Slow Crawl On Corruption

A long walk to freedom need not mean a slow crawl on combating corrupt government


The recent (May 12) London Summit on Anti-Corruption resulted in another small step in the right direction. About 40 countries were represented, along with a number of international sports associations and similar bodies that have come under scrutiny for corruption. No real agreements were made, but some initiatives were announced. The UK Government, which for the last several years has been concerned about that country’s poor reputation due to its role in money-laundering, confirmed its plans to establish a register (with retroactive force) of large property owners. The so-called Beneficial Owners Transparency Initiative will shortly be made law. Despite the efforts to persuade other significant countries to follow the same path, to date only 4 of the G20 countries have committed to ending the practice of Secret Company Ownership. The sports associations present (which did not include FIFA, perhaps because of its major meetings in Mexico the following day) agreed to launch, in 2017, an International Sport Integrity Partnership, though the details of this are still unclear.

La Suisse lave plus blanc

The London meeting sensibly sought to focus on a single dimension only of anti-corruption efforts, namely financial secrecy. It is now some 35 years since the Swiss campaigner, Jean Ziegler, published a fierce tract on money-laundering in his own country, “La Suisse lave plus blanc” (in English translation: “Switzerland Washes Whiter”) , and it was towards the end of the 1980s that activities against the international drug trade started to place priority on tracking down where and how the money had been used (especially through the efforts of the Financial Action Task Force, set up with the participation of both national and international institutions). Notwithstanding the flood of additional information (that will require very careful analysis) provided by the Panama Papers, this route remains a tough one.

There are at least three problems to overcome. First, and most important, the reluctance of countries ( and states/regions within them) to embrace full transparency. Put simply, that elusive animal, political will, is hard to manage. Second, the complexity of legal and other arguments relating to what should be the boundaries separating legitimate claims for privacy from claims designed to shroud illegal behavior. Third, the major practical difficulties in carrying out investigative work on the scale required. To date, no international body has been given the resources adequate to such a task.

Corruption vs. Money

Discussions of corruption and money often mix together issues that should be kept separate. Africa’s countries are faced with two challenges: the use of money to distort decisions (such as those involving public procurement) and the avoidance of payments that should be made to the State (leading to what is variously called the “shadow economy” or the “informal economy”). Both things make governance more difficult, and tend to impede economic growth. Both can lead to money laundering. And at least the former often involves foreign entities.

While the London Summit did not unfortunately shed much new light on these matters, the information made available again underlined how so many other countries are locked into the same battle. For instance, data referring to 2012 and covering 20 EU Member States show that best estimates of the size of the shadow economy in relation to GDP are quite alarming. Of the 20 countries measured, the lowest percentage (shadow to total GDP) was for Austria, at 7.6% while the highest was for Bulgaria (31.9%). The median figure, 15.5%, was for Slovakia, a striking finding given it is a country that for years has had only a single, and low, tax rate (meaning tax evasion might be expected to be small). Indeed, both Germany and Sweden have a shadow economy/legal economy ratio of around 14/15%. In other words: the advanced countries not only have a problem with aggressive corruption (that aimed at particular projects and programs) but also with the silent corruption of the shadow economy.

Governance & Incentives

The governance issues, not really examined in London, remain for Africa at the center of the problems. It is now a full 20 years since the then President of the World Bank declared that governance was the great obstacle to be overcome in the efforts towards development, and further declared that “the cancer of corruption” was the central issue in governance. Since then, it seems that little progress has been made. Or, to put it differently, the efforts of a political and technical nature have been neutralized by the growing sophistication (legal, technological and financial) in the criminal world.

The measures against money laundering operate from the premise that if criminals are faced with a high risk that they will never be able to enjoy the benefits of their actions, they will be much less inclined to behave badly. This is a fair line of policy to follow, yet so far the deterrent effect does not seem to have been too powerful. An opposite way of tackling things is to find ways of reducing the incentives to corrupt behavior to start with. Given that for Africa it is this which would seem to provide the best, if modest, hope for achieving home-grown policies against corruption, future efforts should be made along these lines.

No doubt many countries are already experimenting with their own tentative policies. It might be made worthwhile establishing simple information exchanges among countries about how they have designed and implemented such policies, and the results they are achieving. For some years, it has been normal to use an experimental approach towards assessing and improving various anti-poverty programs. It is perhaps now time to follow the same path with regard to anti-corruption.

