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CPI 2019: Trouble at the top

Top scoring countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) like Denmark, Switzerland and Iceland are not immune to corruption. While the CPI shows these public sectors to be among the cleanest in the world, corruption still exists, particularly in cases of money laundering and other private sector corruption.

The Nordic economies stand out as leaders on the CPI, with Denmark (87), Finland (86), Sweden (85), Norway (84) and Iceland (78) taking five of the top 11 places.

However, integrity at home does not always translate into integrity abroad, and multiple scandals in 2019 demonstrated that transnational corruption is often facilitated, enabled and perpetuated by seemingly clean Nordic countries.

Fishrot files

In November, the Fishrot Files investigation revealed that Samherji, one of Iceland’s largest fishing conglomerates, allegedly bribed government officials in Namibia (52) and Angola (26) for rights to massive fishing quotas. The company established shell companies in tax havens such as the UAE (71), Mauritius (52), Cyprus (58) and the Marshall Islands, some of which were allegedly used to launder the proceeds of corrupt deals. Many of the funds seem to have been transferred through a Norwegian state-owned bank, DNB, as part of this scheme. The bank is currently under investigation by the Norwegian economic crimes unit.

Telecom bribery

Last year, Swedish telecoms giant, Ericsson, agreed to pay over US$1 billion to settle a foreign bribery case over its 16-year cash-for- contracts campaign in China (41), Djibouti (30), Kuwait (40), Indonesia (40) and Vietnam (37). This is the second largest fine paid to US authorities.

SNC-Lavalin affair

In Canada (77), which drops four points since last year, a former executive of construction company SNC-Lavalin was convicted in December over bribes the company paid in Libya (18).

Danske bank scandal

Following the money laundering scandal at Danske Bank, the largest bank in Denmark (87), major banks like Swedbank in Sweden (85) and Deutsche Bank in Germany (80), were reportedly investigated in 2019 for their role in handling suspicious payments from high-risk non-resident clients, mostly from Russia (28), through Estonia (74).

Swiss banks

Similarly in Switzerland, the authorities are conducting investigations into multiple international money laundering and corruption scandals involving Swiss-based companies and organisations, especially in the financial and commodity sectors and international sports. In autumn 2019, Geneva-based commodities trader Gunvor was ordered by a court to pay a record amount of CHF 94 million (US$97 million) in relation to bribes by an employee and company agents to public officials in Congo (19) and Côte d'Ivoire (35).

Impunity for foreign bribery

Despite some high-profile fines and prosecutions, our research shows that enforcement of foreign bribery laws among OECD countries is shockingly low. The outsized roles that some companies play in their national economies gives them political support that too often triumphs over real accountability. Some banks and businesses aren’t just too big to fail – they’re also too powerful to pay. Anti-money laundering supervision and sanctions for breaches are often disjointed and ineffective.

The CPI highlights where stronger anti-corruption efforts are needed across the globe. It emphasises where businesses should show the greatest responsibility to promote integrity and accountability, and where governments must eliminate undue influence from private interests that can have a devastating impact on sustainable development.

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