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Tackling Grand Corruption Impunity: Proposals for a Definition and Special Measures

Grand corruption is a blight with many names and forms from political corruption to state capture to kleptocracy. It flourishes where there are weak checks on the exercise of state executive power and on private undue influence on the branches of government. This makes it possible for the powerful to disable regulatory oversight and enforcement institutions, producing impunity for grand corruption offences. To protect their illicit income streams, the perpetrators also often attempt to silence public inquiry and criticism, sometimes by violent means.

The grave harm caused by grand corruption and the impunity often enjoyed by its perpetrators make it a matter of priority for the international community to identify effective countermeasures. The role of transnational networks in grand corruption schemes highlights the need for coordinated international action.

The international community has already established key obligations and recommendations for countering corruption and protecting human rights. However, these are contained in instruments directed at states. Where high-level officials control the state and work with powerful elites to illicitly abuse state power, the international prescriptions have little effect.

It therefore falls to the international community to devise additional measures to counter grand corruption impunity. This working paper focuses on the potential for jurisdictions with stronger rule of law to play a part in criminal enforcement against grand corruption and in the remediation of its harms, including through assisting weaker jurisdictions. It also emphasises the role of non-state actors and of collective action at the international level through agreements and structures.

Based on experience to date, this working paper identifies special national and international measures that would increase accountability of grand corruption offenders and improve remedies for the harm they cause. Many of the special measures discussed would be most effective in combination, and they would together be most effective if based on an international legal framework. Some of the measures would also be suitable for international corruption cases that do not rise to the level of grand corruption.