Title

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The Fight Against Corruption Needs Economists
Foreign Affairs
Josh Rudolph
Monday, May 17, 2021

Combating corruption and kleptocracy has traditionally been an afterthought in U.S. foreign policy: a goal that most policymakers considered laudable but hardly a priority. That attitude is no longer acceptable. In recent years, countries such as China and Russia have “weaponized” corruption, as Philip Zelikow, Eric Edelman, Kristofer Harrison, and Celeste Ward Gventer argued in these pages last year. For the ruling regimes in those countries, they wrote, bribery and graft have “become core instruments of national strategy” through which authoritarian rulers seek to exploit “the relative openness and freedom of democratic countries [that] make them particularly vulnerable to this kind of malign influence.”

Strikingly, one particular form of financial aggression—covert foreign money funneled directly into the political processes of democracies—has increased by a factor of ten since 2014. Over roughly the same period of time, American voters have become highly receptive to narratives about corruption, and politicians across the ideological spectrum now routinely allege that the economy is rigged and deride their opponents as crooked and corrupt. Thus, the needs of U.S. foreign policy and domestic politics have neatly aligned to offer a historic opportunity for a sweeping anticorruption campaign that would institutionalize transparency, resilience, and accountability throughout the United States and in the international financial, diplomatic, and legal systems.

President Joe Biden, his closest foreign policy advisers, and an increasingly active cohort of lawmakers are intent on carrying out precisely that kind of effort. But there is one big problem: leaders in the Treasury Department and some of the officials running international economic policy in the Biden administration are not fully on board. Their reluctance to focus on corruption could severely hinder the mission, because they control the most powerful tools that Washington can bring to the fight.

Follow the Money

No American political figure has done more to frame corruption as a national security issue than Biden. As vice president, he led the U.S. fight against graft abroad and publicly warned in 2015 that, for authoritarian states, “corruption is the new tool of foreign policy.” Writing as a presidential candidate in these pages, Biden promised to issue a policy directive enshrining anticorruption as a core national security interest and pledged to “lead efforts internationally to bring transparency to the global financial system” and to “go after illicit tax havens.” Fighting corruption will be a major focus of the Summit for Democracy that Biden pledged to host in his first year in office.

The foreign policy specialists who have spent years working with Biden are all in sync on this issue. In his first major speech as secretary of state, Antony Blinken prioritized fighting corruption in the contexts of both economic inclusivity and democratic renewal. Blinken has already bestowed honorary awards on anticorruption activists and banned the most powerful oligarch in Ukraine from entering the United States due to corruption; he is now considering naming an anticorruption special envoy. Samantha Power, who heads the United States Agency for International Development, recently wrote that fighting corruption is crucial to restoring U.S. leadership and pledged that doing so would be “a huge priority” at the agency under her leadership. In his first interview after being named the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan said that combating corruption and kleptocracy is one of his highest goals, and the administration’s interim national security strategic guidance mentions corruption half a dozen times.

The leadership at the Treasury Department, however, does not seem nearly as focused on the issue, taking few specific steps to start fighting corruption in the first 100 days of the administration. Until recently, the word “corruption” never appeared in any Treasury speeches, tweets, readouts of calls with foreign officials, or press releases (except for mostly stock language in a few sanctions announcements). In late April, Treasury did release an expression of support for a British anticorruption initiative. But according to one administration official, the White House instructed Treasury to make that statement. When Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen separately addressed international standards against dirty money, rather than calling for a focus on corruption, she emphasized two other priorities: the role of virtual assets such as cryptocurrencies and the financing that enables the proliferation of weapons. At first, Yellen’s inattention to corruption seemed entirely understandable, because she was focused on the public health and economic crises caused by the pandemic. But when she laid out her international agenda in a February letter to the G-20 and in a major speech in April, she did not describe combating corruption and kleptocracy as a priority. Correcting these omissions in a clear and public way should be a top priority for Treasury’s second 100 days.

Dirty Money, Dismal Science

Mobilizing financial regulations and international diplomacy to wage war on corruption and kleptocracy might not come naturally to economists, even accomplished ones such as Yellen and her staffers, because economics has come to be seen as an academic discipline independent of the realities of state power. That is partly because, during the Cold War, Washington’s strategic goals and its economic interests generally converged: in an ideological competition against communism, the spread of free trade and free markets also naturally advanced the geopolitical campaign to win support for liberal democratic capitalism. Hence there was little need for American economists to pay close attention to strategic considerations, because there was not much tension between purely economic interests and U.S. grand strategy.

Since then, however, the nature of authoritarian regimes has evolved, with strategic implications for U.S. policy. Instead of trying to win over the hearts and minds of the masses with communist ideology, the countries that threaten U.S. power today are organized as kleptocracies, stealing from their own people to buy the loyalty of cronies. They hide their ill-gotten gains in Western markets, which presents an Achilles’ heel if financial authorities can manage to find their dirty money.

Unfortunately, this new reality has not yet been taken on board by most economists. In many cases, their views have been shaped by a neoliberal consensus that fails to account for the ways in which deregulation and globalization opened pathways to subvert American democracy and reinforce the power of kleptocracies. Meanwhile, policymakers hoping to shift away from neoliberal dogma have generally not included anticorruption as an element of economic policy. The Biden administration’s vision of a “foreign policy for the middle class,” for example, leaves out fighting corruption. Elsewhere, the administration has cast anticorruption efforts as part of its campaign to revitalize democracy rather than as part of its agenda to set international economic policies that can serve all Americans. And when Yellen has described the costs of corruption, she has focused on its negative effects on growth and poverty in other countries rather than the threat it poses to U.S. national security.

All Aboard

If Biden wants to make progress against corruption, he needs to push his Treasury Department to get with the program. A good first step would be to start preparing a National Corruption Risk Assessment that would expose the financial networks used by oligarchs and kleptocrats. Next month, the department will publish guidance for banks regarding anti–money laundering priorities, and it should use that occasion to emphasize the risks of corruption. And for a broader public audience, a top Treasury official should give a major speech launching a war on corruption, perhaps at the first-ever United Nations session dedicated to corruption, which is scheduled for early June.

Treasury should also develop strong regulations for implementing a law that Congress enacted in January that outlaws anonymous shell companies. According to a number of anticorruption experts who maintain contacts in the administration and who have been imploring senior Treasury officials to prioritize this issue, the department was initially reluctant to designate a senior official to serve as a point person for these regulations. Eventually, public pressure from outside critics and private urging from security and economic officials in the White House led to an appointment. Citing funding constraints, however, Treasury has still not hired outside experts to advise it on enforcing the new law, such as civil society advocates who know which regulations to prioritize, what lobbying pushback to expect, and how to close loopholes through seemingly mundane steps such as updating standard forms.

Fortunately, lawmakers are ramping up pressure on Treasury to get serious about prioritizing anticorruption. On May 3, Representative Tom Malinowski, Democrat from New Jersey, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode Island, wrote a letter to Yellen to “underscore the crucial role of Treasury in combatting international corruption and kleptocracy and to urge you to take early steps to confront this key national security threat.” Malinowski and Whitehouse argued that “the top policy priority in the fight against dirty money should now become the expansion of [anti–money laundering] obligations to cover financial facilitators and professional service providers that can enable corruption.”

They recommended first regulating private equity firms and hedge funds before moving on to real estate companies, lawyers, accountants, and others who sometimes enable bribery and graft. They also suggested that Treasury should “lead a landmark international agreement to end offshore financial secrecy and illicit tax havens once and for all . . . backed up by concrete commitments around an array of reporting mechanisms.” Malinowski and Whitehouse also called on Yellen to develop a medium-term anti-kleptocracy plan and appoint anticorruption specialists at Treasury. Meanwhile, the Helsinki Commission—an interagency body created by Congress in 1975 to coordinate security policy with Europe—plans to launch a new “counter-kleptocracy caucus” in June to share perspectives and coordinate efforts across political parties and congressional committees.

Congressional attention to this issue is good news. But to live up to Biden’s ambitious vision for fighting corruption, his entire administration needs to match Capitol Hill’s energy. And that means making sure that every department—including Treasury—devotes itself to the effort.

