Some of the most significant international developments over the last few years – from the Arab Spring to the Maidan uprising in Ukraine – have a common thread: citizens standing up to corrupt leaders and refusing to tolerate the graft that robs countries of their economic growth and undermines their security. Today we observe International Anticorruption Day, and acknowledge the work governments and private citizens do every day to ensure public officials are serving the interests of their citizens rather than themselves.
President Obama said at the Open Government Partnership in September that corruption is not simply immoral. “From a practical perspective, it siphons off billions of dollars from the public and private sectors that could be used to feed children or build schools, or build infrastructure that promotes development.” He argued that corruption promotes economic inequality, facilitates human rights abuses, enables some countries to meddle in the affairs of others, and fuels organized crime, terrorism, and ultimately instability.
By fighting corruption and recovering the proceeds, governments are returning public revenues to development and economic growth, and supporting political stability. Anticorruption efforts also send a strong positive signal to businesses looking for secure investment environments; they are a tool for countries to attract trade and foreign direct investment.
The United States has been a leader in fighting corruption, including imposing the first law against foreign bribery, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), in 1977. Since 2009, the United States has resolved criminal cases against more than 50 corporations worldwide with penalties of approximately $3 billion, and it has convicted more than 50 individuals, including CEOs, CFOs, and other high-level corporate executives, for FCPA and FCPA-related crimes.
The United States also is working to prevent corrupt officials from finding a safe haven in this country for their ill-gotten gains, for example by using anonymous shell companies to engage in or launder the proceeds of corruption. In his Fiscal Year 2015 budget request, the President proposed legislation to give law enforcement access to the identity of individuals who control companies organized in the United States. The Department of the Treasury took an important step towards preventing the use of anonymous shell companies in August 2014 by publishing a notice of proposed rulemaking to clarify and strengthen customer due diligence obligations for U.S. financial institutions, including a requirement to identify the individuals behind their company customers.
When corrupt actors do manage to get their proceeds into our financial system, the United States works with partner governments to recover these illicit assets for the benefit of the citizens of the affected nations. When Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and members of his cabinet fled Kyiv in February 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice provided on-the-ground support to help the new government track stolen assets and established the Ukraine Forum on Asset Recovery. We also created the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery, which held its third session in November 2014. The United States is working with the Government of Tunisia and other authorities, for example, to help track and recover millions of dollars stolen by the Ben Ali family from Tunisia’s economy and hidden overseas during President Ben Ali’s 23 years in power.
The United States will work with any government willing to tackle corruption in good faith. The Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development devote at least $600 million per year to anticorruption and related good governance programs. We have made good progress with the Open Government Partnership and in the G-7 and G-20 establishing international standards and commitments on anticorruption and transparency, including a G-20 Leaders agreement this November in Brisbane to eliminate the use of anonymous shell companies. We will advance these efforts in 2015 when we co-chair the G-20 Anticorruption Working Group. And we will continue our work to strengthen civil society, which holds governments accountable to fully implement their commitments.
As the President said in September, anticorruption laws must be enforced “so that those who steal from their people are held accountable, and so citizens have faith that the system is not rigged and that justice will be done.” The United States will continue to lead the way, both overseas and in our own system, to ensure corrupt actors are brought to justice and citizens have faith in the integrity of their governments and financial systems.
Tony Blinken is Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser.