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anti-corruption

Piggybanks for plunder: Corrupt cash flows to Global Cities, requiring transparency and complete disclosure of assets

Christopher Colford's picture



Corrupt cash from secretive international sources – deliberately funneled through ‘shell companies’ to conceal the money’s illicit origins – is often used to buy ‘Towers of Secrecy’ in leading global cities like New York, as documented by a recent New York Times investigation.

Cities exert a magnetism that’s irresistible – attracting not just the most ambitious who seek economic opportunity and the most creative who revel in cultural richness, but also lawbreakers and looters: notably nowadays, the corrupt kleptocrats and tax-avoiding oligarchs whose hot money increasingly flows into the safe haven of prime real estate in the world’s leading cities.

At least part of the trend toward soaring center-city property prices, according to many anticorruption monitors, is due to the impact of illicit financial flows. It’s not just the plutocratic One Percenters who are steadily bidding up real-estate valuesPlunderers and profiteers – often concealing their identities, with the aim of shielding their wealth from tax authorities and international asset-trackers – use prestigious parcels of center-city property as a piggybank to shelter their tainted lucre.

The most vibrant and most competitive of Global Cities – notably London, Paris, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore – have long been magnets for money, luring the world’s most enterprising entrepreneurs as well as its most desperate refugees. As their global vocation and vitality have lured the ambitious and the avaricious, however, the “priced out of Paris” syndrome has often taken over: Gentrification has morphed into “plutocratization,” notes Simon Kuper of The Financial Times, with “global cities turning into vast gated communities where the One Percent reproduces itself.”

Meanwhile, “the middle classes and small companies [are] falling victim to class-cleansing," Kuper asserts. "Global cities are becoming patrician ghettos” – with the middle class and the poor being driven ever-further out from the center-city in search of affordable housing, doomed to interminable commutes to sterile suburbs or brooding banlieues.

Most of the property price spiral in world-leading cities is surely attributable to the allure of cosmopolitan life in an age when urbanization is accelerating worldwide. But as two members of the World Bank Group’s unit on Financial Market Integrity (FMI) and the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative recently wrote in a StAR blog post, the melt-up of prime property prices often involves corrupt money and evasive property-registration practices.

Citing a recent New York Times investigative series that meticulously documented suspicious practices within Manhattan real-estate trends, FMI specialists Ivana Rossi and Laura Pop noted that the property-buyers “took several steps to hide their identity as the real owners of the properties. Some of these steps involved buying condos through trusts, limited liability companies or other entities that shielded their names. Such tactics made it very hard to identify the 'beneficial owner': to figure out who owned what, or who was the ultimate controller of a company (or other legal entities) since the names were not shown in the company records.”

Vast sums are flowing unchecked around the world as never before – whether motivated by corruption, tax avoidance or investment strategy, and enabled by an ever-more-borderless economy and a proliferation of ways to move and hide assets,” said the painstaking New York Times investigation, "Towers of Secrecy," by Louise Story and Stephanie Saul.

Probing “the workings of an opaque economy for global wealth,” the reporters excavated the substrata of this enduring scandal. “Lacking incentive or legal obligation to identify the sources of money, an entire chain of people involved in high-end real-estate sales – lawyers, accountants, title brokers, escrow agents, real-estate agents, condo boards and building workers – often operate with blinders on.”

In a moment of inadvertent self-revelation, a Manhattan real-estate broker confessed her look-the-other-way negligence “when vetting buyers: ‘They have to have the money. Other than that, that’s it. That’s all we need.’ ” A former executive of a property-development firm was equally blunt: “You pretty much go by financial capacity. Can they afford it? They sign the contract, they put their money down with no contingency, and they close. They have to show the money, and that is it. I don’t think you will find a single new developer where it’s different.”

No wonder that the upper reaches of the U.S. real-estate market are “more alluring for those abroad with assets they wish to keep anonymous,” the Times analysis found. “For all the concerns of law-enforcement officials that ‘shell companies’ can hide illicit gains, regulatory efforts to require more openness from these companies have failed.”      

The Times’ discoveries, asserted Rossi and Pop, thus underscore the important issues involved in asset disclosure and "beneficial ownership” rules. Many nations require that public officials fully disclose their financial holdings. Such transparency is one important safeguard against the plundering of public wealth by kleptocrats, corrupt clans or well-connected cronies in countries that are vulnerable to chronic larceny.