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It has been a great honor to work with him and for him in bringing this important resolution to the floor of the Senate. I ask unanimous consent that at the appropriate time, the Senator from Maryland and I be allowed to engage in a colloquy. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. The Senator from Maryland. Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, let me thank Senator McCain, not just for taking time for this colloquy concerning Mr. Magnitsky but for his longstanding commitment to justice issues, human rights issues, and the values the United States represents internationally. We have had a long, proud, bipartisan, and, most importantly, successful record of promoting basic American values such as democratic governance and the rule of law around the world. Engaging the countries of the Eastern Bloc in matters such as respect for human rights was critical to winning the cold war. We will never know how many lives were improved and even saved due to instruments such as the Helsinki Final Act and the Jackson-Vanik amendment. These measures defined an era of human rights activism that ultimately pried open the Iron Curtain and brought down the Wall. Thankfully, the cold war is over and we have a stronger relationship, both at the governmental and societal levels, with countries in Eastern Europe. But, sadly, internationally recognized rights and freedoms continue to be trampled and, in many cases, with absolute impunity. With the possibility of Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization, and the Presidents of the United States and Russia meeting in France, ours is a timely discussion. 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Sergei Magnitsky was a young Russian tax lawyer employed by an American law firm in Moscow who blew the whistle on the largest known tax fraud in Russian history. After discovering this elaborate scheme, Sergei Magnitsky testified to the authorities detailing the conspiracy to defraud the Russian people of approximately $230 million dollars and naming the names of those officials involved. Shortly after his testimony, Sergei was arrested by subordinates of the very law enforcement officers he had implicated in this crime. He was held in detention for nearly a year without trial under torturous conditions. He developed severe medical complications, which went deliberately untreated and he died in an isolation cell while prison doctors waited outside his door on November 16, 2009.  Sadly, Sergei Magnitsky joins the ranks of a long list of Russian heroes who lost their lives because they stood up for principle and for truth. These ranks include Natalia Estemirova a brave human rights activist shot in the head and chest and stuffed into the trunk of a car, Anna Politkovskaya an intrepid reporter shot while coming home with an arm full of groceries, and too many others.  Often in these killings there is a veil of plausible deniability, gunmen show up in the dark and slip away into the shadows, but Sergei – in inhuman conditions – managed to document in 450 complaints exactly who bears responsibility for his false arrest and death. We must honor his sacrifice and do all we can to learn from this tragedy that others may not share his fate.  Few are made in the mold of Sergei Magnitsky – able to withstand barbaric deprivations and cruelty without breaking and certainly none of us would want to be put to the test. A man of such character is fascinating and in some ways disquieting because we suspect deep down that we might not have what it takes to stay loyal to the truth under such pressure. Magnitsky’s life and tragic death remind us all that some things are more valuable than success, comfort, or even life itself –truth is one of those things. May his example be a rebuke to those whose greed or cowardice has blinded them to their duties, an inspiration to still greater integrity for those laboring quietly in the mundane yet necessary tasks of life, and a comfort to those wrongly accused.  The Wall Street Journal described Sergei Magnitsky’s death as a “slow-motion assassination,” while the Moscow Prison Oversight Committee called it a “murder to conceal a fraud.” Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Ellen Barry writing in the New York Times stated that, “Magnitsky’s death in pretrial detention at the age of 37... sent shudders through Moscow’s elite. They saw him – a post-Soviet young urban professional – as someone uncomfortably like themselves.”  Outside the media, President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek noted that “Sergei Magnitsky was a brave man, who in his fight against corruption was unjustifiably imprisoned under ruthless conditions and then died in jail without receiving appropriate medical care.” While Transparency International observed that, “Sergei did what to most people seems impossible: he battled as a lone individual against the power of an entire state. He believed in the rule of law and integrity, and died for his belief.”  One might have thought that after the worldwide condemnation of Sergei Magnitsky’s arrest, torture, and death in the custody, the Russian government would have identified and prosecuted those responsible for this heinous crime. Instead, the government has not prosecuted a single person and many of the key perpetrators went on to receive promotions and the highest state honors from the Russian Interior Ministry. Moreover, the officers involved feel such a sense of impunity that they are now using all instruments of the Russian state to pursue and punish Magnitsky’s friends and colleagues who have been publicly fighting for justice in his case.  They have forced the American founding partner of Magnitsky’s firm, Jamison Firestone, to flee Russia in fear for his safety in the months following his colleague’s death after learning that the same people were attempting to take control of an American client’s Russian companies and commit a similar fraud. And they have used the same criminal case that was used to falsely arrest Magnitsky to indict Sergei's client Bill Browder. They have opened up retaliatory criminal cases against many of Hermitage’s employees and all of its lawyers, who were forced to leave Russia to save their own lives. These attacks have only intensified since my colleague and friend Congressman Jim McGovern introduced the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act of 2011, a similar measure in the House of Representatives, last month.  In the struggle for human rights we must never be indifferent. On this point, I am reminded of Eli Wiesel’s hauntingly eloquent speech, The Perils of Indifference which he delivered at the White House in 1999. On this ever-present danger and demoralizer he cautions us, “Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning, it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor – never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees – not to respond to their plight, not to relive their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity we betray our own.”  Speaking of our humanity, I offer the following words as a contrast. They are from Russian playwright Mikhail Ugarov who created One Hour Eighteen, which is the exact amount of time it took for Sergei Magnitsky to die in his isolation cell at Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison. Ugarov asks, “When a person puts on the uniform of a public prosecutor, the white lab coat of a doctor, or the black robe of a judge, does he or she inevitably lose their humanity? Do they lose their ability to – even in a small way – empathize with a fellow human being? In the case of Sergei Magnitsky, each of the people who assumed these professional duties in the case left their humanity behind.”  The coming year will be a significant moment in the evolution of Russian politics. With Duma elections scheduled for the end of 2011 and presidential elections for early 2012, there is an opportunity for the Russian government to reverse what has been a steady trajectory away from the rule of law and respect for human rights and toward authoritarianism.  Mr. President, private and even public expressions of concern are not a substitute for a real policy nor are they enough, it’s time for consequences. The bill I introduce today sends a strong message to those who are currently acting with impunity in Russia that there will be consequences for corruption should you wish to travel to and invest in the United States. Such actions will provide needed moral support for those in Russia doing the really heavy-lifting in fighting corruption and promoting the rule of law, but they will also protect our own interests – values or business related.  We see before us a tale of two Russias, the double headed eagle if you will. To whom does the future of Russia belong? Does it belong to the Yevgenia Chirikovas, Alexey Navalnys, Oleg Orlovs and countless other courageous, hardworking, and patriotic Russians who expose corruption and fight for human rights or those who inhabit the shadows abusing and stealing from their fellow citizens?  Let’s not put aside our humanity out of exaggerated and excessively cautious diplomatic concerns for the broader relationship. Let’s take the long view and stand on the right side – and I believe the wise side – with the Russian people who’ve suffered so much for the cause of liberty and human dignity. They are the ones who daily risk their safety and freedom to promote those basic principles enshrined in Russian law and many international commitments including the Helsinki Final Act. They are the conscience of Russia. And let us tell them with one voice that they are not alone and that concepts like the rule of law and human rights are not empty words for this body and for our government. I urge my colleagues to support this bill.  I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.  Thank you, Mr. President.

  • Central Asia and the Arab Spring: Growing Pressure for Human Rights?

    Popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, along with ferment in Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and Syria, surprised even expert analysts and shook the very foundations not just of the states concerned but of the entire region. The long authoritarian rule of leaders in the region had been accepted by many as a factor of stability. In the end, however, public anger erupted over regimes that had been in power for decades, enriching themselves and their cronies, while most citizens barely scraped by. Many of these conditions apply to the states of Central Asia, with the partial exception of Kyrgyzstan – where street protests have toppled two presidents since 2005 and last year the country established a parliamentary government. Although the situation is unique in each Central Asian country, the region’s states have human rights records that are consistently poor, and some are listed among the most repressive countries in the world.  Rulers have contrived to remain in office indefinitely, controlled and rigged elections, restricted independent media and religious freedom, harassed opposition parties – where they exist at all—and stunted the development of civil society. Torture and mistreatment in detention are common in the region.

