A New Way To Fight Corruption By Cosmas Odoemena
Recently, the AFP reported that the United States had ordered a freeze on $458m in assets which former Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, had stolen.
It is bewildering that all these years all the stolen loot has not been recovered. Perhaps, it has been so because the foreign countries may not have been cooperating with our government; if our own government itself has been serious about getting back the loot!
One still wonders what spurred the US government to suddenly act. Perhaps, there has been a change of guard somewhere. Those who have “kept close watch” over “Abacha’s money” may have been dropped and replaced by those who see things differently. Or, perhaps the centenary award given to Abacha posthumously has turned out to be a curse, as it has suddenly woken up the ghost of his ignoble past — and those of dead consciences. Whichever it is, it is a needed action that may have been (too) late to come.
Corruption remains a global scourge. According to the Tax Justice Network, an independent group promoting ways to fight corruption, crooks have stolen $30trn over the last 15 years, which is about half of the world’s annual gross domestic product.
In China alone, about $4trn is believed to have been embezzled between 2000 and 2011. From Russia, it is said the amount is close to $1trn. In the European Union, the sum stands at about $1.2trn. Even in America the world has been assailed by high profile cases like Bernie Madoff’s. Many of these crooks have been able to do all these unhindered, and many easily find themselves abroad to hide and spend their ill-gotten wealth.
Efforts at fighting corruption have not yielded much; for as long as the cross-border nature of this problem is not addressed, it will be hard to make any headway. Invariably, there will be a need to cooperate with another jurisdiction. But there is an entire system that helps people hide their stolen money outside the shores of their own country which is an obstacle to any move at fighting corruption.
So, as Alexander Lebedev argued in The New York Times, if governments want to have any chance of recovering what has been stolen from corruption, they must come together to create an international anticorruption force, like Interpol, to defeat these corruption merchants.
Lebedev said the new organisation should have wide powers and should not be expensive to run. It should raise awareness about corruption, to explain why it matters; and should cross national borders to seize suspects and assets.
To lead the force, he said he would appoint “a person of global credibility and stature,” and even went on to propose former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, whom he called “an excellent choice.” He went on to add that the leader’s mandate would be straightforward: to tackle corruption in the hopes that those hatching ways to deceive their countrymen, to plunder valuable funds, would be discouraged.
It is important to have such a body as without it corruption would always have an upper hand, because as Lebedev postulated, ranged against national police forces and investigators is an entire corps of professional advisory firms well savvy in helping those who want to put their stolen wealth beyond the reach of authorities. There are offshore tax havens that aid and abet those who have committed fraud and they have structured their laws to help those seeking total secrecy and security. This system, as Lebedev proposed, “can be broken only if governments fight like with like — by creating a well-equipped sleuthing agency that is not afraid of anybody or aligned with any particular nation.”
Unlike other organisations, an international anticorruption body would be swift and be flexible. As of today, if someone steals $2bn and heads for an offshore haven, it is almost impossible to take legal action against him or her. It will be difficult to recover the funds; and like Abacha’s, it would take years and cost a lot of money.
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