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To Bring the World to Account: Introducing a System to Tackle International Corruption - A Kwok

This entry is part one of a miniseries of blogs about the Symposium on the Proposal to Create an International Anti-Corruption Court. This blog will provide background information behind the proposal for an anti-corruption court, synopsize the first three of six articles of the symposium, and provide a brief critical analysis.

 

A few months ago, the Transnational Criminal Law Review, published by the University of Windsor, released its first journal symposium discussing the possibility of a judicial body targeting transnational corruption: the International Anti-Corruption Court (the “IACC”). The first mention of a potential IACC was from 2014 by US District Court Judge Mark Wolf who proposed the idea with the intention to establish similar levels of accountability towards government officials across the globe.1


The need for such a judicial body stems from the sobering reality that, despite many countries having anti-corruption laws, very few individuals face legal consequences. This is because many individuals, including company executives and government officials, exert significant influence on their respective country’s government and/or the judicial system. Since then, there has been significant research and refinement done which culminated into The Progressing Proposal for An International Anti-Corruption Court by Judge Wolf, Richard Goldstone, and Robert Rotberg (the “IACC Proposal”) which was published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.2 The IACC Proposal has since garnered worldwide support including numerous former heads of state and government.3 The Symposium on the Proposal to Create an International Anti-Corruption Court (the “Symposium”) was established in direct response to this IACC Proposal.4

 

The Symposium is comprised of a collection of publications authored by legal scholars across the globe which builds upon the research and advocacy pioneered by Judge Wolf. In particular, the Symposium focuses on five particular topics:

1.          Determining the applicable law for the IACC;5

 

2.          Tailoring the rules of evidence for the IACC;6

 

3.          The relationship between diplomatic immunity and the IACC;7

 

4.          Designing a legal framework to recover assets as a result of corruption;8 and

 

5.         How the IACC allows for an expanded scope of corporate liability under international law.9 

             

This blog entry will be the first part of a miniseries covering this Symposium. This first blog will provide a comprehensive summary of the IACC Proposal and the Symposium’s findings on topics 1 and 2, as well as discuss any potential problems that were not addressed or warrant more investigation.


What is the IACC? A Brief Summary of the IACC Proposal

 

According to The Progressing Proposal for An International Anti-Corruption Court, the IACC would be a transnational judicial court that enforces international corruption laws such as “bribery, embezzlement of public funds, misappropriation of public property, money laundering, and obstruction of justice.” 10 All these laws are listed under the United Nations Convention against Corruption (the “UNCAC”), a multilateral treaty ratified by most countries, including those which would be considered major powers.10 The IACC Proposal suggests that enforcement may be effected by utilizing existing domestic laws and/or creating a similar version in the treaty that would eventually create the IACC.11


The IACC would have the ability to prosecute “high-level public officials”, such as presidents, prime ministers, and their appointees, and “anyone who knowingly and intentionally assists one or more of these individuals” in the above liable acts, meaning that both public and private parties may be targeted.12 The International Criminal Court (the “ICC”) would be a key point of reference in modelling the IACC, in which the latter would apply many of the ICC’s practices.13 


For example, member states that join the IACC would agree that its citizens prosecuted under the IACC would not enjoy personal or functional immunity.


The IACC would also be a “court of last resort”, meaning that it would only prosecute if a member state was unwilling or unable to prosecute.14 This would apply to non-member states when the alleged crimes are committed, all or in part, within the territory of a member state.15


Should the IACC investigate, its “investigators and prosecutors [would] work regularly with their national counterparts, and IACC judges will be available to advise domestic judges”.16 The authors of the IACC Proposal argue that using this approach would incentivize countries to improve their domestic capacity to strengthen corruption laws and enforcement.17


Determining the Applicable Law for the IACC

 

In “The Proposal for an International Anti-Corruption Court: What Law Should the Court Apply?”, Anton Moiseienko evaluates what would be the right balance between utilizing domestic laws and adhering to a more uniform set of laws.18