  • Remembering Katyn

    Mr. President, I rise today to commemorate the lives lost in last year's plane crash near Smolensk that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria, and 94 others who represented the political, cultural, and religious leadership of Poland. Words alone offer little solace before such awesome tragedy, which is one of the reasons people must gather together before monuments and flowers to add a tangible dimension to our shapeless grief. While eloquent remarks can move the heart, we all know a smile, a gaze, or an embrace can often do more to bring comfort to the sorrowful.  Katyn has become a tragedy in three acts--the crime, the cover-up, and now the crash. Surely it is fitting for us to meet, comfort each other, and remember those who died. But what lies beyond our tears? Can good come from this evil?  For the loved ones of those 96 souls who perished nearly a year ago, they must take comfort in knowing that the final act of their beloved was a noble one--that of remembering those martyrs whom Stalin and his henchmen sought to erase from Poland and, indeed, from history.  As Stanislaw Kot, Poland's wartime Ambassador to Moscow, said, "People are not like steam; they cannot evaporate.'' He was right and it is written, ``Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground!'' In a haunting twist of fate, a hungry wolf in the Russian winter would scratch at the snow and uncover the hastily buried bones of Poland's best and brightest. And the truth about this unspeakable crime would one day be known.  We have come a long way--a very long way--from the time when this atrocity was falsely presented as a Nazi crime and from the time when the names of the dead could only be circulated in communist Poland in the form of samizdat publications and whispered around kitchen tables.  Nevertheless, there is still more that must be done to set the record straight. This involves insuring that all the evidence relating to the execution sites, the executioners' identities, the motives for the crime, and the fate of so many Polish families who vanished on the Siberian steppe are publicly available. We must ensure that the fullness of the truth is uncovered and shared for its own sake and for closure. To that end, I welcome recent news of the Kremlin's release of still more documents relating to the massacre.  Further, I believe that finally coming to terms with Katyn is a necessary precondition for a durable Polish-Russian rapprochement, which is itself good insurance for maintaining a Europe, whole, free, and at peace.  Next week Presidents Komorowski and Medvedev will meet before the mass graves at Katyn and, I trust, will continue a dialogue of healing between two great nations that have suffered so much from the elevation of an ideology over a people. I wish them well in their talks and ongoing mission of reconciliation and believe that the only lasting balm for this wound lies in the heart and not in a courtroom or even a legislature.  This is not to say that charges or claims should not be pursued, but to recognize that, in many cases, such actions will fall short and offer little by way of consolation.  It would be most unfortunate for the memory of Katyn to be debased by ideologues of any ilk who would usurp this sacred memory for partisan projects. For too long the truth about Katyn was denied by those on the left who turned a blind eye to the reality of communism and many on the right seemed to view Katyn as just another issue to be exploited in the struggle of ideologies. People and their memory are an end, in and of themselves, and must never be used as a means to advance even a just cause. The only decent relationship to them is that of love and remembrance--our dignity and theirs demands nothing less.  My sincere hope is that Poland and Russia can do better than some countries that have fought bitter diplomatic battles and enacted laws to force or deny recognition of historic crimes. By honestly evaluating a shared past of suffering, Poles and Russians have a real opportunity to build a shared future of friendship and prosperity.  Poland is now free and her traditions support the forgiveness that offers a path out of the valley of this shadow of death. In so many ways, Poland is, and must remain, a light to those nearby who still live in the darkness of oppression and lies.  As we continue to ponder the devastation of last year's catastrophe, I would like to close by putting a couple faces on our sadness; those of Mariusz Handzlik and Andrzej Przewoznik, who both died in last year's crash.  Mariusz was a diplomat and father of three. He was well known and well liked in Washington from the years he spent assigned to the Embassy of Poland. In 2000, he played a fateful game of chess with Polish war hero and Righteous Gentile Jan Karski who narrowly escaped "liquidation'' at Katyn. Karski would die in a Washington hospital and Handzlik in a gloomy Russian forest.  Andrzej was a historian, a husband, and father of two. He was the principal organizer behind the conference I cohosted as Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission last year at the Library of Congress to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Forest Massacre. Andrzej hoped to spend time at our National Archives sifting through the papers of the Madden Committee and other relevant U.S. Government documents on Katyn.  The memories of Mariusz, Andrzej, and so many other truly exceptional people on that doomed flight offer much by way of virtue and accomplishment that will inspire Poles for generations to come. Let us take comfort in the truth that is, at last, known and bask in the warmth of heroic memories and do this together with our Polish friends who are second to no one in their love of freedom.

  • Canada Considers Next Steps in Extractive Industry Transparency; Roundtable in Toronto is Forum for Discussion on Harmonization of Canadian and U.S. Reporting Requirements

