International Collaboration Hallmark of Asian Anti-Corruption Efforts

November 2009 

In recent months, anti-corruption efforts have taken center stage in Asia, with international cooperation a continuing point of emphasis. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), whose 21 economies generate 45% of global trade, actively combats corruption through its Anti-Corruption and Transparency Task Force (ACT). In October, ACT-supported workshops in Beijing and Bangkok gathered stakeholders to address various anti-corruption phenomena, while the November APEC summit provided an opportunity for leaders, including President Obama, to underscore their commitment to combating corruption. The ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI’s) Regional Anti-Corruption Advisor (RACA) program provided substantial support to the workshops, which addressed APEC codes of conduct and methods for increasing international collaboration with regard to corruption-related money laundering.

In mid-October, the Chinese and the U.S. governments co-sponsored a Beijing workshop on APEC’s conduct standards for government officials, with a special emphasis on conflicts of interest. Together with Chinese partners and representatives of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), Andy Boname, ABA ROLI’s regional anti-corruption advisor, developed the agenda, and identified and recruited speakers. The event attracted 120 participants representing all 21 APEC economies, the World Bank and the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development.

In late October, ABA ROLI took an active role in a three-day APEC-supported workshop. The event emphasized the importance of interagency mechanisms in combating corruption-related money laundering. During the workshop, participants explored action plan strategies, were encouraged to target priority corruption issues in their jurisdictions and identified opportunities to collaborate with other law enforcement agencies, foreign and domestic.

The workshop was co-sponsored by the Australian and U.S. governments and organized by Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission, who invited Boname to deliver the opening session’s keynote address. He later facilitated a risk assessment methodology breakout session, developed by Australia’s Attorney General’s Department and AMLMaster, an anti-money laundering consultancy. Indonesian, Malaysian and Thai delegates participated in this group.

Boname also designed and led a session on investigating money-laundering associated with politically exposed persons, or PEPs. When Swiss authorities identify suspicious financial transactions generated by PEPs, the relevant government’s authorities are contacted. The session included a video feed from Bern that featured Swiss Federal Prosecutor Maria Schnebli and Deputy Federal Attorney Claire Daams, who spoke on international mutual legal assistance in these cases, and an on-site panel discussion on preparing a response to the notification.  Additionally, ABA ROLI’s RACA program funded the travel of a World Bank expert who spoke on asset disclosure as an anti-corruption tool, and hosted a reception for speakers and VIPs.

At its mid-November summit in Singapore, APEC recommitted itself to combating corruption, and identified transnational criminal networks as a related threat. In a published declaration, APEC’s leaders underscored “the importance of international cooperation in combating and dismantling the threat of cross-border criminal networks and its linkages with corruption nodes.” Director Kee Hean Soh of Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, who currently serves as chair of APEC’s ACT, spoke on the relationship between corruption and transnational crime during a November 10 symposium hosted by the U.S. departments of state and homeland security. He noted that corruption can exacerbate the threat presented by transnational crime, emphasizing that the task force’s efforts are important in constraining it.

“Corruption in itself is not a transnational crime, but corruption can facilitate or aggravate transnational crime,” Soh said. “For instance, border controls could be circumvented by payment of bribes if border control personnel are corrupt. If law enforcement is ‘captured’ by criminal networks, we can imagine the scale and outcomes of the crimes perpetuated.”

As a central part of APEC’s anti-corruption program, events like those held in Beijing and Bangkok can make a considerable impact on developing a robust regional response to corruption in Asia. ABA ROLI has supported anti-corruption programming in the region since 2002 through its RACA program, which is operated out of Thailand and funded under an INL grant.  The program prioritizes support to APEC’s anti-corruption efforts.

To learn more about ABA ROLI’s Regional Anti-Corruption Advisor program in Asia, contact <rol@staff.abanet.org>.

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