Fight against corruption in Ukraine and the US Story-level
By almost all accounts except his own, Vladimir Putin expected a quick and easy victory in the Ukraine. His frequent shakeups in command (at least eight generals have been ousted so far) suggest an inability to understand the basic problems of morale and discipline in his army, or, for that matter, the weaknesses of his hardware. Russia’s missiles, helicopters and tanks, like its soldiers, have failed more often than anyone, including Putin, seems to have expected. Yet among all the Russian president’s misjudgments, bribery may have been the weapon he most overestimated. Bribes to Ukrainian sailors and naval officers had reportedly worked wonders in 2014, allowing Russia to capture most of the Ukrainian Black Sea Fleet without a fight. (Extrapolating that achievement, Putin supposedly assigned over a billion dollars to a team of agents provocateurs who, eight years later, were supposed to plan a coup and install a friendly regime in kyiv). But this time, when Russian agents called with cash to distribute, top Ukrainian officials either turned them down or took the money without betraying their country.
In any case, this is how the Biden Administration tells the story in an anti-corruption manual, sensibly titled decleptification guide—Issued for the benefit of foreign aid workers and their partners abroad. Between invasions, Ukrainians had looked long and horrified at the estate of their ousted pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych, with its golf course, bowling alley, vintage car collection, ostrich farm and ornate bathroom fixtures. They had pressured their new leaders to adopt an impressive-looking set of reforms. Then, finding those leaders unreliable, the Ukrainians sent them packing, voting to hand over the presidency and control of their parliament to a party of political neophytes running on a platform of only one promise: We will bring an honest government. .
They have a long way to go, as several recent war profiteering scandals (and resignation of public officials) certified. However, the Decleptification Guide calls Ukraine a success story, praising its efforts to reform the police, prosecutors, and courts; develop a “business culture committed to competition in the market under the rule of law”; and, most notably, “radically” expanding “the degree to which the government collects and makes available to the public a wide range of sources of electronic data about who owns what in the country and how state resources are spent.” Ukraine’s strong military performance “would not be possible without eight years of hard work building the dekleptification institutions,” the guide concludes. Russia, by contrast, is seen as having paid a heavy price for its “rampant corruption.” As an example, Lasha Tchantouridzé, a professor of international affairs at Norwich University in Vermont, cites the large number of Russian troop transports, self-propelled guns, trucks and support vehicles that got stuck in Ukrainian spring mud last year. . . Many of them appear to have been fitted with “cheap Chinese made tires”, rather than those prescribed by Michelin. Chantouridze writes, adding that the cost difference “probably ended up in the pockets of the tire contractors and defense officials who approved the deal.” Even some of the money allocated to bribe Ukrainian civilian and military leaders appears to have been siphoned off by Russian operatives, according to Tchantouridzé.
The Decleptification Guide was published by the United States Agency for International Development, primarily as a playbook for aspiring reformers around the world, but also as a statement of this country’s commitment to the cause. America, he proclaims, will no longer be an apologist for thieves and dictators. “We’re going to bet on decleptification,” Samantha Power, the agency’s administrator, said the day she announced the guide’s creation last spring. It is a document that speaks hard. Most cleanup campaigns “fizzle out” within a couple of years, the authors warn. To beat the odds, would-be reformers must be prepared for “historic windows of opportunity,” when “the aggrieved masses pour into the streets or at the polls.” For corruption fighters unexpectedly in a position to shape policy, the Dekleptation Guide offers a set of practical recommendations, based on the record of actions taken, at various recent times, in Ukraine, Sierra Leone, Romania, Moldova, Malaysia, Georgia, South Africa and the Dominican Republic, among other countries. Yet with its heavy emphasis on financial disclosure, the guide has highlighted a policy area in which the United States falls conspicuously short.
Transparency International, a Berlin-based watchdog organization, publishes an annual ranking of the world’s nations, by “perceived levels of corruption in the public sector.” The 2022 roster, released at the end of January, had the US in twenty-fourth place; We have moved up three places from 2021, passing the United Arab Emirates, Bhutan and Taiwan, but we continue to lag New Zealand, Germany, Australia, Canada, Estonia, the United Kingdom and France. The judges (panels of “entrepreneurs and country experts”) do not have to explain themselves; but one important way the US could have earned their distrust is by deciding, in the name of free speech (as the Supreme Court understood it in the Citizens United case), to allow our elections to be flooded with corporate money. , and then , in the name of privacy, to allow the sources of that money, if they choose, to be untraceable.
These policies help explain the oligarchic fusion of economic and political power enjoyed by the giants of our fossil fuel, pharmaceutical, meatpacking, and other industries. The same mentality allows the shrewd operators of American real estate and financial firms to profit from the crimes of oligarchs around the world. The United States has become a prime nesting ground for their loot by allowing them to buy assets through anonymous shell companies and trusts headquartered in states (Nevada, Wyoming, South Dakota, and others) with rules of incorporation as loose as those of the United States. Cayman Islands. “In the popular imagination, the money laundering capitals of the world are small countries with histories of lax and secretive financial laws,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said at a US-hosted “Democracy Summit” in December. 2021. “But there is a good argument that, right now, the best place to hide and launder ill-gotten proceeds is actually the United States.”
The Panama Papers, a trove of more than eleven million documents leaked in 2016 from the files of a now-defunct Panamanian law firm, highlighted the shell company problem, leading to its enactment in January of 2021, of the Corporate Transparency Law. That law requires companies with the potential to launder money to disclose the identities of their “beneficial owners.” But the legislation’s title promises more than the details offer: Access to information is limited to law enforcement agencies and, under some conditions, federal agencies and banks. By contrast, the transparency initiatives cited approvingly in the Dekleptification Guide provide for “public access.” In practice, that feature has proven to be crucial. Non-governmental actors—investigative reporters, bloggers, citizen activists—have been heavily involved in virtually every major revelation involving yachts, jets, mansions, condos, and other Western possessions of the world’s kleptocrats. Tracking the global flow of dishonest money is too big a project for formally constituted authorities to handle, even when they are fully committed to the job. “It takes a network to fight a network,” the guide observes, using a phrase that has become something of a mantra in the anti-corruption world.
Congress had an opportunity last year to do something about our internal black money problem. he REVEAL Law would have required super CAPs and other package entities to reveal their top donors. But while the bill had almost unanimous support from Democrats, Republicans were just as united in opposition, and it died in the Senate for lack of the sixty votes needed to overcome a filibuster. The same general fate befell a proposal, known as the ENABLERS Law (another acronym, such as REVEALnot worth looking into), calling investment advisers, lawyers, real estate agents, and other financial intermediaries to flag any suspicious transactions.
With the House of Representatives in Republican hands, the window of opportunity for transparency legislation has closed for now. But the Biden Administration has the clout to realize some of the benefits of both defeated proposals. Anti-corruption groups have urged the Administration to make federal contractors report their political spending; that would be a big move, since more than half of the largest corporations in this country do business with the government. And the Treasury Department has the authority—under an old statute, the Bank Secrecy Act, recently amended by the Anti-Money Laundering Act—to require mutual fund managers and advisers, real estate agents, dealers in art and ship and plane dealers to do basic research on their clients, which would ruin at least some deals. When and if the government takes these steps, the United States will have the right to say that it has begun to heed its own good advice. It just started. ♦