* About the author: Peter OBrienPeter O’Brien is economics & trade advisor to Africa consulting boutique Pr1merio. With over 30 years’ international expertise in economic and financial analysis, trade negotiations, and deal making, Peter O’Brien has advised governments, NGOs, and private clients on economics, policy, and diplomacy matters. Peter has worked worked in all regions of Africa, providing advice to clients ranging from South African conglomerates to Ethiopian government ministries.  A native of Ireland, Peter is fluent in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and German.


‘Omar Dis-Appear’: Legal Effects of Africa’s Withdrawal from the ICC

Omar Dis-Appear‘: The Potential Legal Effects of Africa’s Withdrawal from the International Criminal Court as a Result of the Omar Al-Bashir Debacle

By Rui Lopes — AAT & AAF contributing author (“The Fascinating Story of Thula Madonsela and Being Undermined“)

The mass withdrawal of the Rome Statute by African states leaves most of them with little to no discretion on whether to prosecute omaralbashir31jan11jus cogens crimes envisaged in the courts jurisdiction due to the absence of the complementarity principle, the principle on which the International Criminal Court is based. These States are therefore forced to prosecute these crimes towards the international community in all instances. However, due to the underdeveloped nature of most of these states legal systems, such mainly being the reason for many African states having become signatories to the International Criminal Court in the first place, such States will be unable to prosecute these crimes, thus breaching their obligations erga omnes owed to the international community as a whole.

The International Criminal Court

iccThe International Criminal Court (ICC) was envisaged as being the first permanent international criminal court prosecuting the most serious crimes committed towards the international community. The nature of the ICC is sourced within an international treaty namely the Rome Statute. Treaties are by many academics compared to contracts, which in order to be performable, the contracting parties must consent to the imposition of obligations and must have the requisite intention to be bound by such. In a situation where a party no longer possesses either the intention to fulfil their obligations or in turn no longer intends to be bound by the contract, such a contract cannot continue and must be terminated.

In much the same manner, Article 127(1) of the Rome Statute visualises situations where States no longer wish to remain a party to the treaty. The Article provides that States may, through a written notice to the Secretary General of the United Nations, withdraw from the Statute. Such a withdrawal shall however only take effect one year after the receipt of such notice. 

On closure examination of the Article, such holds the legal implication that the withdrawing State is bound in its entirety to the Rome Statute for one further year after providing its notification of its intention to withdraw. It has in essence added a provisio to the ‘contract’ that even where a party no longer possesses the relevant intention to be bound (animus contrahendi) or where the party no longer intends to fulfil its obligations, the contract continues to persist for a further year. This is furthermore highlighted in Article 127(2), according to which the State is not cleared of any of its obligations that arose whilst a party to the statute nor its cooperation with the ICC in connection to investigations of any proceedings which are uncompleted at the time of the withdrawal.

From a contractual perspective however it seems contra to every rule in contract law to hold that even where a party no longer possesses the relevant intention to be bound by the contract, the contracting party is still bound to the entirety of the contract and if the party refuses to comply with its obligations, the fault lies in the defaulting party which has its own set of consequences. In relation to international law, even though African States may not intend to be bound any longer by the Rome Statute, these African States may be in default if they fail to comply with the Rome Statute. Here the breaches take the form of not complying with the States obligations erga omnes.

Privity of contract, another extremely important principle of contract law, requires that only those parties to the contract are bound to the contract and that obligations may only flow to those who are parties to the contract, no one else. On an inspection of the Rome Statute, the Rome Statute in essence binds those who were never a party to the contract or those who no longer intend to be a party to the contract. This is evident from Article 13(c) of the Statute, holding that prosecutions may be instituted at the instance of the prosecutor of the ICC, irrespective of whether the State is a party to the treaty or not. The prosecutor is required to have a reasonable basis to proceed with the prosecution and be authorised to do so by the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC. Thus the ICC is not prevented from having jurisdiction over States, which have withdrawn from the treaty or were never a party to the treaty. In terms of the Rome Statute, privity of contract has gone completely out the window. 

There are some counter-arguments that seem to take the form that such is a requirement in international law due to the jurisdiction of crimes over which the ICC holds, namely jus cogens crimes. However I posit that since international law is a consensual system that requires the consent of State parties, much in the same manner as a contract, it seems irrational for an International Court, whose entire existence is established through a treaty, to have jurisdiction over a state that never firstly possessed or secondly no longer possesses the intention to be bound to the jurisdiction of such a court.

gaza-docket-3-638In relation to the African withdrawal of the ICC, such may have the effect of leading to a potentially large scale institution of prosecutions against many African leaders within the time of their notification to no longer be bound to the Statute, which has already been witnessed and seems to be the main source of discontent by the African Union i.e. an unorthodox targeting of Africans by the ICC, or furthermore that even where the State is effectively no longer a party to the Statute such does not prevent the International Criminal Court from exercising jurisdiction over someone especially considering where such a prosecution or requirement of arrest has been made a resolution by the Security Council of the United Nations in terms of Article 25 of the UN Charter, a resolution that binds all members of the United Nations. 

