Transparency Thailand, Newsletter, March 2015


How the UK handles international corruption

Usually, huge sums of money illegally acquired by public officials is hidden in foreign accounts or used to purchase assets abroad. In the recent times, this type of corruption has gained the attention of anti-corruption agencies, governments, and civil society movements.  Some of these corruption officials have purchased property in the UK. In response, the UK has in the recent past adopted strategies that make it difficult for corrupt officials to travel to, immigrate, purchase or enjoy assets and services purchased using money illegally acquired from public coffers. Here is one such a case.

James Ibori was an ex-governor of Niger-delta state in Nigeria. Niger Delta is the largest oil producing state in the country. While serving as governor, Ibori embezzled US$ 250 million which he hid in UK banks. He used the money to purchase luxury houses, expensive cars, and other luxuries. He took his children to UK’s most expensive boarding schools.  He spent his leisure time in expensive hotels, travelled first class, and later bought a private jet worth US$ 20 million.   His monthly credit card bills amounted to approximately US$200,000 in personal spending.

Metropolitan police investigated his case, obtained evidence, arrested Ibori and prosecuted him. Even though investigations took quite long trails over time, they were successful.

The antagonist in the war on corruption: Cases of power and scandals

In the recent months, grand corruption has been much a focus. From the US to China, Brazil to South Africa, high ranking state officials and politicians are reported getting away with public funds. It appears politics, defined as who gets what, when and how; has attained new meaning. Politicians and high ranking state officials are doing all they can to get it all by corrupt means. Two major challenges emerge from this experience: (1) The power politicians and senior state officers have over national resources indicate a significant risk such that what belongs to the public stands endangered; (2) It is challenging and complex to fight corruption when the state machinery that you are supposed to rely on is in the hands of or is significantly influenced by those who benefit from corruption. This article seeks to show in highlights, the amount of money siphoned by politicians and high ranking officials in the recent years. The figures reported in this article do not account for all the money these politicians may have taken, but only what was reported at a given time. The article will also show highlight of cases exemplifying the difficulties faced by those who fight corruption around the world.

Frank Vogl in his book Waging war on Corruption: Inside the Movement fighting the Abuse of Power (2012) notes that by 1994, it took a bribe worth the following in order to get a government contract: 5% of $200,000 for a senior official in government; 5% of $2 million for permanent secretaries or director generals; 5% of 20 million for a minister; and 5% of $200 million for the head of state. Vogl obtained his information from experiences of business people in Asia and Africa.  Below is a list of estimates showing public funds heads of states/government, ministers or senior government officials got away with, or paid in bribes. These individuals held high positions in government, had long and successful careers in government, and had background in law, politics, business, and media. They had one thing in common; their access to power was instrumental in the corruption they were involved in.

Philippines: Ferdinand Marcos (President, 1966-86) took between $ 5 billion and 10 billion

USA:  Sheldon Silver (Speaker New York National Assembly, 1994-2015) received $6million 

Congo: Mobutu Sese Seko (President, 1965-1997) took between $4 and 6 billion

Italy: Silvio Berlusconi (Prime minister, 1994 to 1995, 2001 to 2006 and 2008 to 2011) paid $ 4 million bribe

Israel: Ehud Olmert (Prime minister, 2006-2009; minister, 1988, 1992, 2003, 2006) received $600,000 in bribe

South Africa: Jacob Zuma (President, 2009-2015), took $24 million

Nigeria: General Sani Abacha (President 1993-98) took $ 380 million & 700 million. Switzerland froze the money and returned it to Nigeria

Tunisia: Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (President 1987- 2011), took $161 million

Iran: Mohammad Reza Rahimi (vice president, 2009-2013) took $300,000

Cameroun: Polycarpe Abah Abah (Minister, 2004-2008) took $11 million 

Senegal: Karim Wade (Minister, 2000-2012), took $230 million 

Usually, fighting the antagonist in the war against corruption is not just a complex issue, but also a risky one. It takes boldness and sacrifice, strategy, decisiveness, faith and courage to take back what the antagonist has taken, control, or to even tackle the antagonist. The following cases show some of the challenges realized in the fight against corruption.

Expensive politics in Nigeria cripples accountability and breeds corruption  

“Godfather” is the name used in Nigeria to describe powerful individuals who control politics in the country. Usually it refers to an individual, male, who holds a higher position in government or society, and has made personal commitment to protect another individual, considered in need of protection at a given time. The one in need of protection believes that this Godfather will always protect him/her. In this faith, whether good or bad, one acts. However, God fathers are not volunteers, philanthropists, or spiritual people exercising kindness, love or mercy. In Nigerian politics, Godfathers are contracted at a very high cost, one that has over the years transformed Nigerian politics into one of the most expensive enterprises in the world, with a type of democracy that works like the market.

