South Africa’s debilitating experience of State Capture, coupled with ongoing and ubiquitous corruption, should put the country at the head of the queue to establish a new International Anti-Corruption Court (IACC).
Let’s hope therefore that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government monitors a key meeting beginning on 27 August in Hamburg, Germany, when a group of eminent jurists and lawyers will start drafting a treaty.
The proposal is backed by influential South Africans including Judge Richard Goldstone; Zondo Commission counsel Paul Pretorius; Paul Hoffman, director of the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa, and former Presidency staffer, Koogan Pillay.
The problem is global and the need is urgent.
Money laundering is causing a staggering $1.6-trillion in global losses annually, with more than $7-trillion in private wealth held in secretive offshore accounts – the equivalent of 10% of global gross domestic product: enough to transform the lives of billions of poverty-stricken, hungry people.
Developing countries have been the main victims, in some cases sparking state failure.
As Navi Pillay, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, ominously warned in 2013: “Corruption kills.”
Kleptocracies have ravaged their populations for far too long, with corrupt leaders looting public funds for personal gain and thrusting their people deeper into poverty.
And they have done so with the help of global corporates and banks and many household names, most based in New York and London.
I have detailed in the British House of Lords how Bain & Co, McKinsey, KPMG, HSBC, Standard Chartered and Baroda Bank actively aided and abetted the looters in South Africa.
Dubai and Hong Kong especially are notorious money laundering centres.
South Africa’s infamous “State Capture” decade under former president Jacob Zuma triggered a collapse in the country’s GDP, estimated at fully one-fifth, devastated public services and led to paralysing daily electricity cuts and water supply contamination.
The ANC’s RET faction, joined by the EFF, wants to resurrect all that if they can grab power.
Yet Zuma’s business buddies, the Gupta brothers, have escaped any retribution – the billions of rand they looted from SA taxpayers safely ensconced in shell companies and secret offshore accounts, aided and abetted by global banks who moved it from Johannesburg through mainly Dubai and Hong Kong.
In Angola, billions of US dollars were stolen by former president José Eduardo dos Santos, his daughter Isobel dos Santos, and their cronies, with dire results – 53% of Angolans now live on less than $2.15 per day while their former leaders continue lavishly spending Angola’s public funds they have laundered abroad.
Why a corruption court?
But why the need for a new court when we already have the International Criminal Court? Because the ICC’s remit is atrocity crimes like genocide and war. It cannot prosecute individuals for corruption.
Amending its foundational Rome Statute to include crimes of corruption would be extremely difficult, requiring ratification by the vast majority of its 123 member states – some led by the very kleptocrats who should be prosecuted.
But the core crimes in the new IACC’s jurisdiction would not require time-consuming fresh examination, because the UN Convention Against Corruption already obliges its 189 parties to criminalise bribery, embezzlement, money laundering and obstruction of justice.
However, it has been powerless in the face of global financial crime, and in many nations, kleptocrats abuse their power to prevent enforcement.
The IACC would target high-level officials, bribers and money launderers who commit a part of their crimes within member states.
Entrenched kleptocracies (Russia, for example) may resist joining the new court, but kleptocrats frequently conceal their illicit assets in countries like the UK or other jurisdictions that should sign up to the IACC.
That would enable the IACC to freeze and recover stolen assets, even where kleptocrats evade arrest by staying in their home countries or depositing their illicit gains in safe havens.
Moreover, if they travel to an IACC member state or a country with an extradition treaty, they face the risk of arrest, trial and imprisonment. Although never ideal, trials in absentia could also be considered.
So far, more than 300 prominent figures, including more than 50 former presidents and prime ministers, and more than 30 Nobel laureates, have endorsed the idea. Boston-based former US federal prosecutor Judge Mark Wolf has been a vocal supporter.
Integrity Initiatives International has coordinated a global network of civil society organisations championing an IACC, resulting in commitments from countries like Canada, Ecuador, Moldova, the Netherlands and Nigeria.
London and UK overseas territories – from the Caribbean to Gibraltar – are infamous money laundering hotspots, and the British government should lead the way in gathering global support for the IACC.
Encouragingly, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, recently made a speech endorsing it.
Much more also needs to be done to regulate lawyers, bankers, real estate agents, accountants and financial advisers who aided South Africa’s State Capture criminals and do so daily across the world, earning fat fees.
From Pretoria to London, from Washington DC to Beijing, from Delhi to Paris, governments all say they abhor corruption. Yet they do next to nothing about it.
They must be pressed hard to back an International Anti-Corruption Court right now. DM