FCPAméricas Blog

Tainted Anti-Graft Institutions Threaten Recent Anti-Corruption Progress in Latin America

Author: Guest Author

ColombiaCorruptionThis guest post is from Tony Ji, a student at Harvard Law School who worked as a Summer Associate at Miller & Chevalier in the Summer of 2017.

A prior post highlights positive developments in the fight against corruption in Latin America, including public sector reforms and business compliance programs. This post discusses one threat that could derail the progress – corruption within the anti-graft authorities – and how international cooperation may be part of the solution.

Anti-corruption institutions such as special prosecutor units and centralized oversight bodies play an important role in promoting government accountability in Latin America. However they can create problems of their own when officials working for such institutions go rogue.

The most recent case of a disgraced anti-graft official involves Luis Gustavo Moreno Rivera, the National Director of Anti-Corruption in Colombia. On June 23, 2017, US prosecutors charged Moreno with conspiracy to launder money in connection with a bribery scheme. Moreno and his accomplice allegedly travelled to Miami to solicit a bribe of 400 million pesos, or roughly US$132,000, from a former Colombian state governor under a corruption probe by Moreno’s office. In exchange, Moreno promised to use his position to obstruct the investigation. Unbeknownst to Moreno, the ex-governor had agreed to cooperate with US authorities. In a sting operation, he recorded conversations about the bribe and handed Moreno’s middleman a US$10,000 down payment at the Dolphin Mall in Miami. Moreno was subsequently arrested in Colombia and faces extradition to the US.

The Moreno incident is not the first revelation of corrupt anti-graft officials from Latin American countries. In 2013, Mario Fabricio Ormachea Aliaga, the deputy chief of Bolivia’s police anti-corruption unit, was arrested in the United States in a similar sting operation. Although the true extent of the problem is hard to evaluate, there could be more graft than meets the eye within government anti-corruption bodies in Latin America.

Tainted anti-corruption institutions negatively impact efforts to fight corruption in many ways. First, they erode meaningful enforcement of anti-corruption laws — the precise mission they are created for. Corrupt officials with powers to investigate and prosecute will selectively enforce the law based on the suspects’ willingness to offer bribes. They are in a position to interfere with law enforcement by tampering with the evidence, misleading their colleagues and subordinates, or diverting resources away from cases against their secret clients. Second, insiders’ graft undermines the integrity of anti-corruption institutions. The irony of a few anti-graft officials falling prey to the very evil they are supposed to combat could impair public trust of the entire institution. Fear of infiltration could chill whistleblowers and cooperating witnesses and lead to fewer clues provided to the institution to track down criminals. Third, graft in anti-corruption institutions raises doubt about the effectiveness of international cooperation between law enforcement agencies. International partners would think twice about sharing information if they suspect institutional capture of local anti-corruption authorities by the subjects of investigation. Last but not least, tainted anti-corruption institutions prolong senses of impunity among the offenders. The justice systems in many corruption-prone countries are often seen as weak and co-opted by powerful interests. Misconduct by anti-graft officials would send the wrong message to the wealthy and connected offenders who are used to purchasing impunity with money and power.

There appears to be no easy cure for graft within anti-corruption institutions. One strategy is to leverage international cooperation to purify weak institutions at home. The Moreno case provides a good example of bilateral cooperation. According to Colombia Reports, the US prosecution against Moreno happened against the backdrop of “Peace Colombia,” a bilateral pact that seeks to strengthen Colombia’s peace process and state apparatus. Following Moreno’s arrest, US Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco met with his Colombian counterpart and reaffirmed their mutual decision to use strong instruments like extradition to deter corrupt officials.

Cooperation may also take a multilateral form. For example, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (“CICIG”) has enjoyed great success in investigating and prosecuting serious crimes in Guatemala. Sponsored by the United Nations and staffed with international lawyers, CICIG operates independently from Guatemalan state institutions, which are prone to infiltration by organized criminal networks. CICIG was a major force in exposing various corruption schemes involving the former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, leading to his arrest and prosecution.

Even a few rogue anti-corruption officials could set back the remarkable progress Latin American governments have made in reducing corruption in the past decade. International cooperation, either bilateral or multilateral, may supplement domestic efforts to strengthen anti-corruption agencies, especially in countries with a history of co-opted state institutions.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author in his or her individual capacity, and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone else, including the entities with which the author is affiliated, the author`s employers, other contributors, FCPAméricas, or its advertisers. The information in the FCPAméricas blog is intended for public discussion and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal advice to its readers and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It does not seek to describe or convey the quality of legal services. FCPAméricas encourages readers to seek qualified legal counsel regarding anti-corruption laws or any other legal issue. FCPAméricas gives permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author and to FCPAméricas LLC.

© 2017 FCPAméricas, LLC

Post authored by Guest

Categories: Bolivia, Colombia, Enforcement, English, FCPA, Guatemala, United Nations

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