal to bribe a foreign official to secure a business deal.
“It’s a huge, collective effort,” said FBI Special Agent Debra LaPrevotte.
When Siemens AG, the German engineering giant, admitted its routine payment of bribes to win contracts globally, LaPrevotte got hold of bank records that showed $1.2 million went to the son of the former prime minister of Bangladesh, who stashed it in a Singapore account listed under his children’s initials. Thanks to cooperation by U.S., German and Singapore authorities, the account was frozen.
WHEN ENFORCEMENT LAGS
The U.S. Justice Department goes aggressively after corporate bribery, but many other countries do not. In 2011, Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog, saw “little or no enforcement” in more than half of the countries that signed the OECD anti-bribery convention.
However, the UNCAC has ratcheted up pressure on all signatory nations. The overwhelming majority now agree on standards to which public officials and businesses must be held. Robert Leventhal, who directs anti-corruption and governance Initiatives within the State Department, said: “The challenge now is to work with countries to put these standards into practice.”
With the UNCAC monitoring mechanism in place, and the first batch of countries undergoing the review, chances for improvements are increasing, U.S. officials said.
Christopher Connell is a freelance writer.