November 08, 2018

Anticorruption, Development, and the Rule of Law

Bart Legum

Corruption sucks the life from law. It transforms legal texts into empty words, shadows of what they were intended to be. Even worse, corruption turns the law into a tool of private oppression, an instrument used to rob, rather than protect, the vulnerable. When law is corrupted, there is nothing for lawyers to practice. Corruption undermines everything that we are, all that we do, as lawyers.

But corruption does more than rob lawyers of their reason for being. It undermines development. Without law, without justice, there is no incentive to invest. Why build if what you construct can be taken away upon the whim of a corrupted official? Corruption undermines the stable environment that business needs. It provides a fertile ground for terrorism, insecurity, and crime.

No country is exempt from the scourge of corruption. Because international practitioners deal with clients, transactions, and cases in more than one country, the fight against corruption concerns us more than most. It makes perfect sense that International Law News devotes this issue to the fight against corruption.

A corrupted government cannot be counted on to join that fight. An effective fight against corruption must be led both from within and without the country where the bribery takes place. The U.S. Congress recognized this in the 1976 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which made it a serious offense under U.S. law for a U.S. company or U.S.-quoted company to corrupt a foreign official.

It took some time for the world to see the merit of this form of extraterritorial jurisdiction over acts of corruption directed to other countries. But in 1997, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) adopted its convention on bribery of foreign officials. With the adoption of the UN Convention against Corruption in 2003—now adhered to by over 160 countries—the punishing of corruption of foreign officials is widely accepted.

But, as the articles in this edition demonstrate, putting into place an international framework does not eliminate the practical, legal, and ethical challenges of pursuing the fight against corruption in another country. The articles in this issue of ILN provide a rich and illuminating perspective on those challenges. I am sure that you will enjoy them as much as I have.

Bart Legum

Bart Legum (blegum@salans.com) is a partner in the Paris office of the international law firm Salans. He is head of the firm's investment treaty arbitration practice.