Yet some dishonest public officials exploit legal loopholes – or flout the law entirely: “As the StAR publication ‘Puppet Masters’ demonstrated, those that do engage in corrupt activities are likely to use entities such as companies, foundations and trusts to hide their ill-gotten wealth,” wrote Rossi and Pop. “These conclusions are also confirmed by a recent Transparency International UK report. It showed that 75 percent of UK properties in the UK, under criminal investigation since 2004 – as the suspected proceeds of corruption – made use of offshore corporate secrecy to hide the owner’s identities.”

Drawing on a new World Bank Group report (which they co-authored with Francesco Clementucci and Lina Sawaqed), “Using Asset Disclosure for Identifying Politically Exposed Persons,” Rossi and Pop argued that accurate and complete financial disclosure by officials in positions of public trust (known in the financial-integrity world as “Politically Exposed Persons”) are an essential safeguard against the diversion of assets. Such disclosures, by themselves, don’t provide a “magic bullet” solution to prevent corruption, yet they are a vital mechanism in building transparency and trust.

“Once there is an ongoing investigation, the information declared can be very helpful as evidence, both in what has been included as well as omitted,” wrote Rossi and Pop. “In many countries, intentionally leaving out information on a house or a bank account carries serious penalties. Furthermore, financial disclosures can help catch a dishonest public official whose lavish lifestyle – including real estate in a prized location – could not be supported by the resources, such as a public-sector salary, indicated in the declaration.” The key factor in ensuring integrity and combating corruption is thus the full disclosure of “beneficial ownership.”

Property prices in Global Cities are already being propelled upward by the gusher of money that is flooding, through fully legal channels, into the world’s most desirable and stable locations – thus threatening to put affordable housing, in many major cities, beyond the reach of all but the fortunate few. The last thing that already-unaffordable cities need is an unchecked flood of illicit billions and furtive real-estate transactions, which will only intensify the pressure that now threatens to create a renewed boom-and-bust cycle of unstable housing prices.

Urban advocates who are working to promote inclusive, sustainable, resilient and competitive cities will applaud the continued vigilance of asset-trackers and corruption-hunters – like the FMI and StAR units, through their work sans frontières
on the disclosure of beneficial ownership – whose efforts to halt illicit financial flows will provide an additional instrument to help ensure that cities will be as inclusive as possible in a relentlessly urbanizing age.

 

#TakeOn Corruption


Amid the rescue and recovery in Greece: Corruption-hunting – putting promises into practice

Christopher Colford's picture



After the drama,
 the dénouement. Crisis-watchers who were riveted to last week’s continuous flow of breaking-news bulletins from Brussels – as the European Union and Greece furiously negotiated (often through diplomatic feints and calculated disclosures to the press) a fragile accord on the latest stages of Greece’s debt crisis – are now awaiting the next high-intensity, high-anxiety step in the prolonged process: the scrutiny of the list of proposed reforms that Greece has agreed to submit to still-wary EU officials by Monday.

Whether this week’s list of proposed reforms, being drawn up by Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, proves to be enough to satisfy the skeptics in the Eurogroup is the next question for Eurozone-focused analysts. Continued haggling over the details seems likely over the next week – and, ominously, the remainder of calendar for 2015 looks unforgiving. Even if an accord can be solidified this week, many observers dread that anxieties will be inflamed again within four months, when the EU’s brief extension of its financial rescue package for Greece will have run its course – just at the moment when Greece will be facing a midsummer deadline for paying large installements of its vast international debts. Another bout of brinkmanship this summer may revive fears of a possible disorderly exit from the Eurozone. With the fragile Greek banking system vulnerable to potential runs by depositors, the situation will surely command the attention of financial-sector crisis managers for months to come.