However, the central legal implication of withdrawing from the treaty arises from an analysis of Article 12(3) of the Statute. Such an Article defines the court’s jurisdiction and states that such a jurisdiction is limited to the crimes of genocide, aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Notably, as previously stated, all these crimes have attained the status of jus cogens, a set of commanding international law standards which no state may deviate or depart from. These standards (jus cogens) impose obligations upon states, called obligations erga omnes. Such obligations are termed obligations erga omnes as the term erga omnes is Latin meaning ‘towards all’ and thus such obligations that arise from jus cogens standards are owed to the international community as a whole. In relation to the crimes over which the ICC has jurisdiction, the obligations erga omnes that couple these jus cogens crimes, can be found in their relative Charters. Within each of these Charters, it imposes obligations on States to prevent and punish such crimes. For example, in terms of the crime of genocide, such a crime has attained the status of jus cogens, and the obligation erga omnes that couples such can be found in the Genocide Convention which requires a state to prevent and punish such a crime of genocide. Therefore a State is bound through their obligations erga omnes, to prevent and punish all such crimes over which the ICC holds jurisdiction, failing of which the state is in breach of these obligations erga omnes.

However according to Article 17(2), the ICC functions on the complementarity principle, which states that the ICC has jurisdiction in instances where the particular state is genuinely unwilling or unable to prosecute such a crime. This effectively provides the state with a “safety net” in the sense that if the state does not want to or is unable to prosecute the crime, due to a lack of the advanced nature of their legal system, that particular state is not said to have breached any obligations erga omnes. It is for this exact reason that many African states have become parties to the Rome Statute in order to prosecute such crimes, as a result of a lack of an advanced legal system present within their countries (although this may not be true for each and every African state). Therefore the ICC has provided these African states with a platform to prosecute such crimes, thus preventing breaches of their obligations erga omnes

The implication of a state withdrawing from the Rome Statue is that such a state is left vulnerable to breaching their obligations erga omnes in terms of these crimes, namely to prevent and punish. No longer does the state have a discretion on whether to prosecute or not, due to a lack of the complementarity principle, and are in all instances bound to prosecute. The failure of a state to prosecute, irrespective of the reason, will be a breach of their obligations erga omnes.

What then would be the repercussions for African states who have breached their obligations erga omnes

Article 40 of the Draft Articles on State Responsibility contemplates serious breaches of obligations under peremptory norms of international law and the wording of such an Article has two requirements that must be fulfilled in order to be utilised, the first is that there must be a breach of international law by not complying with ones international obligations, in the current instance, where African states do not prosecute such jus cogens crimes, this would be sufficient to constitute a breach of international law by not complying with their obligations owed to the international community. Secondly, the breach is required to be serious in nature. In the current instance it is unfathomable that such a breach is not serious in nature. The non-prosecution of jus cogens crimes such as genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity are inexcusable and may seem to suggest a condonation of such if a state seeks not to prosecute such or where a state fails to prosecute such. Furthermore what is required by the relevant article is that such a failure to comply with ones obligations erga omnes must be gross and irregular i.e. that there is intent present on the part of the state. I therefore posit that such may be seen through African states intention to withdraw from the ICC whilst knowing that their relevant legal systems are unable to handle the prosecution of such crimes. Such actions demonstrate the intention to not prosecute these crimes, as these States knew of their inability to prosecute such crimes and persisted to withdraw from the ICC and thus such can be said to constitute the gross and irregular conduct contemplated in Article 40. 

Article 41 goes on to describe the consequences of a states serious breach of peremptory norms. Such states that all States are under a positive duty to bring an end to the serious breaches contemplated in Article 40. Such an article does not however prescribe what form the duty to bring an end to such must take and will depend on the circumstances but must in any event be lawful. I posit that such may take the form of rendering assistance in terms of the prosecution of such crimes, however such an article can only be said to be applicable ex post facto the failure to prosecute (Such constituting the breach of international law). It might well be for this exact reason that it is possible for the ICC to continue to exercise jurisdiction over such states. 

