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Harry Cassin
Publisher and Editor

Andy Spalding
Senior Editor

Jessica Tillipman
Senior Editor

Bill Steinman
Senior Editor

Richard L. Cassin
Editor at Large

Elizabeth K. Spahn
Editor Emeritus

Cody Worthington
Contributing Editor

Julie DiMauro
Contributing Editor

Thomas Fox
Contributing Editor

Marc Alain Bohn
Contributing Editor

Bill Waite
Contributing Editor

Shruti J. Shah
Contributing Editor

Russell A. Stamets
Contributing Editor

Richard Bistrong
Contributing Editor

Eric Carlson
Contributing Editor

Accountability, not transparency, should be the anti-corruption endgame strategy

Since the onset of Russia’s War in Ukraine, the United States and European Union have attempted to apply economic pressure on both the Russian economy and Russian oligarchs. Unfortunately, Russian oligarch assets abroad are not exactly transparent, making serving such justice a formidable task. More than three months later, it is still not apparent how successful such measures have been or will ever be. This challenge solidifies the importance of global transparency efforts, but it also raises a demand to develop the anti-corruption strategy further to include accountability and public engagement.

If progress is made, it is unclear how much general media attention will be given to ensure widespread knowledge of its progress outside of the anti-corruption professional community. Based on a Google Trends history, global web searches for the term “oligarch” drastically increased after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, peaking one week later on March 3, 2022.



However, after just one week, the interest dropped, and once again, there is barely any interest based on web searches alone. Without sustained public interest, there is little incentive to report on progress. This feeds into a negatively reinforcing cycle because lack of access to progress on holding people accountable also discourages the public from believing that anti-corruption efforts have a tangible impact.

It feels like we are encroaching on a culture of resignation and apathy, which complicates anti-corruption work. With each new “bombshell” (like the Panama or Pandora Papers) or fleeting prioritization of holding people accountable without readily available statistics on its successes, we are reminded that corruption is still deeply rooted in society. While keeping investigations or progress under wraps makes sense to an extent, the sheer lack of reporting of wins that hold people accountable creates an unintentional perception: even with revelations, people with power will likely remain unscathed.

If we want to ensure that future generations continue to pursue anti-corruption efforts, or at least believe in the institutions that do, organizations must go further than promoting transparency and implement wide-reaching communication strategies of their results to hold people accountable.

To combat this perception that accountability efforts have succeeded in many ways, organizations in the anti-corruption space can start by clarifying the tangible results of investigations that followed recent revelations of global corruption. For example, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, more than $1 billion of revenue has been recovered as a result of investigations into the Panama Papers released in 2016. Similarly, revenue recovery efforts are already underway in response to the 2021 Pandora Papers in some countries, including Pakistan and India.

In addition, anti-corruption professionals and organizations should have a clear plan for circulating accountability successes to complement the various transparency initiatives. For example, one of the recent initiatives to counteract money-laundering and corruption is pursuing transparency via Ultimate Beneficial Ownership (UBO) Registries. This differs from whistleblowing initiatives by dispersing individual risk of speaking up because the goal is for every company to be registered, and the information is open to the public to use and make decisions. The requirement to be transparent intends to act as a deterrent.

However, knowledge of UBO Registries (its existence and how to use it to ensure accountability) is not widespread outside of those working in the anti-corruption field or pursuing studies in international development and relations fields. Simple searches on the internet to find concrete examples of tangible action that has been taken as a result of information in the UBO Registries yield little to no results.

For every anecdote about a success story, there is at least one anecdote of journalists or other individuals persecuted for calling attention to corruption or money laundering. In this way, UBO Registry adoption can ultimately face the same issue that plagues whistleblowing: individuals who use it to expose corruption are in harm’s way without institutional support or widespread usage.

To combat this, it is imperative that circles of anti-corruption professionals and organizations, including governments and multilateral organizations such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, make a conscious effort to disseminate information on the progress of accountability to individuals at all levels of society. Widespread reporting on the effect sanctions have on Kremlin-linked oligarchs could be a powerful step in encouraging public engagement and accountability.

Widespread reporting on the effect sanctions have on Kremlin-linked oligarchs could be a powerful step in encouraging public engagement and accountability. Without widespread communication or global support, individual journalists and activists doing anti-corruption work continue to put their lives at risk because they are more easily targeted. If people continue to risk their lives or livelihoods, they need to know that perpetrators will be held accountable. Until that happens, transparency will just be a new and unimproved status quo.

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