Despite most countries having signed and/or ratified the UNCAC, the agreement merely consists of two lists for criminal offences: one in which member parties must criminalize — such as bribery of public and international officials, embezzlement by public officials, obstruction of justice, and corruption-related money laundering—and the other in which governments must consider criminalizing including concealment of proceeds of corruption, illicit enrichment, and other private-sector-related corruption.19


Through interpreting the lists from the UNCAC, it is clear that public-related corruption and misappropriation of public property is the baseline international consensus on the definition of corruption. On the other hand, countries are not in agreement on whether potential corruption activities in the private sector should be criminalized. As a result, there is a wide spectrum of domestic corruption laws between different countries depending on how many non-mandatory offences are criminalized domestically, making reliance on domestic laws challenging.20 What adds another layer to this quandary is the reality that the practical enforcement of existing domestic corruption laws is very inconsistent for a number of reasons. Some countries, prior to signing the UNCAC, may have statutes that outright violate the UNCAC. In other cases, actions by public officials may mask corrupt acts with a “veneer of legality” such as, when awarding government contracts or drafting procurement rules which already favour specific companies.21


Moiseienko’s solution to the above dilemma is to define offences under the IACC in a way to “minimi[z]e recourse to domestic laws” and apply the “principle of legality” to countries joining the IACC.22 To avoid referring to domestic laws, offences would be defined by “reference to ‘autonomous’ concepts independent of domestic laws”, such as impartiality or avoiding conflicts of interest.23 These definitions may also refer to other international conventions or documents like the Interpretative Notes to the UNCAC and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.24 As to the principle of legality, this proposal prevents the IACC from retroactively convicting countries of crimes that were not considered illegal under their respective domestic laws prior to joining.25


Tailoring the Rules of Evidence for the IACC

 

Kathrin Betz’s article, titled “Evidentiary Aspects of an International Anti-Corruption Court”, argues that member countries should adhere to certain rules surrounding the service and admissibility of evidence.26 For corruption cases, most of the compelling evidence would be documentary in nature, usually in the form of company records, financial statements, and legal documents under attorney-client privilege, among others.27 Thus, a certain degree of cooperation by member countries is required to facilitate a proper and thorough investigation into corruption cases.28


Betz suggests building an IACC statute with “concrete provisions” to ensure cooperation.29 These provisions include:

1.  The IACC requesting the assistance of state parties in serving documents, executing searches and seizures, and the “identification, tracing and freezing or seizure of proceeds, property and assets and instrumentalities of crimes for the purpose of eventual forfeiture”;30

2.  Member countries agreeing to not invoke state sovereignty arguments or national secrecy laws and only refusing cooperation due to strong concerns surrounding a “fundamental legal principle of general application, or their national security interests”;31

3.  When a state party refuses to cooperate, obligating said party to find a solution in good faith and, should that fail, referring the matter to the ICC Assembly of States Parties of the UN Security Council;32 and

4.  Allowing the IACC to assist prosecutors in domestic investigations into economic crime in the form of providing evidence, subject to consent from the country of origin.33


The IACC statute should also allow the IACC to freely assess the admissibility of evidence, regardless of origin and provide a test for admissibility.34 While countries are free to challenge the admissibility of evidence, the evaluation of admissibility should be based on the test set out in the IACC statute.35 This is especially important as many corruption cases emerge as the result of leaks and whistleblowers speaking out.36 Preventing domestic laws from interfering with admissibility helps with providing legal protection to these individuals.37


Biggest Takeaway and Conclusion

 

The biggest takeaway I have among the topics discussed above is that Moiseienko does not actually comment on a definition of corruption. Namely, Moiseienko does not opine on whether private sector offences should be part of the IACC’s jurisdiction and, if so, which offences should be included. This is understandable as this dives into politics, foreign policy, and ethics which may veer too far from the initial scope of his paper. Should the IACC include in its jurisdiction offences considered non-mandatory under the UNCAC, countries may be more hesitant to join as they may be liable for offences not criminalized under their domestic corruption laws. On the other hand, while restricting the jurisdiction of the IACC to only mandatory offences may allow for the most countries to be comfortable with joining, having no legal recourse for private sector corruption may lead to “legalized corruption” in countries with lax corruption provisions.


