Grand corruption is one of the great unresolved legal challenges of our day. With its serious and often global effects, combatting grand corruption must be the responsibility of the international community.
For this to happen grand corruption should be treated as an international crime.
Transparency International has developed a legal definition of grand corruption to encourage advocates, scholars, lawmakers, and others to seek ways to enhance accountability of high-level public officials and others whose corruption harms their citizens egregiously and too often with impunity.
If designated as an international crime countries could exercise universal jurisdiction, similar to the treatment of war crimes.
Our targets: the leaders who co-opt the institutions of state for their own personal gain and sweep all before them to do that: human rights, human dignity, equality, development.
Domestic authorities are often unable or unwilling to bring the grand corrupt to justice. In these cases, the international community has an obligation to act, collectively and through action by individual states.
Grand corruption is a crime that violates human rights and deserves adjudication and punishment accordingly. This ranges from stealing from public budgets used to build hospitals and schools, to constructing dangerous facilities as the result of underfunding caused by corrupt actors.
An example of grand corruption: Yanukovych
Ukrainian ex-President Viktor Yanukovych and his cronies stand accused of stealing US $7.5 billion. Yanukovych himself is allegedly complicit in many corrupt activities as well as the murder of activists. He is currently living in Moscow under the protection of the Russian government.
At the same time, Ukrainian prosecutors have shown a reluctance to seriously pursue a public prosecution of Yanukovych, allowing him to spend his stolen wealth and live as a free man. His cronies have impunity, defying prosecutors to prove their corruption, with monies stashed away in other countries.
If Yanukovych were to travel to a country with a grand corruption statute that included universal jurisdiction, he could be held and tried for his egregious crimes against the people of Ukraine.
If Ukraine had a grand corruption statute that allowed for private prosecutions, Yanukovych and his cronies would have much more to fear. If Ukraine’s domestic law allowed for private prosecutions (something currently under discussion in Ukraine) victims could team together to hire lawyers and pursue a case against Yanukovych and his cronies.
The role of civil society
Civil parties should be allowed a role in criminal procedures under a grand corruption statute. In such legal systems anti-corruption NGOs can take part in criminal procedures and represent a broad range of victims.
In France, for example, our chapter and the group Sherpa represented the victims of three African dictators.
It was announced last week that the son of Equatorial Guinea’s long-time president will go to trial in France almost a decade after the initial complaints were filed.
The younger Obiang is accused of siphoning off more than €200 million (US$225 million) of public money for personal purposes.
Unsurprisingly, he denies the allegations and nothing is being done about it in his home country where his father is firmly in control.
- Grand corruption is a major obstacle to the achievement of sustainable development.
- It undermines and distorts sound financial practice and clean business, both domestically and internationally.
- It deepens poverty, inequality and it increases exclusion.
- Grand corruption also results in violations of human rights; a link recognised by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Together with a group of top international legal experts including the first Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Luis Moreno Ocampo, and Richard Goldstone, the first chief prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, we worked on translating this understanding of grand corruption into a formulation viable in a legal context.
We developed a legal definition emphasising that grand corruption occurs when bribery, embezzlement or other corruption offences occur.
Grand corruption used to carry on unseen, with little publicity. Today – thanks to new possibilities opened up by globalisation, global communications and investigative reporting, the massive secrecy industry created by the enablers of grand corruption are in headlines every day. So too is the inability of current laws to tackle this transnational network of thievery and worse.
This needs to change. People have had enough. There should be no impunity for the corrupt.
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