The question now becomes: Can Africa ever really escape the jurisdiction of the ICC? MapOfAfrica

Since the ICC works on a complementarity principle, the principle that the court will only prosecute the crimes over which it has jurisdiction in those instances where is a state in unwilling or unable to prosecute the crimes, and since it has been established that even after a state is no longer a party to the ICC, the ICC continues to exercise jurisdiction over those states and those crimes, it seems that even when one has withdrawn from the ICC, one has not escaped the jurisdiction of the ICC, which would have been the entire purpose of withdrawing from the Rome Statute. The question for consideration is then whether it will be possible for Africa to ever escape the ICC’s jurisdiction? The answer to such lies in the complimentary principle itself, as if there was an institution which could prosecute all African crimes over which the ICC has jurisdiction, then the court would be unable to prosecute such as the complimentary principle would not enter into effect. Therefore I posit that the only way Africa can ever escape the jurisdiction of the ICC would be to establish an African Criminal Court. 

However, the possible benefits of African States ‘pulling out’ from the ICC are two fold. Firstly it provides states with the motivation required to improve their legal systems to cope with the prosecution of such crimes rather than the reliance on an international court as a “safety net”. Secondly, the possible creation of an African Criminal Court as contemplated above provides a greater legitimacy of that court in the eyes of African states and its establishment allows for a broader jurisdiction over crimes in comparison to the ICC. Despite the presence of such advantages, withdrawing from the ICC seems to be more detrimental than beneficial to these African states considering the possible breaches of their obligations erga omnes

The way forward

I therefore hold that the mass withdrawal of African states from the Rome Statute will lead to a possible multitude of eventual breaches of these States obligations erga omnes as a result of the inability of their legal systems, not necessarily all of them, to handle the prosecution of such crimes. I hope that if African states are destined on withdrawing, the African Union rapidly establishes a similar court to deal with such prosecutions in order to avoid these breaches of obligations erga omnes. A reformulation to the structure of the Rome Statute is also required as it seems to be out of touch with the basic principles of contract law through which many academics compare treaties to.

Buhari to the rescue: Tackling corruption in Africa’s largest economy

“The wind of change is blowing through this continent…”

Perhaps reminiscent of the “Winds of Change” (the speech delivered in 1960 by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to the Parliament of South Africa in Cape Town), the recent address given by new Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the United Nations represents a political milestone in seeking to eradicate corruption in Africa.

The omnipresent malaise of corruption: Buhari to the rescue?

Were $150 billion ‘stolen’ under aegis of President Jonathan?  Having previously attacked his predecessor’s regime from 2010-15, claiming it embezzled this staggering amount from the Nigerian state coffers and the private sector, Buhari already had made his anti-corruption stance a key component of his campaign against Jonathan.  For instance, back in 2011, he “urged President Jonathan to focus on tackling corruption in government instead of removing fuel subsidies.”

During his 2014 campaign, he lamented in his so-called “2015 Manifesto” that “[a]s a nation, we are paralyzed by … endemic institutionalised corruption,” speaks of “hyper-corruption,” and proposes as its solution that: “I, Muhammadu Buhari have now come to the rescue. This is success by design. It will overcome our failure by design matrix.”  Moreover, his 4th campaign promise has been to “Prevent the abuse and misuse of Executive, Legislative and Public offices, through greater accountability, transparency, strict, and implementable anti-corruption laws, through strengthening and sanitising the EFCC and ICPC as independent entities.”

More recently, the President had a slightly more sober message to deliver to the General Assembly in New York City, yet still zeroing in on the same target, namely corruption:

“Let me reaffirm the Nigerian government’s unwavering commitment to fight corruption and illicit financial flows. By any consideration, corruption and cross-border financial crimes are impediments to development, economic growth, and the realisation of the well-being of citizens across the globe.

“Nigeria is ready and willing to partner with international agencies and individual countries on a bilateral basis to confront crimes and corruption.”

Winds of Change?

Buhari took office only in June 2015, but is far from new to politics in Africa’s largest economy — he was Nigeria’s military ruler in the 1980s, was a former Minister for the key portfolio of Petroleum & Natural Resources, and has concomitantly extensive political and strategic leadership experience under his belt.  For him to have chosen the fight against corruption in Nigeria as a key topic in his U.N. speech foreshadows a major initiative, we believe.

Pr1merio co-founding partner, Andreas Stargard, likewise perceives President Buhari’s message to be an important one, especially for international businesses with Nigerian ties:

“Several African, and in particular West African, countries have historically been seen as far too lax on effectively countering corruption and bribery.  This can often have one of two results for international businesses, neither of which is good for the affected African economies, coincidentally: (1) either the foreign corporation weighs the risks and chooses to avoid Africa for fear of involvement in bribery and resulting liability risk, or (2) it actually decides to participate in the corrupt conduct and seeks to benefit from it, paying scant attention to local anti-corruption legislation, and risking FCPA-like prosecutions in its home country.”

