A court for the kleptocrats

Does the world need an international anti-corruption court?

Mark L Wolf, Sharon Bessell, Martyn Pearce

Development, Government and governance, International relations, Law | Australia, Asia, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, The Pacific, The World

8 December 2017

Grand corruption costs the global economy countless billions every year, but is the world doing enough to tackle the issue? On the new Policy Forum Pod, we talk to the senior US judge leading the charge for an international anti-corruption court. Listen to the podcast here: http://bit.ly/PFPcorruption

Mark L Wolf is a judge of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, and someone with a long track record of tackling corruption. In a distinguished career, he has served as the Special Assistant to the Attorney General of the US after the Watergate scandal, and in 1984 won the Attorney General’s Distinguished Service Award for exceptional success in prosecuting public corruption in Massachusetts.

In 2011, Judge Wolf was praised in a New York Times editorial for his work in exposing the corrupt relationship between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and an informant. “Judges are supposed to dispense justice but rarely root out crimes,” noted the editorial, adding that as a result of his work there were high-profile hearings in congress on the FBI’s use of murderers as informants, an FBI agent was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and the government went on to pay more than $100 million in claims to families of people murdered by informants shielded by the FBI.

Judge Wolf is an adjunct lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Carr Centre for Human Rights, and the Chair of Integrity Initiatives International – an organisation he and his colleagues created to develop and strengthen measures to combat grand corruption.

In a wide-ranging interview which touched on the Paradise and Panama Papers, the value of federal anti-corruption bodies, and Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel Investigation, Judge Wolf told Policy Forum Pod hosts Sharon Bessell and Martyn Pearce that grand corruption can have devastating consequences.

“Grand corruption is the abuse of public office by a nation’s leader for private gain,” he said.

“It’s extraordinarily costly. It’s estimated that about a trillion dollars in bribes are paid each year – ten times more is lost to grand corruption and corruption in developing countries than they receive in foreign aid.

“The amount of money lost to corruption would be sufficient to feed the world’s hungry 80 times over.”

To tackle grand corruption, Judge Wolf is proposing the creation of an international anti-corruption court, where corrupt leaders could be held to account. The court would be modelled on the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“Grand corruption flourishes in many countries, but not because of a lack of laws,” he said.

“The problem is that laws are not enforced, especially against corrupt leaders, because those leaders control the police, the prosecutors, and the courts. They won’t permit the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of their friends, their families and themselves.

“The proposed International Anti-corruption Court is needed to deal with the devastating consequences of grand corruption. It wouldn’t create any new legal obligations. It would only create a place where existing domestic laws could be enforced against a nation’s leaders, if that country was unwilling or unable to enforce those laws itself.”

The ICC, however, has faced criticism that it has not always lived up to its promise. Judge Wolf acknowledges that this is an issue, but thinks global attitudes towards prosecuting the types of crimes that the ICC and his proposed IACC would tackle are shifting.

“The logic of having an International Anti-corruption Court tends to be recognised when it’s explained. The challenging question is how do you get countries with corrupt leaders to join the court, or how do you get them to be part of the jurisdiction.

“[But] more than 100 countries joined the International Criminal Court. Some of their leaders have been prosecuted there and that’s because there is pressure from citizens.”

Judge Wolf said that there is one demographic in particular which seems to be growing an appetite for tackling corruption.

“People, particularly young people, in many countries are now indignant about grand corruption. They don’t accept it as an inevitable way of life in the way their parents have.

“They want to live in countries in which they can get quality education, in which there will be jobs for them when they graduate, and they want a level playing field….and not be disadvantaged by people who pay bribes.”

Judge Mark L Wolf was in conversation with Sharon Bessell and Martyn Pearce. This episode of the pod was written by Nicky Lovegrove and edited by Crystal Yuan.

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