(Reuters) – A United Nations sponsored report has found that Afghanistan government officials who headed oversight of the police suppressed complaints of corruption against the force and has recommended their dismissal, according to a copy of the document seen by Reuters.
The United Nations Development Programme is also investigating why its own division, the Law and Order Trust Fund of Afghanistan (LOTFA), which commissioned the report, did not show it to senior U.N. officials after it was submitted in January.
It is the latest in a series of questions about LOTFA, which has received around $3.6 billion from international donors since 2002 to pay Afghan police force salaries and other expenses.
LOTFA commissioned the report late last year to find out why the main system for filing complaints about police misconduct, a 24-hour phone line, rarely led to prosecutions.
It found that only nine out of more than 2,000 complaints referred to the inspector general’s office in the Afghan interior ministry over a year were forwarded for prosecution. It concluded the chief of the agency, Hakim Nejrabi, and his senior staff were ignoring or blocking complaints.
“Systemic corruption is endemic to the organisation because the leadership has not only tolerated corruption, they have facilitated it and, in many instances, participated in it,” the report said, recommending the removal of Nejrabi and all of his senior staff.
Nejrabi denied all allegations made in the report, calling the findings “a political character assassination”. He said more than 50 interior ministry officials had been investigated since he took office 13 months ago, and 22 cases had been forwarded for prosecution.
The UNDP said it learned of the report only when Reuters asked about it earlier this month and is now conducting a review of internal processes “to improve efficiency, oversight and accountability to prevent this from happening again.”
It also said a copy was then immediately provided to Afghanistan’s anti-corruption body, the Independent Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC). Officials at the committee confirmed they had received the report.
UNDP did not say why submission of the report was delayed and LOTFA’s manager, Basil Massey, declined to comment.
Last year, the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction criticised LOTFA for allegedly losing track of millions of dollars in payments to ghost employees. In 2012, it was investigated for procurement fraud.
Yama Torabi, a member of the MEC, said the report “shows that for years they’ve done nothing to solve the problem – not LOTFA, the Afghan government, or previous ministers.”
An estimated $1tn (£600bn) a year is being taken out of poor countries and millions of lives are lost because of corruption, according to campaigners.
A report by the anti-poverty organisation One says much of the progress made over the past two decades in tackling extreme poverty has been put at risk by corruption and crime.
Corrupt activities include the use of phantom firms and money laundering.
The report blames corruption for 3.6 million deaths every year.
If action were taken to end secrecy that allows corruption to thrive – and if the recovered revenues were invested in health – the group calculates that many deaths could be prevented in low-income countries.
Corruption is overshadowing natural disasters and disease as the scourge of poor countries, the report says
One describes its findings as a “trillion dollar scandal”.
“Corruption inhibits private investment, reduces economic growth, increases the cost of doing business and can lead to political instability,” the report says.
“But in developing countries, corruption is a killer. When governments are deprived of their own resources to invest in health care, food security or essential infrastructure, it costs lives and the biggest toll is on children.”
The report says that if corruption was eradicated in sub-Saharan Africa:
- Education would be provided to an additional 10 million children per year
- Money would be available to pay for an additional 500,000 primary school teachers
- Antiretroviral drugs for more than 11 million people with HIV/Aids would be provided
One is urging G-20 leaders meeting in Australia in November to take various measures to tackle the problem including making information public about who owns companies and trusts to prevent them being used to launder money and conceal the identity of criminals.
It is advocating the introduction of mandatory reporting laws for the oil, gas and mining sectors so that countries’ natural resources “are not effectively stolen from the people living above them”.
It is recommending action against tax evaders “so that developing countries have the information they need to collect the taxes they are due” and more open government so that people can hold authorities accountable for the delivery of essential services.
Pervasive corruption deprives Afghanistan of funds sorely needed to rebuild the country after a decade of war and poses the most serious threat to the success of a massive reconstruction effort, a U.S. inspector said on Tuesday.
The problem is set to worsen as U.S. troops withdraw and security deteriorates, leaving civilians able to travel safely and check on projects in only about 20 percent of the country by December 2014, and even that may be optimistic, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told a congressional committee.
In his frank assessment of the $103.17 billion that the United States has poured into Afghanistan over the past 13 years building modern hospitals, power plants, roads, police stations, schools and more, Sopko painted a picture of ambitious investments thrown into a country on such a massive scale that it has overwhelmed its capacity to cope.
Moreover, U.S. policies bear part of the blame for the crippling levels of graft that undermine the efficacy of programmes. Citing a recent U.S. Joint Staff report, Sopko said that the initial U.S. strategy in Afghanistan fostered a climate conducive to corruption, which remains deeply embedded within the structure of its government.
The rot began by cutting deals with warlords mostly from the Northern Alliance who worked alongside the U.S. as a proxy force to drive the Taliban and al-Qaeda from power in 2001.
“These warlords often used U.S. support to operate with impunity to increase their political power and improve their economic positions,” Sopko said. “Afghan political leaders have built allegiances by cutting political deals that put powerful figures in key government positions and allowed them to behave with impunity.”