Throughout the white-knuckle phase of this Greek tragedy, the Bretton Woods institutions have had a constructive role to play in trying to resolve various aspects of the crisis. The International Monetary Fund has been a central pillar of the rescue operation, joining the European Central Bank and the European Union as part of the so-called “troika” (or, as it is now phrased more mildly in EU parlance, “the institutions”) serving as the rescue overseers. The World Bank Group has been involved in the situation, as well – although in a less-visible role that involves Greece’s long-term recovery rather than its short-term rescue. By providing, not financing, but technical expertise to Greece, the Bank Group has been helping strengthen the country’s investment climate – an area where, according to recent editions of the “Doing Business” report, Greece has made some notable progress in recent years.

As the Eurogroup and Greece this week consider Varoufakis' list of proposed policy reforms, one important concern is certain to be on everyone’s agenda: enforcing stronger steps to fight corruption and ensure good governance. In an anticorruption cri de coeur last week, an Op-Ed commentary in the New York Times by Gregory A. Maniatis explained, and deplored, how that beleaguered country’s chronic “corruption by elites siphoned off countless billions” that should instead have been used for pro-growth investment.

“Practically every time Greece made a purchase — be it of medicines, highways or guns — a substantial cut went into the wrong hands,” wrote Maniatis, who is a senior fellow at the Open Society Foundation and the Migration Policy Institute and an adviser to the United Nations. “As a result, monopolies and oligopolies led by politically connected families choked competition and controlled much of the country’s banking, media, energy, construction and other industries.”

An estimated 20 billion euros (about $22.8 billion) are lost every year due to pervasive corruption in the Greek economy, he wrote – and such a coddled “kleptocracy set a tone of impunity that enabled lower-level graft” in a “cycle [that] became self-perpetuating, as oligarchs tightened their stranglehold over the political system.”

Noting that Transparency International ranked Greece “at the bottom among European Union members” in its Corruption Perceptions Index – “tied for last with Bulgaria, Italy and Romania” – Maniatis questioned why “graft prosecutions are rare” in Greece. Every act of corruption, after all, requires two-way complicity: “In order for someone to receive a bribe, someone else has to pay it,” he noted. Perhaps legal watchdogs, in both Athens and Brussels, have not been diligent in monitoring the behavior of major European companies that might be engaging in bribery.

Maniatis’ suspicion suggests that the troika's crisis-management program may have overlooked a corrosive threat to Eurozone stability: “Why wasn’t Brussels focused at least as much on corruption as it was on debt? If the European Union’s absence on this front was lamentable before the crisis, it was inexcusable afterward. Officials from the so-called troika essentially took up residence at the Greek Finance Ministry in 2010, but rarely visited the Ministry of Justice.”

Warning of the threat that corruption poses to sound development and shared prosperity in every economy, Maniatis’ essay brought to mind the recent World Bank Group-hosted forum by the International Corruption Hunters Alliance, with the theme of “Ending Impunity: Global Knowledge: Local Impact.” As many speakers at the ICHA forum in December 2014 pointed out – and as many countries that are struggling with eradicating corruption continue to find – a profound mindset-shift is needed to change an economy that tolerates a culture of corruption into an economy that demands a culture of compliance. By insisting on good governance standards, private-sector firms, no less than public-sector agencies, have the duty to enforce a “zero tolerance” policy for graft in every country where they conduct business.

Eradicating pervasive corruption from a long-graft-ridden economy may be a years-long challenge – if it can be achieved at all. So, while strict anticorruption measures are almost certain to appear on Varoufakis’ list of proposed policy reforms for Greece, enacting and enforcing them – and promoting a culture that recognizes corruption as Public Enemy Number One for development – seems likely to require near-permanent vigilance.

Those who wish Greece well in its long struggle to renew its economy – along with those who wish the European Union success in its half-century-long trajectory toward integration and stability – will surely applaud their forthcoming steps
toward promoting good governance and adopting stronger anticorruption safeguards. Along with all nations that seek to eradicate corruption, Greece and the EU can draw on the substantial body of knowledge developed by the International Corruption Hunters Alliance – an indispensable resource in the global quest for good governance that helps promote shared prosperity.



'It’s the Trust, Stupid!' The Influence of Non-Quantifiable Factors on Policymaking

Steve Utterwulghe's picture



Should trust be something that policymakers need to worry about? I started reflecting on this question after I came across the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer. It suggests that 80% of the people surveyed in 27 markets distrust governments, business or both (see figure 1).

