Countries must be more transparent when investigating transnational corruption

Countries must be more transparent when investigating transnational corruption

Recent news about the Odebrecht system of bribery payments, published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, emphasises the complexity of grand corruption cases. It underlines the importance of supporting supervisory and justice systems, and of giving their institutions independence.

The new information also demonstrates the need for transparency and accountability from these institutions so that the public can assess their performance, checking whether or not they are complying with their institutional duties.

The new reports are based on information leaked from Odebrecht’s secret communication system, Drousys, and obtained by the Ecuadorian news agency, Mil Hojas.

Odebrecht’s corrupt activities

Odebrecht may not have fully disclosed its corrupt activities, as required by a historic agreement issued in December 2016. In this agreement, the Brazilian construction company admitted paying $788 million over 15 years (between 2001 and 2016) to authorities and political parties in Brazil and in eleven other countries – nine in Latin America (Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and the Dominican Republic) and two in Africa (Angola and Mozambique).

However, there is very little detailed information publicly available on these payments; it is not known specifically which works were obtained through the payment of bribes or which authorities from the various countries mentioned received illicit payments. Nor has Odebrecht publicly admitted, to date, to bribing for some of the works which were apparently targets of corruption.

The complexity of identifying those responsible for the crimes - together with uncertainties about the crimes' full details - represents an enormous challenge for the various countries affected.

It will require significant investment in technical training and, more importantly, in independence, for the entire corruption network to be dismantled and for those responsible in all of these countries to be identified and held accountable for their wrongdoing.

More openness needed

There is little information publicly available to gauge the capacity, autonomy and compliance of the various countries' investigatory bodies and judiciaries responsible for bringing the corrupt to justice.

In May, the Brazilian publication, JOTA, and Transparency International obtained data that helped to clarify this scenario. It revealed that the number of requests for information issued to Brazil by the countries affected in the Odebrecht case varied significantly from country to country. Peru has requested information the most to support its investigations: 68 requests for cooperation in two years (2017 and 2018). On the other hand, Guatemala and Venezuela each only sent two requests to the Brazilian authorities, and Mexico and the Dominican Republic each only sent three.

In the face of the enormous and complex challenges, the various countries’ institutions must provide the public with comprehensive information and increase their levels of transparency and accountability. A first step is to disclose statistics on requests for international cooperation. This will provide some insight into the justice systems’ full activities in cases of transnational corruption.

Broad international consensus

There is broad consensus among the international anti-corruption community about the need for openness in this area. In June 2019, a group of 140 experts including government representatives, investigators and leaders of civil society organisations from more than 50 countries, met in Oslo, Norway, to discuss grand corruption and to issue recommendations.

Recommendation 44, on mutual legal assistance, is as follows: "Central Authorities for mutual legal assistance [(MLA)] or other competent authorities should pro-actively and in a timely manner assist requesting States in cases of corruption involving vast quantities of assets to meet the national requirements for MLA, including by, where feasible, providing a contact person. Statistics on MLA requests made, received and successfully responded to, should be collected and published."

Countries must urgently deliver accountability on their performance at investigating and sanctioning crimes of grand corruption. Disclosing statistics about requests for international legal cooperation for cases of grand corruption is vital. Brazil discloses aggregated statistics of cases of international cooperation, but more detailed and specific disclosure is required to precisely identify how international cooperation is working. Other countries do not even disclose aggregated data.

In light of the new Odebrecht revelations, this step is urgent for the ten Latin-American countries and the two African countries where the transnational corruption occurred.

This article, by Transparency International - Brazil's Fabiano Angélico, was originally published in Portuguese by JOTA.

Photo: Dan Gold on Unsplash

For any press enquiries please contact


Support Transparency International

The terrible consequences of police corruption in South Africa

What do we do when those mandated to protect us are serving other interests than public safety and security? In South Africa, police corruption leaves the public exposed to high rates of crime, and causes distrust of the police service while allowing crime to flourish.

Why do DRC citizens report such high levels of corruption?

People's experiences with corruption in the DRC are far worse than in most other African countries. Why is corruption so prevalent in the DRC, why is bribery so commonplace and why do two thirds of citizens feel powerless?

Is Mauritius at a tipping point in the fight against corruption?

According to the latest GCB for Africa, very few Mauritians who accessed public services, like health care and education, had to pay a bribe for those services. But given recent scandals, citizens still see certain groups and institutions as corrupt.

Protecting Africa’s wildlife from corruption

When they deliberate over amendments to the global wildlife trade regime, CoP18 must address impunity for illegal timber trafficking in Africa as a matter of high priority.

How the US can help Mongolia get to grips with corruption

A series of bi-lateral meetings and a proposed trade agreement present an opportunity for the US to promote rule of law and an independent judiciary in Mongolia.

Blood diamonds and land corruption in Sierra Leone

A community in Sierra Leone has created powerful short videos documenting their experiences of corruption, forced evictions and a botched resettlement programme at the hands of a multinational diamond mining company.

Resilient institutions

Reducing corruption is an important component of the sustainable development agenda, and one that all state parties have an obligation to address. Although corruption is often thought of as a ‘third-world problem’, institutions in the Global North play an important role in the corruption cycle, and are therefore an essential part of the solutions.

In whose interest? Political integrity and corruption in Africa

What accounts for the wide disparity in peoples’ perceptions of the integrity of elected representatives in different countries? In this piece, we will to look at various forms of political corruption, how they manifest in African countries and what can be done to promote political integrity.

Cidadãos opinam sobre a corrupção em África

A décima edição do Barómetro Global de Corrupção (GCB) – África revela que embora a maioria das pessoas na África acreditem que os níveis de corrupção aumentaram no seu país, elas também se sentem otimistas, pois acreditam que os cidadãos podem fazer a diferença no combate à corrupção.

Les citoyens africains expriment leur opinion sur la corruption

La 10e édition du Baromètre mondial de la corruption – Afrique révèle que la plupart des Africains pensent que la corruption a augmenté dans leur pays, mais aussi que la majorité d’entre eux s’estiment capables, en tant que citoyens, de changer la donne dans la lutte contre la corruption.

Social Media

Follow us on Social Media