    By Shelly Han Policy Advisor The oil, gas and mining sector play an important part of Canada’s economy, not only in terms of its domestic industry, but also the global reach of Canada’s extractive companies and the importance of its capital markets for international mining companies. According to recent reports, Toronto is the mining finance capital of the world, raising 30 to 40 per cent of the world’s mining equity almost every year, and Canadian mining companies account for a world-leading 40 percent of global exploration expenditure. With passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010, a new law was created that requires greater transparency by oil, gas and mining companies in all markets, both domestic and international. The law, sponsored by Senators Ben Cardin and Richard Lugar, requires all companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges to report to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) the payments they make to U.S. and foreign governments for natural resource exploration and extraction. The SEC rule to implement this law is currently being drafted and will become final in early April of 2011. In order to make this transparency initiative even more effective, supporters of the measure are working to enact similar initiatives in other major capital markets such as the EU, Canada, Hong Kong and elsewhere. On January 18, 2011, the Publish What You Pay Coalition of Canada convened a roundtable discussion to consider ways that Canada might harmonize its exchange reporting regulations with the new requirements enacted in the United States. At the event were key players in the Canadian extractives industry sector, the regulatory agencies, academics and non-governmental organizations. Strong support was expressed by some participants for harmonization with the U.S. because of Canada’s pivotal role in providing mining capital. And even though Canadian companies and the Canadian Government have made a tremendous push toward increasing corporate social responsibility in the mining sector, it was noted by one of the participants that Canada is about to be severely criticized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) following completion of an assessment of their enforcement of anti-bribery laws. During the discussion, the participants noted that a complicating factor in harmonization was the fact that Canadian capital markets are administered at the provincial and territory-level, meaning that unlike the practice in the United States where this is just one federal regulator, Canada has 13 separate securities regulators. Currently pending legislation in the form of a draft Securities Act, however, may create an overarching federal securities body, but some participants expressed doubt about the passage of this bill. Even absent creation of a federal agency, some participants noted that if the major exchanges in Toronto and Ontario moved to harmonize first, then other provinces were likely to follow suit. Regardless, Canadian regulators are unlikely to move forward until a final SEC rule is issued in April. At that time groups such as the Publish What You Pay Coalition and others will likely move forward with a renewed push for harmonization with new global standard on transparency for the extractive industries.

  • World Premiere of Justice for Sergei

    This film screening presented by the U.S. Helsinki Commission commemorated the one-year anniversary of the death of Russian anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. “Justice for Sergei” is a film about the anti-corruption lawyer who blew the whistle on a $230 million tax fraud involving senior Russian officials. This film marks the first time since Sergei’s death that his family and friends have spoken publicly about the false arrest and torture of the man who died trying to expose the corruption gripping his country.    Panelists – including Boris Nemtsov, Former Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation; Dr. Michael McFaul, Senior Director of Russia and Eurasian Affairs for the National Security Council; and David Kramer, Executive Director of Freedom House – presented statements related to corruption in Russia and spoke to the lack of rule of law in the country.

  • Beyond Corporate Raiding: A Discussion of Advanced Fraud Schemes in the Russian Market

    This briefing was part of a number of Helsinki Commission events focusing on corruption and fraud in modern Russia’s businesses and law enforcement. Kyle Parker led a fascinating and provocative discussion with Russia's leading anti-corruption crusader, shareholder activist, and blogger extraordinaire Alexei Navalny who Time Magazine dubbed "Russia's Erin Brockovich." Alexei shared his experiences with Russian corruption and shed light on the measures one must take to be successful. Parker and Navalny addressed the death of Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 and the fraud against Hermitage Capital. They looked at the possibility of similar situations in the future and whether or not there is hope for change. They also discussed the sharp contrast of this corruption against the strident anti-corruption rhetoric of President Dmitriy Medvedev, who has called for an end to "legal nihilism" and the corrosive practice of law enforcement "nightmaring" legitimate businesses.

  • OSCE 2010 Informal Ministerial: Kazakhstan Persistence Earns a Summit in Astana

    By Winsome Packer Policy Advisor Kazakhstan hosted its long-sought OSCE Informal Ministerial in Almaty July 16-17, 2010, the realization of a key aim of its Chairmanship. A second important objective of the Kazakh Chairmanship: a summit on Kazakh soil during 2010, came closer to realization during the meeting. An Astana Summit would be the OSCE’s first since the 1999 Istanbul Summit, which yielded the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces Treaty. Early and persistent calls for “substance before summit” by the U.S. Delegation and other participating States had put in doubt both the informal ministerial and the summit for months. However, a number of the participating States argued for the high level attention to wide-spread security challenges in the OSCE region and the erosion of OSCE values in some quarters. Ten years after the last OSCE summit, they argued, necessitated a meeting of heads of states and governments to reaffirm the participating States’ commitment to the organization’s values and agree on a way forward to tackle the challenges confronting the region today. Thus, six months of, at times, heated informal Corfu dialogue on security challenges in the OSCE region, which was mandated by the Athens Ministerial Declaration, yielded more than 50 “food for thought” papers from the participating States, the Parliamentary Assembly, the OSCE Secretariat, the Partners for Cooperation, think tanks and non-governmental organizations. The thematic papers evolved into an Interim Report during June, which incorporated the proposals submitted within the Corfu Process. It formed the basis for the agenda at the Almaty Informal Ministerial and for the Summit which will be held in Astana December 1-2, 2010. The Almaty Informal Ministerial saw the participation of more than forty foreign ministers, including from the Russian Federation, France, Germany, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Georgia, Turkey, Austria, and Ukraine. The Parliamentary Assembly’s delegation included President Petros Efthymiou, and Secretary General Spencer Oliver. The U.S. delegation was headed by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg who, in a bilateral meeting with the Kazakhstanis on July 16, affirmed U.S. support for an OSCE summit this year. The joining of consensus on the summit decision by the United States elicited private expressions of relief from many delegates, and heightened expectations for the summit which would reflect the outcome of the Corfu Process: a declaration and an action plan. The Chair-in-Office requested that the OSCE delegations work toward these aims throughout the summer. During the meeting, delegates voiced support for the summit, to be held in Astana. A majority of the participating States urged OSCE support for Kyrgyzstan, in particular, through the deployment of a police mission. The United States and many delegates stated that the substance of the summit should be based upon the four proposals put forward by the European Union to: (1) bolster the OSCE’s capabilities in all three dimensions to promote early warning, conflict prevention and resolution, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation, including in relation to the protracted conflicts; (2) strengthen implementation and follow-up of OSCE norms, principles and commitments in particular, human dimension commitments covering human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the media; (3) enhance the conventional arms control framework, including confidence and security building measures, through updating the 1999 Vienna Document and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty); and (4) increase attention to transnational threats in all three OSCE dimensions. Some delegates also called for a summit to: focus on instability in Afghanistan; intensify efforts to resolve protracted conflicts in the region, and address nuclear terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear and weapons of mass destruction. The United States called for greater military transparency, implementation of human dimension commitments and addressing inter-ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan. The U.S. delegation also expressed support for the expeditous deployment of a police force to Kyrgyzstan and for an action plan for the future work of the participating States. In addition to supporting the European Union’s four summit process proposals, the United States also expressed support for a focus on Afghanistan. A Chair’s Perception Paper, resulting from the informal ministerial, incorporated these concerns. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Russia’s support for the summit “this year.” He urged the involvement of other regional and sub-regional leaders in addressing the Kyrgyzstan situation. He expressed hope that action would be taken on Russia’s proposal for a European Security Treaty (EST) and that it would not merely remain a “subject for discussion.” Lavrov said that the summit document should reflect the post Cold War situation and the security system that emerges should be “free of dividing lines.” He said that Russia was studying NATO’s response to the EST proposal and underlined that the summit should give strong, political impetus for supporting Kyrgyzstan. Concurrent with the Informal Ministerial, draft decisions on the holding of an OSCE summit during 2010 and draft decisions on the agenda and modalities of the summit and agenda and modalities for a review conference were circulated. The review conference would be held in Vienna, Warsaw, and Astana. Negotiations on the draft decisions began on July 19.