Nigerian law makers earn $2 million a year. This is four times what the US president earns.  Besides, whoever wins presidential election in Nigeria has a lot of influence and control over how $ 70 billion oil revenue is used every year.  To obtain party ticket in order to campaign for a legislative seat, one pays $ 10,000 as expression of interest fee. The one who wins will then forfeit half of his income as a lawmaker. This money goes to the “God father” the political patron who controls and distributes political power in the country. This is why elections in Nigeria have less to do with democracy and development. The one who wins an election is the highest bidder, one who dug deep in his pocket bought the party ticket, and later bought votes. In such a political system, public participation is not intended to improve the living conditions of the people. It is politics based on pure market practices: auctioning party tickets; paying 50% interest fee to ones Godfather; and buying millions of votes which the poor are ready to sell at any given monetary price. This is partly why politicians and high ranking officials take as much as they can from public treasury, in order to save more in preparation for the next election. 

The fear of naming corrupt individuals in Kenya

“Some forces in this country” is a phrase that expresses fear. The fear of naming corrupt individuals is a reality in Kenya.  Kenya has a past, a prevailing present where activists disappear, die in accidents, or are shot. Some people think these could be assassinations. It is rare to find in Kenyan history, an activist who died in old age.

In 2003-2004, the government of Kenya awarded 18 contracts to Anglo-Leasing Company Ltd., a British firm registered in Liverpool. The company was to supply Kenya with a wide range of services and equipment from a forensic laboratory to a navy frigate and jeeps. The contracts cost 500 million Euros, about 16% of the government’s expenditure that year.  However, the services were never delivered.  William Bellany, US ambassador to Kenya at the time argued that this money, siphoned through this contract scam, was enough to supply every HIV positive Kenyan with antiretroviral for 10 years. In 2005, John Githongo, the whistle blower in this scandal, went into exile. Githongo was Permanent Secretary for Governance and Ethics at the time he exposed the scandal. He did not feel safe. In March 2015, about 11 years later, 13 individuals were charged in court for orchestrating the scam. Media reported that businessman Deepak Kamani, serving senator, several former government officials, an American and a Briton. What makes the Anglo-Leasing scandal a major issue, is not only its magnitude, or the fact that a later government is acting on a decade long case; but the fear of naming those involved in it. Even when a case is in court, only the name of one Deepak Kamani is reported in media. This case represents one of the most challenging issues in the war against corruption in Kenya-the fear to name those involved in corruption.  

In April 2015, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Keriako Tobiko asked government to review the security of prosecutors and judicial officers handling high profile and transnational crimes. A few weeks after the DDP’s request, Anti-Corruption Commission chairperson Mumo Matemu said his life was in danger, after a van rammed into his car twice.

In order to continue the fight against corruption under such circumstances, journalists and activists have coined the term “some forces in this country”, a term they use to refer to corrupt individuals, who they can’t name by their real identities. One hidden rule seems to guide efforts against corruption in Kenya. And this is the rule: You can seek them, find them, see them, know them, but you can’t name them.    

Making governments more transparent: International experiences  

The reason governments were created was to provide public services. In Nordic nations, local governments for example are more established, accountable, efficient, and participatory.  They provide some of the services national governments provide in developing countries for instance education. In Japan, local governments operate at village level, where each village determines its own public service priorities and how they should be delivered. Local government is also involved in foreign policy decisions, especially those that directly affect the economy or are essential to the affairs of the local people. This shows not only the stability of government systems, but also the level of competency and accountability at which they deliver services, as well as the trust institutions have earned over time.  However, in developing countries, governments don’t always work as they should. Based on various examples from around the world, Pierre Landell-Mills (2013) points out that this has to do with money and politics.  Political influence on government systems and operations largely determines whether people will benefit from public services or not.  Drawing lessons from Landell-Mills, this article shows how governments from around the world failed to demonstrate transparency and actions taken to address these problems.

Poland: Foreign aid from the EU was about to be embezzled by local public agencies becauseinformation on aid money was not accessible to the public.In response, Polish Green Network undertook the initiative to strengthen the capacity of local civil society organizations to engage in public monitoring and to improve the regulatory framework. As a result, the money was not embezzled.

Philippines: Lack of transparency in the public procurement of drugs led to ‘ghost’ deliveries, incomplete deliveries, overpricing of drugs, poor management of health budgets, and delivery of sub-standard medicines. In response, National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) partnered with the Department of Health to create a procurement monitoring system and codes of conduct.

 Romania: A major restructuring in the energy sector was intended to bring together two state-owned companies matching oil, mining and gas sectors.  Media was misinformed about the details. Experts however were concerned that this restructuring was going to conceal hidden subsidies estimated at US$ 3billion. Romanian Academic Society a leading think tank studied the restructuring process, developed a comparative framework of best practices, and raised public awareness over the issue.

Mongolia: Due to lack of awareness on corruption, the national anti-corruption program lacked adequate public support. In response, Zorig Foundation worked to transform media into an effective anti-corruption watchdog.  In this program, journalists engaged in a competition to investigate, cover and expose corruption in the country.  This initiative helped to raise public awareness and mobilize public support in favor of anti-corruption initiatives.

For further readings consult, Pierre Landell-Mills (2013) Citizens against Corruption


Resources on corruption






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