A staggering number, to say the least. The year 2014 did not spare us from economic, geopolitical and environment turmoil. Nonetheless, the trend over the last few years has been a growing distrust in our leadership, despite the fact that progress has been made in the three main pillars of trust: integrity, transparency and engagement. More needs to be done, it seems.

Figure1. Trust in business and government, 2015



As Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist and poet, wrote: “Our distrust is very expensive.” The lack of trust in our government affects policies and reforms, and thus damages the overall economic environment. Investors will lack confidence and shy away. Growth will stagnate, sustainable jobs won’t be created, and trust in government will erode even further. A vicious circle is being created.

Professor Dennis A. Rondinelli, lately of Duke University, argues: “What are called 'market failures' are really policy failures. The problems result from either the unwillingness or inability of governments to enact and implement policies that foster and support effective market systems.” Distrust thus influences policymakers in multiple ways: They will either adopt bad policies, or overregulate. A study published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics shows that “government regulation is strongly negatively correlated with measures of trust.”  “Distrust creates public demand for regulation, whereas regulation in turn discourages formation of trust. . . . Individuals in low-trust countries want more government intervention even though they know the government is corrupt” (see figure 2).

Figure 2. Distrust and regulation of entry. Regulation is measured by the (ln)-number of procedures to open a firm.
Sources: World Values Survey and Djankov et al. (2002).




The evaporation of trust in government institutions requires that governments and development agencies rebuild trusted institutions. However, it also behooves all of “society’s stakeholders” to rebuild trust among themselves and “engage.”

Integrity and transparency are two of the pillars of trust that have received a lot of attention during the past decade. Indeed, tackling corruption and ensuring transparency have been at the top of the institutional and corporate development agenda. The third pillar, engagement, has been more rhetorical or grossly underestimated.

A prerequisite for inclusive and responsive policymaking is that citizens use their voice and engage constructively with government institutions. As we have seen, increasing social and political trust helps market economies function more effectively. In turn, sound economic policies foster social and political trust. In recent years, the practice of structured public-private dialogue (PPD) has helped the private sector and other stakeholders engage in an inclusive and transparent way with governments. PPD mechanisms have resulted in better identification, design and implementation of good regulations and policy reforms intended to create an improved investment climate and increase economic growth. As a result, this process has built mutual trust between institutions and business.

Confidence-building has been most critical in post-conflict and conflict-affected states where deep mistrust among stakeholders is prevalent. That topic will be discussed in greater depth at our 2015 Fragility Forum’s session on public-private and multi-stakeholder dialogue, coming up on February 13. Foreshadowing the Fragility Forum, a panel discussion in Preston Auditorium on Monday, February 2 – featuring, among others, Sarah Chayes of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who is the author of  “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security” – will focus on "Corruption: A Driver of Conflict."
 
In an age of distrust, this type of policy reform – through multi-stakeholder engagement – is not an obvious exercise. The economist Albert Hirschman claims that “moving from public to private involvements is very easy because any single individual can do it alone. Moving from private to public involvements is far harder because we first have to mobilize a lot of people to construct the public sphere.” But the increase of PPD platforms across the world  the WBG Trade & Competitiveness’ Global PPD Team currently supports 47 PPD projects worldwide  suggests that there is an appetite for engagement among citizens, business and governments alike.

Trust can be slowly restored by, among other things, designing adequate interventions such as PPD mechanisms. By their inherent iterative process of discovery, collaborative identification of issues and joint problem-solving, PPDs can activate favorable mental models of stakeholders. According to the 2015 World Development Report on "Mind, Society and Behavior," these “mental models can make people better off.” I would argue that these mental models drawn from their societies and shared histories can help build trust as well.
 
Trust matters for policymakers. Ultimately, it matters for all citizens. Designing interventions and offering a safe space where stakeholders can engage with governments in an inclusive and transparent fashion will go a long way toward restoring that valuable trust.
 

How Communication can Help Break the Chain of Corruption in the Private Sector

Roxanne Bauer's picture

When one thinks of corruption in the private-sector, grand scenes of executives paying bribes, bidders lying to win contracts, and senior accountants setting up secret bank accounts are likely to come to mind. In reality, though, the most common form of corruption is small-scale bribery involving people at every step of a company ladder. 