  • Russia: U.S. Congressmen Propose Sanctions in Lawyer’s Death

    Members of the United States Congress introduced legislation on Wednesday that would impose financial sanctions and visa bans on Russian officials implicated in the case of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in prison in Moscow in November after being ensnared in tax inquiry. The measure’s sponsors — including Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, and Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat — said it was intended to spur the Russian government to properly investigate Mr. Magnitsky’s death. His defenders contend that he was jailed in an effort to force him to falsify testimony against Hermitage Capital Management, a major foreign investment fund that once had large holdings in Russia. His death caused widespread outrage and focused renewed attention on police tactics and corruption in Russia.

  • Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act of 2010

    Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act of 2010. As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I first learned about Sergei Magnitsky at a hearing I held on Russia in June 2009.  Sergei Magnitsky was a young Russian anti-corruption lawyer employed by a prominent American law firm in Moscow who blew the whistle on the largest known tax rebate fraud in Russian history perpetrated by high level Russian officials. After discovering this complex and brazen corruption scheme, Sergei Magnitsky dutifully testified to the authorities detailing the conspiracy to defraud the Russian people of approximately $230 million dollars and naming the names of those officials. Shortly after his testimony, Sergei was arrested by subordinates of the very law enforcement officers he had implicated in this crime. He was held in detention for nearly a year without trial under torturous conditions and died in an isolation cell while prison doctors waited outside his door on November 16, 2009.  In April of this year I sent a letter to our Secretary of State urging a visa ban for Russian officials connected to the death of Sergei Magnitsky. I also released a list of 60 senior officials from the Russian Interior Ministry, Federal Security Service, Federal Tax Service, Regional Courts, General Prosecutor’s Office, and Federal Prison Service, along with detailed descriptions of their involvement in this matter. My bill reminds the Department of State that I have not forgotten and will not forget this issue. In fact, this bill goes a bit further adding an asset freeze provision to be applied against those implicated in this tragic affair. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that my letter to Secretary of State Clinton and my list be entered into the record.  Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer with what should have been a promising career ahead of him died at age 37 leaving behind a mother, a wife, and two boys who never saw him or even heard his voice after his arrest. Since his death, no one has been held accountable and some of those involved even have been promoted. Also, there is strong evidence that the criminal enterprise that stole the money from the Russian treasury and falsely imprisoned and tortured Magnitsky, continues to operate. In fact, the American founding partner of Magnitsky’s firm fled Russia for his safety in the months following his colleague’s death after learning that a similar fraud scheme was attempted by the same criminals.  This is a heartbreaking story, and let me be clear, my bill does not even attempt to deliver justice as that would be impossible since nothing can bring Sergei back. There are obvious limits to what we can do as Americans, but we can deny the privilege of visiting our country and accessing our financial system. This bill sends a strong message to those who are currently acting with impunity in Russia that there will be consequences for corruption should you wish to travel and invest abroad. I hope others, especially in the EU, UK, and Canada will adopt similar sanctions. This measure is also about the future and protecting our business interests abroad by making it clear that, even if your home country allows you to trample the rule of law, we will not stand by and become an unwitting accomplice in your crimes.  Sadly, Sergei Magnitsky joins the ranks of a long list of Russian heroes who lost their lives because they stood up for principle and for truth. These ranks include Natalia Estemirova a brave human rights activist shot in the head and chest and stuffed into the trunk of a car, Anna Politkovskaya an intrepid reporter shot while coming home with an arm full of groceries, and too many others. Often in these killings there is a veil of plausible deniability, gunmen show up in the dark and slip away into the shadows, but Sergei, in inhuman conditions managed to document in 450 complaints exactly who bears responsibility for his false arrest and death. We must honor his heroic sacrifice and do all we can to learn from this tragedy that others may not share his fate. Few are made in the mold of Sergei Magnitsky – able to withstand barbaric depravations and cruelty without breaking and certainly none of us would want to be put to such a test. For those corrupt officials who abuse their office, Sergei’s life stands as a rebuke to what is left of their consciences. To those who suffer unjustly, Sergei’s experience can be a reminder to draw strength from and to know that they are not completely alone in their struggle. In closing, I wish to address those prominent Russian human rights defenders who just a couple weeks ago appealed to our government and to European leaders to adopt the sanctions I called for in my April letter to Secretary Clinton. You are the conscience of Russia and we have heard your plea. You are not alone, and while you and your fellow citizens must do the heavy-lifting at home, I assure you that “human rights” are not empty words for this body and for my government. I urge my colleagues to support this bill. Thank you, Mr. President.