Some of these figures have used their government positions to expand their patronage networks, which in some cases have morphed into criminal networks involved in extrajudicial land seizures, extortion, drug trafficking and money laundering, he said.
LACK OF ANTI-CORRUPTION STRATEGY
Worsening the situation is that the U.S. has no clearly defined strategy for dealing with the corruption it has helped to embed within the Afghan government, he said.
“U.S. anti-corruption activities in Afghanistan are not guided by a comprehensive U.S. strategy or related guidance that defines clear goals and objectives for U.S. efforts to strengthen the Afghan government’s capability to combat corruption and increase accountability,” Sopko said in testimony prepared for the U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittee.
Corruption directly undermines key assistance programmes run by the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. State Department, he said.
For example, U.S. government officials who are advising and mentoring border police and customs officers to develop the capacity of the government to collect customs revenues report that criminal networks, used to smuggling commodities freely, are kidnapping and intimidating Afghan employees if they cooperate with the training on how to properly collect customs duties.
Kathleen Campbell, USAID’s deputy assistant on Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs, however said in in a statement that the U.S. has built a foundation for success in Afghanistan. The size of its investment, at 3 percent of the total cost of the war, and its “robust oversight have contributed to Afghanistan experiencing greater improvement in human development, a measure of health, education and standard of living than any other country in the world since 2000,” she said.
But Sopko in testifying before the subcommittee questioned the sustainability of those programmes, especially given widespread corruption and a lack of performance metrics to measure programmes.
According to a World Bank assessment, Afghanistan in 2012 collected only 60.1 percent of the revenues needed to cover its costs, down from 66.5 percent a year earlier. The budget gap is expected to continue widening as more projects are handed over to the Afghan government to run, leaving it increasingly dependent on foreign aid and less able to collect revenues.
In fact, the U.S. reconstruction effort is so huge that it has “placed unmanageable financial and operational burden on the Afghan government,” Sopko said.
Each new development project increases the operational and maintenance costs and contributes to Afghanistan’s growing budgetary gap, capturing it in a cycle of failure.
“Each day, it becomes clearer that the reconstruction effort has provided too much, too fast for the Afghans to absorb,” he said.
WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation)
China has court-martialed a senior former army officer in the biggest corruption scandal to engulf the People’s Liberation Army, a move that could foreshadow the unprecedented criminal prosecutions of other leading military and Communist Party officials.
Gu Junshan was formally charged with bribery, embezzlement, misuse of state funds and abuse of power, official news agency Xinhua announced on Monday, two years after he was quietly removed as the deputy chief of the PLA’s general logistics department.
In that role, General Gu was able to amass extensive influence over the procurement of housing, infrastructure and supply contracts for China’s 2.3 million-strong armed forces, the world’s largest.
“For corruption to appear in an army is not scary in itself,” said Liu Mingfu, a senior colonel at the PLA’s National Defence University. “What will be scary is if the fight against corruption is not deep, thorough and resolute.”
The prosecution of General Gu runs parallel to a sweeping anti-graft campaign within the Communist Party, with President Xi Jinping vowing to target corrupt officials at all levels – ranging from powerful “tigers” to lowly “flies”.
Mr Xi is directly challenging military elders by aiming to dismantle entrenched patronage networks which, people with knowledge of the investigation say, have threatened to limit the operational capabilities of one of the world’s best-funded but most secretive armies.
“One of the reasons the PLA has extensive corruption is because of its lack of transparency,” said Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University. “You have no choice to fight corruption, but fighting corruption doesn’t automatically fix the problems.”
The value and range of assets allegedly involved in General Gu’s case are said to be staggering, with reports of a vast family real estate portfolio, gold bullion and a secret basement full of expensive liquor, artwork and luxury goods ”just the tip of the iceberg”, according to a source with ties to senior military figures.
Investigators raided a storage chamber General Gu kept in his home village in Henan province, seizing four truckloads of items, including 20 crates of liquor and a pure gold statue of Mao Zedong, Chinese magazine Caixin reported in January.
“Everything has been very clear a long time ago,” the source said, adding that because the case would be heard in front of a military court, it was not clear the extent of General Gu’s alleged corruption would be aired in public. “I don’t think it will be as transparent as the Bo Xilai trial.”
Close watchers of elite Chinese politics consider the progress of General Gu’s case as a key signal for the potential official prosecution of another “tiger”, former security chief and Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang.
Reuters reported last week that Chinese authorities have seized assets worth at least 90 billion yuan ($15.6 billion) from family members and associates of Mr Zhou.
Previously considered effectively immune because of old age and reports of poor health, the retired vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, Xu Caihou, has reportedly been held under virtual house arrest.
Any formal move against General Xu would make him the most senior military leader ever targeted for corruption.
“A person of Gu’s stature being investigated of course will implicate other [senior] people,” Professor Zhang said.
