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Dispatch from the Wittgenstein Villa

I write from the International Anti-Corruption Academy conference in Vienna, Austria, where many speakers have remarked how much the world has changed in the past few years.

I agree — but I go back much further.

Looking at the conference room of  thirty students and instructors, I see how times have changed for the better. There are many women now in the compliance profession — investigators,  prosecutors, accountants, law firm partners and IT experts from places such as China, Peru, Indonesia, and Australia. Among the men are compliance officers from the top multinationals and professionals from unexpected places like Nigeria, South Africa, and the Pacific Islands, as well as from Germany, Belgium, Greece, England and Poland.

We’re talking about treaties, laws and enforcement methods that are actually in force not just hoped for. We are of a common mind: a global, diverse, expanding, hopeful compliance community drawn together under a United Nations affiliate at a cross roads of Europe.

I read from the IACA guide that we are in the Wittgenstein Villa, an estate built by a Jewish Austrian family over 200 years old but lost to the Nazi regime when it conquered Austria at the outset of World War II. They turned the villa into a Wehrmacht Army base and confiscated the family assets.

In 1938-1945, if we had been standing in this villa discussing issues and assembling to make independent plans, all of us would  have been executed for crimes under the Nazi legal code. According to the scholars of the Austrian Resistance Documentation Center and at the concentration camp Mauthausen Memorial, the Gestapo could arrest you and send you without trial, for torture and execution for any of the following crimes: holding an independent political opinion, criticizing any official, not supporting a Nazi party member and “being” a Jew (including children), a Gay person, a Roma, or a non-collaborating Catholic.

Yes the world has changed. The Wittgenstein Villa now houses the IACA and we are assembled here in 2014. Making plans. Speaking out. Seeking the common global good by fighting corruption. Trying to draw the world together, not divide it.


Michael Scher is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog. He has over three decades of experience as a senior compliance officer and attorney for international transactions. He is affiliated with ethiXbase, the owner of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.

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