Riesenfeld Symposium – Panel Discussion Debrief by Alix Vadot
On March 1st, 2019, the Berkeley Journal of International Law presented this year’s edition of the Stefan A. Riesenfeld Symposium. This year’s symposium, Corruption Zero: Addressing the Global Pandemic, focused on thematics of global corruption, its relation to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), and effects of corruption on the economy and human rights.
In a discussion moderated by Hana Ivanhoe, Lecturer at Berkeley Law, four panelists debated the current state of anti-corruption practices globally. Stacey Sprenkel, a member of the anti-corruption and compliance team at Morrison & Foerster, spoke of a worldwide shift towards harsher penalization of key corporations as part of a strategy to threaten other organizations and create an understanding that “no one is immune.” Beyond this strategy, a new Corporate Enforcement Policy is also intended to incentivize companies to self-disclose in exchange for reduced penalties.
Dan Seltzer, the Global Lead for Anti-corruption and Government Compliance at Accenture, continued the discussion on internationalization of anti-corruption, claiming a shift towards increased collaboration and sharing of practices and information across countries. In the global sphere, the U.S. reigns and very few are immune. In the case of Ousama Naaman, for example, the possibility of trading shares of Innospec, a British company, on the U.S. stock exchange, was sufficient to establish jurisdiction over Ousama, a dual citizen of Canada and the UAE with no other ties to the U.S.
Zorka Milin, Senior Legal Advisor at Global Witness, a global non-profit organization whose mission is to increase global transparency, used one of her organization’s current cases as an example of what kinds of actions need to occur for proper accountability. In a case of high-scale corruption, gas company Shell made a deal for drilling rights whereby money was being paid to a convicted money launderer, robbing the Nigerian people of their health care budget. With Nigeria as the victim, a criminal case was brought in Italy to bring attention to the situation and hold accountable the corporation and, particularly, the individuals involved. “Corruption crimes are not really committed by corporations, we all know they are committed by the people who run them,” said Zorka. If this case is successful, she said, it would be an important example of accountability for the world, specifically for the highly corrupt oil and gas industry.
The panel came to an end with an innovative perspective brought to the table by El Cid Butuyan, Lecturer at Harvard Law School. Contrary to the heavily defendant-focused discussion that had been going on until then, El Cid advocated for a victim-centered approach, where groups directly impacted by corruption could have a voice in the consequences imposed on the perpetrators. El Cid heavily denounced a system in which wrongdoings that occur in one place, such as the Philippines for example, were “remedied” in U.S. courts, often leading to fines paid by corporations and going directly to the U.S. Treasury. El Cid prefers worldwide initiatives such as the World Bank’s integrity fund, where fines paid by corrupt officials could be used to better the living conditions of those populations directly impacted by corrupt practices.
Although collaboration is increasingly common in the world of anti-corruption, China, which is frequently involved in many corruption scandals, remains an outlier in handling things on their own. According to some, this could lead to the establishment of a transnational court on corruption, an initiative that would not come without hurdles. Beyond administrative barriers such as enforcement capabilities, corruption is also a cultural problem – what may be viewed as corruption in one place, could be a matter of tradition in another. The current system of U.S. jurisdictional control thus presents an imperialist problem – one that would likely appear frequently in a transnational court. Regardless, most panelists agreed that a focus on holding individuals rather than corporations accountable and redirecting penalties and fines towards aid of those impacted, was most crucial in controlling the direction anti-corruption will go.