Whenever government representatives from around the world meet, they’re often able to make progress in many areas of common interest: combating climate change, poverty, the drug trade, Islamic extremism, human trafficking and modern-day slavery, even cybercrime — the list is long. What these officials often fail to dwell upon is corruption. All of their nations suffer from it; they agree it’s a cancer of our age and should be stamped out. But they do precious little about it.
This is bizarre, when you consider the scale of the problem. What is corruption? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power.” And “by those in power” I would include those working for corporations and institutions that are part of the ruling elite.
According to the Tax Justice Network, an independent group promoting efforts to curb tax avoidance, crooked business people, working with corrupt officials, have embezzled $30 trillion over the last 15 years — or half of the world’s annual gross domestic product.
From China, nearly $4 trillion is thought to have disappeared between 2000 and 2011, much of it the profits of corruption, channeled into secret offshore financial havens. From Russia, the figure is close to $1 trillion. In the European Union, the total is put at $1.2 trillion.
In the West, the best-known figures linked to high-level fraud include Bernie Madoff, Allen Stanford, Jérôme Kerviel of Société Générale, Kweku Adoboli of UBS. And everyone knows of the subprime debt scandal and the criminal rigging of the Libor rate. In my country, Russia, there have been similar scams: the theft of $5 billion from Bank of Moscow; $4 billion from BTA Bank and AMT Bank; $4 billion from Rosukrenergo; $3 billion from Globex and Sviaz Bank; $2 billion from Russian Agricultural Bank; $1 billion from Rosagroleasing; and $1 billion from VEFK Bank.
Many of the perpetrators of these scams have been able to move abroad, where they draw upon the expertise of what I term the “financial services oligarchy” of international banks, law firms and accountants to ensure they can continue to live off the proceeds of their crimes. Some, like Andrei Borodin, former chief executive of Bank of Moscow, have been granted political asylum (Mr. Borodin, in Britain).
Sergei Pugachev, owner of the bankrupt Mezhprombank; Viktor Khrapunov, former mayor of Almaty, Kazakhstan; and the wife of Yuri Luzhkov, former mayor of Moscow, have all settled freely in the European Union or Switzerland, where they enjoy super-rich lifestyles. They contend that in their home countries they would be persecuted for their political views — though not much was known about their politics until they moved overseas; even if they were involved in politics at all, they tended to align themselves with the ruling powers.
Various nations have launched initiatives to tackle corruption. But these moves ignore the international, cross-border nature of the problem: Recovering stolen assets inevitably involves some degree of cooperation with another jurisdiction. But countering this is an entire industry devoted to helping people hide their wealth overseas, far from the prying eyes of the authorities. If governments want to have any chance of recovering what has been lost, they must join together to create an international anticorruption force, along the lines of Interpol, to defeat these financial oligarchs.
The new organization should have wide powers. It would not, however, be expensive to run (my estimate is about $70 million a year). Its remit would be to raise awareness about corruption; explain why it matters; and cross national borders to seize suspects and assets.
To lead the force, I would appoint a person of global credibility and stature. (Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown would be an excellent choice.) The leader’s mandate would be straightforward: to tackle corruption in the hopes that those planning to deceive their countrymen, to purloin valuable funds, would desist.
Without such a body, it is difficult to see how the battle against corruption can be won. Ranged against national police forces and investigators is an entire corps of professional advisory firms well-versed in assisting those who want to put their wealth beyond the authorities’ reach. Aiding and abetting those who have committed fraud are offshore tax havens that structure their laws to help those seeking total secrecy and security. This oligarchy can be broken only if governments fight like with like — by creating a well-equipped sleuthing agency that is not afraid of anybody or aligned with any particular nation.
Unlike the United Nations and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, an international anticorruption body would move fast and be flexible. At present, if someone steals $1 billion and heads for an offshore haven, it is practically impossible to take legal action against him or her. Recovery of the funds is even more unlikely; it would take years and cost a fortune.
We have to take the fight to the criminals and their well-paid, well-connected helpers. When a major corruption scandal erupts, there are predictable howls of rage. But ask yourself: How many of the perpetrators are ever caught, how much of the profits are ever recovered?
We’ve seen a slew of these cases in recent years. As transferring money and communications get quicker and easier, there’s no doubt such fraud is on the increase. The sums of money involved are also growing just as fast.
We need to put a stop to this. Governments around the world are struggling to raise funds to counter the global downturn, but they can’t simply keep increasing taxes on the middle- and higher-income brackets. Rather, they must pursue cash anywhere they can — and one source has to be the proceeds of corruption. (After all, in many cases, it’s government money that was spirited away in the first place.)
I propose a relatively cheap, effective solution to one of the world’s most pressing issues: an international body to police corruption. And we must have it now, not at some date far into the future. It’s our money — and we want it back.
Alexander Lebedev, a businessman and former senior officer in the K.G.B., is an owner of the Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta and publisher of The London Evening Standard and The Independent.
- 2008: 6,787
- 2009: 3,056
- 2010: 2,953
- 2011: 2,771
- 2012: 3,238
- 2013: 7,157