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Discussing Grand Corruption at Harvard University

GOPAC’s Executive Director, Akaash Maharaj, attended the Harvard Law and International Development Society’s (LIDS) 2015 Symposium Combatting Grand Corruption: Is International Law the Answer?, at Harvard Law School (HLS) 20 February.

The event furthered discussions on international prosecutions of crimes against grand corruption, stressing that the international community can no longer let officials who commit these devastating acts walk away unpunished. Judge Mark Wolf, Senior U.S. District Judge and Luis Moreno Ocampo, First and Former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, gave opening remarks, which were followed by two panel sessions. Participants included experts from the World Bank, the U.S. Departments of State and Justice, the International Criminal Court, students and professors from Harvard University, and members of civil society.

Mr Maharaj participated in the second panel, alongside Matthew Stephenson and Alex Whiting, both professors at HLS, and Sonja Starr, a visiting professor at HLS, moderated the session. In his remarks, Mr Maharaj shared that GOPAC’s membership unanimously mandated GOPAC to establish grand corruption as a crime of international law in 2013. He explained that corruption fuels the instability of nations and that the worst offenders of corruption are often the least likely to be brought to justice. He presented the six avenues GOPAC is ­currently pursuing to realise the international
prosecutions of grand corruption: exploring the concept of universal jurisdiction; determining the effectiveness of regional and transnational courts; utilising the International Criminal Court; establishing a new independent, free-standing court; and creating a new international treaty that would allow for criminals to be brought to justice.

The video of the event is available here: part 1 & part 2 (please note that these files must be opened with QuickTime).
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In addition to the aforementioned event, GOPAC is currently collaborating with LIDS on a 2-month project covering the topic of international prosecutions of grand corruption. Students will conduct in-depth research to determine if it would be possible to pass legislation to place grand corruption under universal jurisdiction. They are also exploring the international mechanisms that could be used to prosecute corrupt officials. At the project’s completion, a final report will be released which will include an analysis of the feasibility of the proposed mechanisms, a list of potential countries that could prosecute perpetrators of grand corruption under universal jurisdiction, and case studies of the most destructive acts of grand corruption committed throughout the world.

This project is being led by two students, Ameya Naik and Purun Cheong. Elyse Echtman from the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe is the supervising attorney.

GOPAC Brazil Chair Leads Initiative on Extending Asset Recovery Legislation

Antonio Carlos Mendes Thame, GOPAC Brazil Chair and Member of the Chamber of Deputies in Brazil, introduced a bill in the National Congress of Brazil in late-February aiming to bring greater flexibility in freezing and recovering funds deposited illegally in foreign jurisdictions. His proposal seeks to expedite the process by which federal prosecutors can freeze funds following police investigation.

Mr Mendes Thame explains that under current legislation, funds derived from criminal activity that are held in foreign bank accounts rarely get recovered by Brazilian authorities. “Brazilian law is silent on this issue. It is of an urgent matter that we pass legislation that will allow for the repatriation of funds 
illegally taken from the Brazilian people and the punishment of criminals who use clever tactics to hide assets in foreign countries,” says Mr Mendes Thame.

Mr Mendes Thame is calling on his fellow legislators to join him in his endeavor and hopes that Brazil will be able to successfully emulate the efforts of other countries that have already passed similar laws in their national legislatures. This initiative comes at a time when Brazil is facing an enormous corruption scandal involving its state-owned oil company, Petrobras. According to reports, over 300 bank accounts at 30 financial institutions in Switzerland have been used by people allegedly connected to the scandal to process bribery payments.

GOPAC Members Participate in the Parliamentary Network's Field Visit in Peru

The Parliamentary Network on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (the Parliamentary Network) organised a field visit in Peru from 1-4 March 2015, connecting local and foreign parliamentarians with government officials, the Peruvian International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank teams, and representatives from civil society, the private sector, and funding partners. GOPAC was represented by Hon Shakeel Shabbir Ahmed, Chair of GOPAC Kenya, Hon Aderito Hugo da Costa, Chair of GOPAC Timor-Leste, Hon Francisco Miranda Branco, GOPAC Timor-Leste member, as well as Congressman Modesto Julca Jara, GOPAC Peru member.

The four-day program sought to allow participants to observe and assess first-hand Peru’s development efforts and 
introduce them to the country’s national development strategy. Organisers explained that Peru’s development policies were established using a participatory and inclusive approach, involving Peruvian parliamentarians, international financial institutions such as the WB and the IMF, and citizens of Peru in the conversations.

Throughout the visit parliamentarians were encouraged to share which approaches to international development have worked best in their experiences and share good governance practices in relation to the management of development aid. 

GOPAC Mexico Member Appointed Attorney General of Mexico

GOPAC would like to congratulate Arely Gomez Gonzalez, a member of GOPAC Mexico, for her appointment as the Attorney General of Mexico. Ms Gomez Gonzalez brings a wealth of experience to the position, including through her previous tenure as senior staff member at Mexico’s Supreme Court and her numerous years in various federal justice posts such as Special Prosecutor for Electoral Crimes.
One of the main challenges that she will have to tackle during her tenure is to reinstate the trust of Mexican citizens in the Attorney General’s Office. Ms Arely Gomez Gonzalez stated in her inaugural address to the Mexican Senate that she is committed to improving law enforcement in all regions of the country, furthering the fight against corruption, increasing transparency, and respecting and defending human rights.

Celebrating Women’s Leadership in Government

On 8 March, the international community marked the 104th International Women’s Day with thousands of events honouring the achievements of women being held throughout the world. Among the largest events was UN Women’s Beijing+20 which celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, two of the most significant milestones in the advancement of women’s rights.

As women and men have made great strides to eliminate barriers to gender equality, ensure equal access to education and healthcare, and promote women’s economic empowerment, much more needs to be accomplished going forward. Although women’s representation in parliament has almost doubled in the past 20 years, today women still only account for 22 per cent of all parliamentarians. In many countries, women remain dramatically underrepresented in their national legislatures, effectively shutting them out of the democratic process. 

Our position paper, Gender Equality in Parliaments and Political Corruption, released last year argues that increased levels of female participation in politics
are crucial to help bolster the fight against corruption. GOPAC’s research concluded that a strong presence of women in national legislatures tends to reduce corrupt practices if reasonably robust systems have been put into place to uphold democracy and enforce anti-corruption laws. The position paper looks at Rwanda as a shining example where a significant reduction in corruption has been correlated with an increase in female political participation. The Parliament of Rwanda implemented a gender quota system which has led them to being the nation that today elects the most women in the world, while simultaneously putting the improvement of their systems of parliamentary oversight at the forefront of their priorities.

We invite you to review this position paper once again and to share it with your colleagues. A copy of the paper is available on our website: Gender Equality in Parliaments and Political Corruption.

GOPAC Chair Interviewed on HSBC Tax-Evasion Scandal

Ricardo Garcia Cervantes, Chair of GOPAC, was interviewed by the business-centred Spanish radio station, Capital Radio, in late-February. Mr Garcia Cervantes discussed the HSBC tax-evasion scandal that was uncovered earlier this year and offered his expert opinion on how to address these types of corruption cases which still remain far too common. He stresses that implementing an international
mechanism for the prosecution of perpetrators of corruption is absolutely crucial in order to try those accused of money laundering and to ensure that funds are recovered and returned to the country from which they were robbed.

To listen to the full interview in Spanish, click here.
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