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Graft is a gateway to crime and poverty

Laurence Cockcroft, author of ‘Global Corruption: Money, Power, and Ethics in the Modern World’Laurence Cockcroft is the author of the powerful new book Global Corruption: Money, Power, and Ethics in the Modern World.

In our review, we said Cockcroft, an economist and founding member of Transparency International, ‘leaves math and wonkiness behind (no small feat for an economist) and delivers a great narrative.’

He recently answered some questions for us.

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Why has it taken so long to recognize corruption as a ‘gateway crime,’ notably in relation to human trafficking, terrorism, environmental degradation and nuclear proliferation ?

I think first of all because there has been a consistent reluctance to recognize corruption as a key factor in triggering more recognizable criminal acts, largely because of the position which key players have held in domestic or international politics. If in the 60s or 70s a leader such as Andreotti or Garcia was described as ‘corrupt’ that seemed kind of OK provided one did not explore the knock-on effects of the corruption. Of course this approach fitted well with the general cold war syndrome of ‘he’s a bastard but our bastard.’ 

Secondly, again often for reasons of political convenience, organized crime has generally been regarded as a separate phenomenon to ‘corruption’, particularly in the political sphere. This is why in my book I describe the clarity and courage which Bobby Kennedy displayed in attacking organized crime in the U.S., and explicitly highlighting its interface with mainstream politics.

In relation to the specific areas you highlight:

Human trafficking: this has escalated on a huge scale in the last twenty years as intermediaries have found ways to exploit the ease with which funds can be moved around the global economy, even if the physical trafficking has remained largely clandestine. It would be impossible for this trade to have reach c $30 billion per year without the active connivance of politicians in places such as Fujian in China and Colombia.

Terrorism: the scale and widespread nature of terrorist attacks in the last fifteen years has created  the necessity to look into the means which facilitated such attacks more diligently. When, in the U.K., IRA  and Protestant vigilante terrorism was at its peak there was little public exploration of the corruption (such as racketeering in the streets of Belfast) which facilitated arms purchases by both sides. However, in India the links between the terrorist group responsible for the major terrorist attacks in Mumbai (including that of 2011) have been convincingly linked to mafia groups in the city.

Environmental destruction: much of the protest against environmental destruction originated in the 70s and 80s with civil society groups who were primarily concerned with the impact of environmental destruction as much as its cause. As the scale of the problem escalated it became essential to look into causality too — and so groups such as Global Witness became as much if not more concerned with the corruption underlying environmental destruction as  with the process itself. In the case of logging and illegal deforestation the interface with political corruption, in countries such as Cambodia and Cameroun, became too overwhelming to ignore.

Nuclear proliferation: having been regarded in international negotiations as an issue between governments, the publicized facts surrounding the AQ Khan case, the likely covert dissemination of nuclear missiles after the collapse of the Soviet Union by intermediaries operating illegally, and the probably means by which North Korea acquired its nuclear kit, has laid bare the ways in which corruption can foster this kind of proliferation.

In each of  the cases the scale of the problems which are triggered by corruption in the first place has made the relationship increasingly clear, though in terms of public perception there is still a long way to go.

What impact is the idea of graft as a ‘gateway crime’ having on global anti corruption enforcement and the anti-corruption  movement?

In relation to anti corruption enforcement, it has made the various national investigatory and prosecutorial agencies more aware of the linkages we have discussed. For example, money laundering has ceased to be seen as an activity mainly associated with the mafia and recognized as a process undertaken by many different kinds of players — for example international companies buying illegally mined minerals or illegally cut timber. This means that, in turn, the vehicles and locations used to launder such funds are coming under increasing scrutiny – at the level of both the G8 and the G 20.

The anti-corruption movement is increasingly recognizing that these links are an appropriate means to raising awareness of the dangers of corruption. The work of the UNCAC coalition is a good example of this, as its 400 or so members seek to lobby the G20 Working Group on corruption effectively.

What is the answer to the argument that corruption is inevitable in some contexts and the only way to do business?

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that when companies lay their way of doing business on the table the response from the business partner or host country is accepting. In the climate created by the OECD Anti Bribery Convention, and to some extent by UNCAC, it is feasible for companies to say they are bound by legislation in their home country to comply with the principles of non bribery. In  various cases — such as India and Brazil — what was once the norm is clearly becoming the object of public outcry — creating both reputational and legal risks for investing and trading companies from abroad. There are obviously exceptions to this, and companies that which to sustain a reputation for trading cleanly may have to avoid those countries which represent a decreasing share of the global market.

Is there a link between the fight against global poverty and larger scale corruption?

Indices produced by TI and others, showing that at least half the countries of the world (including India and China) suffer from endemic corruption suggest that at least four billion people face some form of corruption directly or indirectly in their daily lives. This frequently extends to a failure of access to water, health services and education except on exploitative terms. While this is sometimes the result of the exploitation at an individual level it is often the result of an organized scam from which powerful players benefit. The climate created by ‘Grand Corruption’ in elite circles is frequently the fact determining whether corruption at this lower level is prevalent.


Global Corruption: Money, Power, and Ethics in the Modern World is available from Amazon here and from the publisher here.

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