  • U.S. Lawmakers Push Visa Sanctions in Russian Case

    More than 60 Russians linked to the death of an anti-corruption lawyer would be barred from the United States and its financial markets under a bill introduced in the Congress on Wednesday. The measure says that sanctions would be lifted only after Russia brings to justice those responsible for the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for what was once Russia's top equity fund, Hermitage. But the bill, introduced by Senator Benjamin Cardin and Representative James McGovern, both Democrats, faces a steep climb to get passed before Congress completes its work for the year. Human rights activists charge that Russian authorities subjected Magnitsky to conditions amounting to torture in a failed bid to force him to testify in their favor in a battle with Hermitage over a $234 million tax fraud scheme. Magnitsky died after being repeatedly denied medical treatment in pre-trial detention. He had accused Russian officials of stealing the millions of tax dollars paid by his client. A Democratic aide said the bill has drawn bipartisan interest and lawmakers might get to it when they return to Washington after the November 2 congressional election for what is expected to be a final few weeks of work. "Nearly a year after Sergei's death, the leading figures in this scheme remain in power in Russia," said Cardin, who also chairs the human rights monitoring U.S. Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency. "If we expect any measure of justice in this case, we must act in the United States," said Cardin. "At the least, we can and should block these corrupt individuals from traveling and investing their ill-gotten money in our country."

  • Opening a Second Front

    The death in prison of Sergei Magnitsky, a young Russian lawyer, remains one of the darkest scandals in the blotchy history of Russia's criminal justice system, exemplifying a culture of impunity in which power and wealth are fungible, and those who get in the way get squashed. Mr Magnitsky died of untreated pancreatis in pre-trial detention. He hadaccused Russian officials of stealing millions of tax dollars paid by his client, Hermitage Capital Management. Energetic lobbying by the head of Hermitage, the American-born financier Bill Browder, now seems to be getting somewhere. Two senior American lawmakers, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (a Democrat from Maryland), who is Chairman of the congressional Helsinki Commission and James P. McGovern (a Democratic congressman from Massachussetts), who chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, have introduced laws that would prohibit some 60-odd Russian officials linked to his death from visiting the United States, and freeze any assets they hold under American jurisdiction. (The Russian officials concerned have either made no public comment, or deny all wrongdoing). Mr Cardin said: “Nearly a year after Sergei’s death, the leading figures in this scheme remain in power in Russia. It has become clear that if we expect any measure of justice in this case, we must act in the United States...At the least we can and should block these corrupt individuals from traveling and investing their ill-gotten money in our country.” Mr McGovern said: “I have introduced the ‘Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act of 2010’ in the House of Representatives as a direct consequence of the compelling testimony at a hearing on human rights in the Russian Federation in the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. The death of this courageous whistleblower in a Russian prison is the consequence of an abysmal prison system and corruption aimed at defrauding the Russian Treasury of billions. We know about Sergei Magnitsky, and we know about Mikhail Khodorkovsky, but how many more Magnitskys and Khodorkovskys are currently suffering in Russian prisons? My bill addresses the root causes of these severe human rights violations -- the Russian prison system and official corruption. We should not rest until justice is achieved in Sergei’s case, and the money is returned to its rightful owners -- the people of the Russian Federation."

  • Legal Hooliganism – Is the Yukos Show Trial Finally Over?

    In this briefing, which Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings presided over, the focus was the second Yukos trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. More specifically, the purpose of “Legal Hooliganism – Is the Yukos Show Trial Finally Over?” was to not only expose the injustice in the Khodorkovsky case, but also in the entire Russian judicial system. The trial against Khodorkovsky and oil company Yukos commenced in 2003. Many viewed such an effort as a politically motivated attack by the Kremlin. Eventually, before the time of the briefing, the case against Khodorkovsky had become a complete show trial in which the accusations against the defendant had become so absurd. The outcome and proceeding of this case, then, had implications not only for the fairness of the trial of Khodorkhovsky, but also for concerns for Russia as a society based on the rule of law.

  • Minority Political Participation in the Obama Era

    Representative Michael Honda introduced the briefing on behalf of Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, who called on strengthening work across borders to stem the growing tide of intolerance and to realize that there is much more to gain by involving minority communities in the political process than alienating them. He was joined by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who emphasized strengthening partnerships with minority counterparts in Europe and abroad. Gay McDougall brought her expertise to the discussion and emphasized the toxic role of the media with respect to the participation of minority politicians.  