Whether or not Buhari’s pronouncements in international diplomacy will have an actual and measurable impact in the short or even medium term remains to be seen.  Bayo Adaralegbe, also a Primerio advisor, agrees that President Buhari’s speech at the U.N. does heralds potential key turn-around point in West-African anti-corruption efforts.  Adaralegbe notes that, unlike his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan, President Buhari is intent on fulfilling his election promises.  Buhari added in his address to the United Nations that:

“In particular, I call upon the global community to urgently redouble efforts towards strengthening the mechanisms for dismantling safe havens for proceeds of corruption and ensuring the return of stolen funds and assets to their countries of origin.”

As recently reported by AAF (e.g., “Just a math issue”: Anti-Corruption Efforts in Kenya take Center-Stage for Obama), many recent African administrations have attempted to bolster — or at least undertake public-relations efforts on behalf of — their enforcement efforts, particularly in recovering funds stolen by previous administrations.  Buhari’s statements are not different in this regard.  

It is of course difficult to gauge whether the messages above will result in substantial enforcement action.  That said, for many doing business in the region it is noteworthy that the message in fact comes from the top, i.e. the sitting President of Africa’s single-largest economy…

“I will be disbarred” — Final bit of Nigeria gas bribery scheme blows up

Natural gas bribery scheme leads to attorney disbarment: FCPA forfeiture of $148+m, 2 years prison, disbarment

After being sentenced by a Texas court to 21 months for Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations committed during his tenure as KBR Inc.’s attorney, 65-year old Jeffrey Tesler, prone to wearing hats, has now been disbarred by a Disciplinary Tribunal of the Solicitors Regulation Authority for the same conduct: fronting illegal payments on behalf of a consortium of international construction firms in order to obtain approx. $6bn worth of construction work at the Bonny Island gas facility – one of the largest civil construction projects worldwide in 1993.

Bonny Island facilities, Nigeria

“I will be disbarred”

British-Israeli (now former) solicitor Tesler, “who operated from run-down offices in Tottenham, north London, admitted that he acted as a middleman for the consortium and routed the payments through bank accounts in Monaco and Switzerland between 1994 and 2004,” according to reports.  “US prosecutors discovered that Tesler arranged for $1m in $100 notes to be loaded into a pilot’s briefcase and then passed on to a politician’s hotel room to finance a political party in Nigeria.”  (See U.S. v. Tesler et al., case number 4:09-cr-00098, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas).  At his sentencing hearing before a Texas judge, Tesler predicted his own professional fate by saying, “… I will be disbarred.”

Anti-Corruption Enforcers from Commonwealth Countries to Meet in Africa

International agency cooperation at heart of 4th Commonwealth Africa Regional Meeting for Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies (May 26 – 30)

The theme of this year’s conference will be one of international cooperation – a trend we see globally as practitioners: enforcement agencies are able to increase exponentially their success rate in uncovering and prosecuting bribery, corruption and public fraud by closely cooperating with their international sister authorities.

The event’s title is therefore aptly (if blandly) put: “Coordinating National Anti-Corruption Agenda within Commonwealth Cooperation.”  The event will be hosted by the Ghanaian government and organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat.  (Last year’s conference, held in Mauritius, was more intriguingly entitled: “Fighting corruption without fear and favour”).  The event has been described as “peer-to-peer” / “south-south” and is designed to strengthen the network of heads of regional anti-corruption enforcers.

According to a Ghanaian government report, the country’s Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) issued a statement, saying that combating corruption has been identified by the Commonwealth Secretariat as crucial to its work: “To this end, Commonwealth Secretariat has established the Network of Anti-Corruption Agencies (ACAs) in Commonwealth Africa to enable South-South collaboration and learning,” and a Commonwealth Africa Anti-Corruption Centre has been established in Botswana to aid in coordinating the Commonwealth-African agencies’ team work in the future.


The CHRAJ, based on a provision in the 1992 Constitution, has not been without its critics., who have emphasised that the solution to corruption in African countries “lies in not the establishment of more structures to fight corruption but the reorganisation of existing ones to strengthen and improve their efficacy.”

The conference may accomplish just that, notably by strengthening international cooperation in the region.  Such information-sharing coordination not only enhances agency skills, investigatory readiness, and network effects, but may also have as a positive side effect an improved checks-and-balances system that would otherwise lack if each authority operated without a close watch by sister agencies vis-a-vis each other.