To take a Canadian example, prosecutors in British Columbia elected not to press charges on a Hong Kong property developer accused of laundering money for Hong Kong gangs by purchasing properties in Metro Vancouver because Canada’s current corruption laws are not strong enough to secure a conviction.38 As this example does not involve any public officials, this case would not fall under any mandatory offences under the UNCAC and would not be investigated by the IACC under a more restricted jurisdiction. The optics that an international judicial body specialized in corruption cannot legally investigate such corruption cases could seriously undermine the legitimacy of the IACC. Thus, I believe more investigation is needed to determine what non-mandatory offences, if any, should be included in the IACC’s jurisdiction—finding the right balance between making the IACC palatable for countries to join and bringing corruption cases to justice.

 

 

Part 2 of this miniseries will continue to dive into the next few articles published by the Symposium.

 

 

 




1 Mark L Wolf, “The Case for an International Anti-Corruption Court” (Paper delivered at the 2014 World Forum on Governance, Prague, Czechia, 23 July 2014), (2014) Governance Studies at Brookings.

2 Mark L Wolf, Richard Goldstone & Robert I Rotberg, The Progressing Proposal for An International Anti- Corruption Court (Cambridge, MA: Integrity Initiatives International, 2022) [IACC Proposal].

3 Ibid at 14.

4 Cecily Rose, “Introduction to Symposium on the Proposal to Create an International Anti-Corruption Court” (2023) 2:1 Transnat’l Crim L Rev 1 at 2.

5 See Anton Moiseienko, “The Proposal for an International Anti-Corruption Court: What Law Should the Court Apply?” (2023) 2:1 Transnat’l Crim L Rev 5 [Law Application].

6 See Kathrin Betz, “Evidentiary Aspects of an International Anti-Corruption Court” (2023) 2:1 Transnat’l Crim L Rev 19 [Evidentiary Aspects].

7 See Rosanne van Alebeek, “Prosecuting Corruption Crimes before an International Court: Whither Immunity Rules?” (2023) 2:1 Transnat’l Crim L Rev 35.

8 See Daley J Birkett, “Recovering Assets at an International Anti-Corruption Court” (2023) 2:1 Transnat’l Crim L Rev 59.

9 See Hannah Harris, “Corporate Liability within the IACC Framework” (2023) 2:1 Transnat’l Crim L Rev 74. 10 IACC Proposal, supra note 2 at 6. See also United Nations Convention against Corruption, 31 October 2003, 2349 UNTS 41 (entered into force 14 December 2005).

11 IACC Proposal, supra note 2 at 6.

12 Ibid at 5.

13 Ibid.

14  Ibid at 8.

15  Ibid at 6.

16  Ibid at 9.

17 Ibid at 8-9.

18 Law Application, supra note 5.

19 Ibid at 9.

20 Ibid at 9-10.

21 Ibid at 14.

22 Ibid at 14-5.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid. See also UNODCOR, 7th Sess, 1st Mtg, UN Doc A/AC.261/3/Rev.5 (2003); Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, 17 December 1997, OECD (entered into force 15 February 1999).

25 Law Application, supra note 5 at 15-8.

26 Evidentiary Aspects, supra note 6.

27 Ibid at 24.

28 Ibid at 23-4.

29 Ibid at 24.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid.

32 Ibid at 24-5.

33  Ibid at 25.

34  Ibid at 26.

35 Ibid at 31-4.

36 Ibid at 26

37 Ibid at 31-4.

38 Jared Ferrie et al., “Canadian Case Exposes Hong Kong Developer’s Corporate Ties to Chinese Criminal Underworld” (7 August 2023), online: Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project

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