  • Iraqis Face Threat

    The United States has a "moral obligation" to resettle tens of thousands of Iraqis who helped U.S. troops and civilian groups and who now face death threats from al Qaeda terrorists, members of Congress told Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. In letters to the two Cabinet members, the seven senators and 15 House members complained that the Obama administration is moving too slowly to grant visas to the doomed Iraqis and blamed bureaucrats for narrowly applying a law designed to relocate the Iraqis to the United States. They also warned Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Gates that time is running out, as the deadline for the end of U.S. combat operations looms at the end of August. The United States plans to draw down its 64,000 soldiers in Iraq to 50,000 and switch to a training and advisory role with the Iraqi army until a complete U.S. troop withdrawal by Dec. 31, 2011. "Resettlement to the United States could be the only safe option for thousands of our Iraqi employees," said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, who organized the letters with Co-chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat. "The United States has a moral obligation to stand by those Iraqis who have risked their lives and the lives of their families to stand by us in Iraq for the past seven years, and doing so is also in our strategic self interest," the letters said. "Providing support for our Iraqi allies will advance U.S. national security interests around the world, particularly in Afghanistan, by sending a message that foreign nationals who support our work abroad can expect some measure of protection." Al Qaeda and other terrorists have threatened to kill the Iraqis who aided the United States, denouncing them as traitors and collaborators. The members of Congress called for swifter processing of the 15,000 visas authorized under the Special Immigrant Visa Program, which has approved visas for only 2,145 Iraqis. They complained that U.S. consular officers are misinterpreting the program by considering only Iraqis who worked directly for the U.S. Embassy or for U.S. contractors and subcontractors and denying visas to Iraqis who worked for U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations. Besides Mr. Cardin and Mr. Hastings, the signatories of the letter included Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and assistant majority leader; Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. AFRICAN STAR The story of Africa is too often written in blood by tyrants who oppress their people while enriching themselves. However, one nation in southern Africa has been the exception for decades. Botswana is a peaceful, democratic nation, prosperous by African standards. One of Botswana's best leaders is coming to Washington to serve as a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Festus Mogae, president from 1998 to 2008, will study the way governments deal with AIDS, the deadly virus that ravaged the continent. "I look forward to interacting with knowledgeable people informed on issues in HIV/AIDS in Africa in the Wilson Center and around Washington," Mr. Mogae said last week after the Wilson Center announced his appointment. Mr. Mogae has been widely recognized for his efforts to combat AIDS and promote democracy. "We are delighted to welcome one of the world's most progressive leaders on the HIV/AIDS pandemic," said Steve McDonald, director of the Wilson Center's Africa program.

  • Copenhagen Anniversary Conference

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, Policy Advisor Representatives from a majority of the 56 OSCE participating States and several dozen non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gathered in Copenhagen on June 10-11 to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the 1990 Copenhagen Document and to assess implementation of key provisions of that landmark document. The anniversary conference, titled “20 years of the OSCE Copenhagen Document: Status and Future Perspectives,” was co-organized by the Kazakhstani OSCE Chairmanship and Denmark, and held at the Eigtveds Pakhus, Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Michael Haltzel led the U.S. delegation, which was joined by U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Ian Kelly and representatives from the OSCE Mission in Vienna, the State Department and the Helsinki Commission. Five substantive working sessions, reflecting some of the major themes of the groundbreaking Copenhagen Document, were held: Democratic processes – elections and human rights; Rule of Law; National Minorities; Freedom of Movement; and Measures to improve implementation of the human dimension commitments. Many speakers highlighted the historic importance of the Copenhagen Document, which offered a blueprint for pluralistic democratic development, rooted in the rule of law and protection of human rights, throughout the OSCE region – a revolutionary document at the time and one that remains highly relevant two decades later. The June 1990 Copenhagen Meeting came at a unique time in history when dramatic changes were taking place; the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent collapse of one-party regimes in Eastern Europe had taken place only months earlier. And the following year – 1991 -- witnessed the emergence of 15 independent states with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Truly, those were dynamic days during which sweeping new commitments -- which would have been impossible to garner consensus for years or even months prior -- received universal support. Indeed, it is questionable as to whether consensus to the Copenhagen agreement would be found today, given the democratic and human rights backsliding that has occurred in a number of participating States. The Copenhagen Document underlines the centrality of political pluralism, civil society and human rights as fundamental elements of functioning democracies. As Ambassador Max Kampelman, the head of the U.S. delegation to the 1990 conference summed it up, “In effect, the Copenhagen document represents the first formal proclamation, by the States themselves, of a Europe both whole and free.” It identified the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as one of the basic purposes of government and acknowledged that democracy is an inherent element of the rule of law. Among the achievements of the Copenhagen Document were the far-reaching commitments on democratic elections which laid the groundwork for the OSCE’s future activities with respect to election observation. Copenhagen also represented a significant step forward with respect to the protection of minorities, and for the first time there was a direct reference to Roma and to anti-Semitism. While participants at the anniversary meeting underscored the significant progress over the last 20 years, many also called for fuller compliance with the Copenhagen commitments, noting, for instance, backsliding in holding democratic elections in some participating States; suppression of civil society, including independent media, NGOs and human rights defenders; the deficit of impartial and independent justice; and the lack of separation of powers – especially the concentration of power in the executive. The last session of the conference discussed measures to improve implementation of human dimension commitments, including the prevention of human rights violations through the use of reporting before the violations occur; enhancement of standards and commitments; strengthened monitoring mechanisms, including a U.S. proposal to dispatch special representatives to investigate reports of egregious human rights violations and make corrective recommendations before the violations become entrenched; and improved cooperation with, and involvement of, civil society actors in advancing democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Ultimately, however, compliance with existing standards enshrined in the Copenhagen Document, the Helsinki Final Act and all other OSCE commitments remains the primary responsibility of the participating State.

  • No Way Home, No Way to Escape: The Plight of Iraqi Refugees and Our Iraqi Allies

    This hearing, chaired by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), focused on Iraqi nationals displaced by conflict. Commissioner Cardin asserted the continued need for action on this issue.  Witnesses from federal agencies and non-governmental organizations testified that many Iraqi refugees were having difficulty supporting themselves, as they were not allowed to work in their host countries.  Moreover, most felt that the current situation in Iraq remained too unstable for them to return.

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