The seventh session of the Conference of the States Parties (COSP) to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) was held in Vienna from 6 to 10 November. This conference is the world’s biggest anti-corruption event, bringing together over 1600 participants. Diplomats, parliamentarians, representatives of national institutions and international organizations, members of civil society and the private sector, researchers and journalists met to exchange views on the challenges and solutions in the fight against corruption. The conference concentrated on key issues regarding the review of the implementation of the Convention, asset recovery, international cooperation, prevention and technical assistance. At the end of the session, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Mr. Yury Fedotov, recalled that the fight against corruption is connected with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As a matter of fact, Goal 16 of the Agenda aims to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
Council of Europe
In a report published on 2 November, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption monitoring body, concluded that the main measures for preventing corruption among MPs, judges and prosecutors taken by Andorra are satisfactory, but also calls for a number of improvements. GRECO underlines that Andorran MPs should draw up a code of conduct, disclose conflicts of interest, and establish a system of public declaration of assets and interests. In addition, GRECO recommends that training activities on ethics for judges and prosecutors be consolidated. The implementation of these recommendations will be evaluated in 2019.
On 7 November, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr. Thorbjørn Jagland, opened the European Conference of Judges on “Judicial Integrity and Corruption.” The purpose of this conference, held by the Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE), was to prepare a CCJE Opinion on this subject in 2018, taking into account GRECO’s recommendations. The Presidents of CCJE and GRECO took part in the discussions.
In the framework of the Czech Chairmanship of the Council of Europe, the Czech Ministry of Justice and the GRECO organized a conference in Prague on 9 and 10 November to present the results of the fourth evaluation round regarding corruption prevention in the legislature and the judiciary.
During the conference, a report on trends and conclusions of the fourth evaluation round was officially released. According to this study, solid foundations have been laid in most member states to tackle corruption. However, in general, the implementation of existing rules remains insufficient. The supervision and enforcement of the legislative framework in place still require special attention. MPs, judges and prosecutors are thus encouraged to take ownership of GRECO’s recommendations and to assume responsibility for implementing them in cooperation with their country’s relevant authorities.
Finally, according to compliance report published on 10 November, the United Kingdom has adequately dealt with seven out of eight GRECO’s recommendations in the framework of the fourth evaluation round, issued in March 2013. GRECO indicates that the UK has achieved tangible results in preventing corruption among MPs. In particular, the revision of codes of conduct and the development of clearer guidance on MPs’ dealings with lobbyists were welcomed. Besides, the country has introduced a set of measures concerning the ethical training of judges and prosecutors.
On 10 November, the website EUobserver noticed that MEPs leading a probe on the expenses of members of the European Parliament opposed a number of measures designed to increase the transparency of the aforementioned expenses. This ad hoc working group, composed of eight members, was entrusted with the task of revising the list of expenses to be defrayed under the general expenditure allowance (GEA). The objective of such revision is to improve the existing rules and good practices. Nonetheless, according to the website, the majority of working group members voted against amendments to improve transparency of MEPs expenses as part of a resolution on the draft general budget of the European Union. This voting behavior was criticized by the NGO Transparency International that questioned the commitment of MEPs in reforming the GEA. In reaction, French MEP Elisabeth Morin-Chartier switched her vote.
On November 23, the Court of Cassation of Luxembourg hold a hearing on the appeal of Antoine Deltour, “LuxLeaks” whistleblower. The documents made public by Mr. Deltour revealed tax avoidance schemes in Luxembourg. While the lawsuit was under way, the European Parliament adopted a report on the protection of whistleblowers and summoned the European Commission to propose a legislative text on the subject. A petition calling for the protection of whistleblowers at European level, signed by 80,000 citizens, was handed to the Commission.
On 5 November, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) along with 96 media partners released the “Paradise Papers”. These revelations, which plunge into the arcane world of tax havens, are based on leaked files obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung through an anonymous source in 2016. In the framework of this investigation, the ICJ collaborated with more than 380 journalists working on six continents in 30 languages. Journalists tracked down court records, obtained financial disclosures of public officials, filed freedom of information requests and conducted hundreds of interviews with tax experts, policymakers and industry insiders.
Eighteen months after the “Panama Papers”, which mainly exposed cases of money laundering stemming from tax fraud and illicit activities, the Paradise Papers mostly present legal schemes for tax optimization that exploit the loopholes of the international tax system. These loopholes make it possible to evade taxes on substantial sums. According to estimates by Gabriel Zucman, economist and professor at Berkeley, tax evasion costs states over 350 billion euros per year. Sylvie Matelly, deputy director of the think tank IRIS, observes that the policies in place to address this phenomenon are systematically dodged. She argues that today financial interests and stakes are such that legislations are continually undermined. The Paradise Papers unveiled the offshore interests and activities of more than 120 politicians and world leaders, including Queen Elizabeth II and the entourage of President Donald Trump, of over 100 big companies, counting Nike, Apple and Facebook, and many global celebrities, such as singers Bono and Shakira. On 10 November, the judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke warned against the “semblance of legality” given to these financial schemes. He did not exclude that such stratagems might have been used to mask tax evasion or corruption.
Furthermore, on 14 November, Transparency International released the latest findings of its Global Corruption Barometer, a survey conducted among citizens to assess corruption perceptions and experiences around the world. In the last twelve months, one in four respondents paid a bribe when accessing public services. Despite variations between regions, the police and elected representatives are generally perceived as the most corrupt institutions. The majority of citizens (57%) do not think governments are doing well fighting corruption. Nevertheless, most respondents, in particular people aged 24 and under, believe that citizens can make a difference. The results of the Barometer cover 119 countries and are based 162,136 on interviews carried out March 2014 until January 2017.