Who paid the money and why?

Filed under - Politics and government

Speech by José Ugaz, 2 September 2015 – 16th IACC, Putrajaya, Malaysia
Image of speaker/author

Minister Paul Low, Deputy Chief of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission,

Mr. Akere Muna, head of the IACC council,

Mr. Akhbar Satar, president of TI Malaysia:

Let me first thank the IACC for bringing so many people together as part of our great global movement to tackle corruption.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission for hosting the conference with the IACC.

And the Malaysian people for welcoming us to their beautiful country at this momentous time.

This week Malaysia celebrated Merdeka – its independence from colonial rule and freedom from oppression.

Independence and freedom

The building blocks of a fair and just society.

All countries face challenges, especially new countries, and I looked back at some of the statements from the founding father of the nation, Abdul Rahman, made at the time of independence in 1957.

There were two words that he used that stood out for me – honesty and integrity.

That is what brings us together in the fight against corruption.

Honesty and integrity.

We have seen what this means to people all over the world in recent weeks.

In Brazil.

In Honduras.

In Guatemala.

In Iraq.

In Malaysia.

Hundreds of thousands of people are sending a message to the corrupt. Your days of impunity are numbered.

That is a reason why we are here. But we have a struggle in front of us.

Jose Ugaz speaking at IACC

In too many countries the basic rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association are being eroded or taken away.

It is hard to fight corruption without those rights.

Most insidious of all is political corruption. The twisting and distorting of the law by governments plagued by cronyism and captured by special interests.

In Kuwait our chapter was taken over by a government appointed board. In Tunisia our activists were threatened with legal action for criticising laws that would set the corrupt free. In Russia civil society organisations are being placed on a register of Foreign Agents – the first moves that could attempt to close down the work of anti-corruption fighters in that country.

Those with integrity removed.

Secret deals.

Cronies appointed.

Violations of human rights

This feeds what we call grand corruption because it creates a climate where corruption flourishes and impunity protects the powerful. 

We are in a global world and illicit money can be moved in a single keystroke. The oligarchs of corruption can also move freely without legal consequences, flaunting their five-star lifestyle, buying their properties in London, the south of France and Kenya.

That is what we mean by impunity.

Let me give you one example. The former President of Ukraine – Viktor Yanukovych. When he finally fled, the people of Ukraine discovered that their money had been spent on a mansion with a zoo and a full size Spanish galleon ship. What was revealed was a chain of shell companies in Vienna, London and Lichtenstein that concealed the vast wealth he was stealing from the country. Ukraine’s Chief Prosecutor has said that there is evidence that at least $350m has been stolen…it could be much more.

He and too many corrupt politicians and business people use shell companies to conceal their money. That is why we will talk at length at this conference about the need for public registers of beneficial ownership.

It is collective action that can challenge impunity.

In France, after a campaign our chapter, 300m euros of assets stolen by the son of President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea were frozen by the courts.

Now in Guatemala, after a mass campaign, the former Vice-President is in jail awaiting trial accused of conspiracy and bribery and yesterday the immunity from prosecution of the President was removed and a judicial order was released so he cannot leave the country.

And in Brazil, where one million people took to the streets for the Petrobas scandal has seen five politicians arrested and criminal cases brought against 13 companies, including the head of the world’s largest construction company. And our movement is now working across 7 South American countries to uncover how far the Petrobas scandal has spread, while politicians and heads of these companies have been arrested.

The web of corruption shows very clearly that this is not confined to developing countries. Many companies in Europe and the United States are being investigated for bribery.

Fighting against corruption takes courage.

We should pause at this moment and remember those who paid a terrible price for speaking out against corruption.

Danilo Lopez and Frederico Salazar, two courageous journalists were murdered in broad daylight in Guatemala. For more than a decade Lopez had exposed corruption and the misuse of public funds by corrupt politicians. And a month and a half ago an anti-corruption activist was killed in Mexico.

This year 24 journalists around the world who have exposed corruption and human rights abuses have been killed. 24.

In Azerbaijan, as we meet, investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova was sentenced yesterday to  seven and half years for “economic crimes.” These are typical of the bogus charges brought by goverments to shut down those who speak out against corruption.

Khadija exposed how the government awarded the rights to a lucrative gold field to the President’s family. In a statement she just said: “I might be in prison, but the work will continue.”

That is the work that everyone in this conference is dedicated to take forward.

Press freedom and freedom of expression are the pillars of democratic societies and journalists must be able to work without fear. We stand with them.

Our movement has shown that it can fight back.

In Cameroon, Paul Kingue was freed from prison after a sustained campaign by local and international groups.

His crime?

Exposing a French-owned banana producer for tax fraud.

In Angola the most serious charges against Rafael Marques de Morais were dropped after a sustained international campaign.

His crime? A book  exposing corruption and torture in Angola. For that he could have faced nine years in prison. Just for writing a book.

There are many more activists around the world and many are here present in this conference. Let me pay tribute to you, for your courage, for your honesty, for your integrity.

Change can and does happen.

Why are we so passionate about the change we want to see?

We share many values. We want to see an end to poverty, we want all children to be able to go to school. We want people to have access to healthcare and live in decent homes.

That is why we are here and why we fight corruption.

Because the price of corruption is paid for by all of us but especially by the poorest in our countries.

The private jet that is paid for by the school that is not built.

The luxury house that is paid for by those who cannot get the medicine they need.

The yacht paid for by the homeless.

How do we change that? There is much we know, and much you will debate this week.

No one can be in Malaysia and not be aware of the corruption allegations of recent months and how damaging they are to the country. There is a corruption crisis here.

As a global anti-corruption movement it is our role to ask questions, to challenge those who abuse their power, to champion those who cannot speak and to engage with those who sincerely wish to change.

Let us recall those two words – honesty and integrity.

What does that mean for Malaysia?

The government has taken measures and initiatives to tackle corruption. We will surely hear that from the minister.

We want to see more progress but that cannot happen while there are unanswered questions about the $700m that made its way into the Prime Minister’s personal bank account.

In recent weeks we have seen the Attorney-General who was critical of the government suddenly replaced, the 1MDB taskforce suspended, investigators at the Anti-Corruption Commission arrested or transferred, and newspapers suspended for reporting on the matter.

These are not the actions of a government that is fighting corruption.

We may well hear promises of reform. That is not what is needed at this time. And promises alone will not restore confidence and trust.

There are two questions that need to be answered:

Who paid the money and why?

Where did it go?

One man could answer those questions.

If that does not happen then only a fully independent investigation, free from political interference, can uncover the truth.

Until that happens, no claim from the government on anti-corruption will be credible.

I stand here today with you and say this is what the people want from government – honesty and integrity.

Our movement does not stand alone. We have common cause with all who speak up against those that would seek to enrich themselves at the expense of the people.

We are global.

We have a powerful voice.

We are together against corruption.

This conference will last three days, but our work will continue each and every day both in Malaysia and throughout the world.


Editor's note: This text was amended on 14 September to note that it was assets stolen by the son of Equatorial Guinea's president which were frozen by French courts.

Country / Territory - International   |   Malaysia   
Region - Global   
Topic - Accountability   |   Civil society   |   Law enforcement   |   Organised crime   |   Politics and government   |   Private sector   
Tags - International Anti-Corruption Conference   |   Impunity   |   Jose Ugaz   |   Beneficial ownership   |   16th IACC   

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