Small-scale bribery can take many forms, including non-disclosure of conflicts of interest, setting up deals that benefit particular people, or paying a little extra money to speed up a normally slow process. You might not think the everyday payments people make to building inspectors, customs officials, their friends across the street, or to themselves matter, but they can create a culture of corruption and set an expectation for future payments.

This was one of the main points of a panel discussion, “The Role of Integrity Compliance and Collective Action in Making the Private Sector a Partner in the Fight Against Corruption” at the International Corruption Hunters Alliance conference held at The World Bank Group December 8-10, 2014. The panelists were Dr. Andreas Pohlmann, Billy Jacobson, and Cecilia Müller Torbrand. Galina Mikhlin-Oliver of the Integrity Vice Presidency of The World Bank was the moderator.

Jordan: Steps in the fight against corruption still too small

The Jordan Transparency Center's picture

Recently, the Jordan Transparency Center conducted a Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) study for the years 2001–2014 based on the guidelines issued by Transparency International. A team of academics, researchers and legal experts at the Center gathered information from local and international reports, highlighting what they see as reasons for corruption in Jordan

Sustainable, Addiction-Free, Fair, and Ethical Sport for All

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture
Boys play on a soccer field near the Community Center of Pirajá, in the suburbs of Salvador, Bahia.  Photo: Mariana Ceratti / World Bank

Sport is no longer an activity solely associated with exercising the human body and mind. It’s a global industry that captivates billions of people, employs millions, and generates as much revenue, according to a recent study, as one percent of global GDP.
 
Growing at around seven percent annually between 2009 and 2013 – that’s faster than the GDP of most countries in the world – sport has become a behemoth. And with huge size comes a darker side. Corruption, cheating, bribery. It’s time to clean up sport and promote healthy physical education with a new global initiative.
 
Since the beginning of the 20th century, modern sport has been self-governed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as international sport federations (ISFs) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Many of those NGOs have become immersed in corruption scandals.

Have Tunisia's Golden Boys Survived the Revolution?

Achref Aouadi's picture

There is a remarkable connection between the public and private sectors in Tunisia, an intersection that I prefer to call “the Golden Boys”. It seems that Tunisia has not learned from its past mistakes; in fact, it risks going back to the old days when an elite benefited from state resources and got rich at other peoples’ expense. Everything points to the fact that Tunisia is once again providing fertile ground for corruption.

Mobilizing Social Media to Fight Corruption

Roxanne Bauer's picture
Social media and anti-corruption efforts may sound like strange bedfellows, but as communication technology continues to evolve and as mobile devices are increasingly dominant platforms for accessing information, social media is ever more connected to attempts to thwart corruption.

“Voice of Corruption Hunters in Social Media”, a panel discussion at the International Corruption Hunters Alliance (ICHA) Conference hosted by The World Bank Group, provided a nice summary of the importance of social media for communicating on anti-corruption. Jeremy Hillman, Christine Montgomery, Jessica Tillipman, Matthew Stephenson, and Julie Dimauro filled out the panel and provided an interesting break-down of the role of social media and some stories to back up their claims.

Social media, in field of the anti-corruption, serves two distinct purposes according to the panel:
 
  1. Analysis, commentary and advocacy
  2. Investigation and crowd-sourcing

Kuwait Transparency: Corruption, Political Instability Obstacles to Development

Salah Mohammad Alghazali's picture

Prior to Kuwait’s independence on June 19, 1961, it had experienced periods of political instability. It had been the hope that turning into a state and adopting a constitution would end the political chaos and serve as a catalyst for Kuwait’s development.

Recovering stolen assets on the road to ending impunity

Jean Pesme's picture
#breakthechian
Source: UN


On International Anti-corruption Day 2014, one of the issues we at the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative want to illustrate - is how recovering stolen assets helps fight corruption and end impunity.

On International Anti-Corruption Day, those involved in this effort, gather to express a shared commitment to take action, and to pledge - in the words of this year’s Twitter hashtag – to #breakthechain, against all forms of corruption - from petty bribes to grand corruption.   

Here at the World Bank, we are hosting the ‘International Corruption Hunters Alliance’. The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, spoke out strongly, highlighting the malignant effects of corruption as, ‘an abuse of power; the pursuit of money or influence at the expense of society as a whole’.


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