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US weakens UN Convention by blocking measures tackling political corruption

Transparency International welcomes breakthrough on international co-operation on return of stolen assets, but UN Anti-Corruption Convention falls short on tackling political corruption

Transparency International is outraged by the stance taken by the US in blocking Article 10 on the funding of political parties," said Peter Rooke, TI Advisory Council member and observer at last week's negotiations on the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in Vienna. TI is the world's leading non-governmental organisation engaged in the fight against corruption.

"The intransigence of the US has marred an important Convention, which otherwise represents a major step forward in improving international co-operation on preventing and criminalising corruption, particularly on the return of assets looted by corrupt leaders," said Peter Rooke. He was speaking ahead of the public announcement in Vienna this afternoon (11 August 2003) of the results of the latest three-week round of negotiations on the Convention. Talks continued in Vienna until the early hours of Saturday 9 August, but fell short of agreeing a final text for the eagerly awaited Convention. A further session has been scheduled for 22 September with a view to agreeing on the remaining issues in time for a planned signing of the Convention in Mexico in December 2003.

US opposition to the article on political party funding prompted strong condemnation by the delegations of several governments, notably Norway, Russia and South Africa. Eva Joly, who as a French investigating judge probed the affairs of politicians such as former Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, said on behalf of Norway that the US position represented "too large a gap between reality and this Convention".

Her views are backed up by the results of the Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer, a survey of the general public in 47 countries published in July 2003. Three out of ten respondents singled out political parties as the institution from which they would like to eliminate corruption if they were given a magic wand. In the US, four out of ten respondents singled out political parties.

Throughout two years of negotiations on the UN Convention, TI has stressed the importance of making adequate provisions in relation to the private sector, where scandals such as Enron have seriously eroded confidence in financial markets, and in the political sphere, where confidence has been dissipated by the impunity of leaders, such as former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, now sheltered by Japan, and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, and by suspicions of political influence-buying in the energy sector in the US.

The Convention does for the first time provide a framework, albeit not mandatory, for criminalising bribery in the private sector and for measures to improve business integrity.

The Convention includes ground-breaking provisions on the return of assets to their country of origin, prefaced by a statement that this is a "fundamental principle" of the Convention. Developing countries had to fight long and hard to secure agreement for such provisions. Provisions for enhanced international co-operation in extradition and mutual legal assistance in relation to corruption offences and money-laundering will also help dispel some of the cynicism about the role of Western institutions and laws in providing a safe haven for the countless billions looted by the likes of Marcos, Mobutu and Abacha.

However, many developed countries are insisting on dual criminality before such assistance is available - that is, that both the requesting and requested country must have comparable offences in their criminal law. It seems that many developed countries prefer to continue to use their extensive bilateral and multilateral agreements on extradition and mutual legal assistance rather than relying on the provisions of the Convention. This is particularly so in the case of the US, which has 110 such agreements.

Another issue not adequately addressed in the Convention is that of criminalising corrupt behaviour by international public officials. While national public officials come under the jurisdiction of their home country courts, there is no comparable tribunal for officials of the United Nations and other public international organisations. At the same time, there is ample evidence that wrongdoing exists on a scale that existing mechanisms are inadequate. TI supports the view of Japan that the issue is important enough to be the subject of a separate Protocol to the Convention.

"Once the Convention is ratified," stressed Peter Rooke, "monitoring of implementation by the signatory countries will be vital." Under the Convention, governments have a large degree of leeway to decide if and how far to incorporate the Convention's provisions into their national law. The need to ensure implementation of mandatory provisions makes effective monitoring of the Convention essential, in particular independent monitoring by civil society organisations in the signatory countries. Procedures for this have largely been left for decision until after the Convention comes into effect. "Monitoring is essential for a Convention with teeth," said Peter Rooke.


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Jeff Lovitt/Gillian Dell
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Peter Rooke
Tel/Fax: +612-9326 1737