Unlocking Swiss secrets

Secrecy is deeply embedded in Swiss political, bureaucratic and business culture. It’s of course not surprising that the world’s banking capital puts a premium on discretion and confidentiality. Switzerland is still a preferred location for companies and rich individuals around the world because it offers tax and other advantages, including political stability and a low level of transparency. Many journalists probing business, corruption, and even organized crime are bound to encounter either a Swiss bank account or a Swiss company in the course of their reporting. And getting information on them is not going to be easy.

But even in Switzerland, the walls of secrecy are slowly being breached. Banking secrecy there is no longer as ironclad as it used to be, after the U.S. began aggressively forcing Swiss banks to open their records as part of an effort to collect taxes from American citizens stashing their wealth overseas. Read the rest of this entry »

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How to investigate corruption in the courts 2

Just how prevalent is corruption in the courts? The closest approximation we can get is from a 2007 global survey by Transparency International. It found that 20% of African respondents who had interacted with the judiciary the previous year said they paid a bribe. For Latin America, the figure was 18%, and Asia, 15%.

These are rough estimates, but surveys are a safe and anonymous way to get revealing information about bribery in the judiciary. After all, few people openly admit to bribing judges. (A recent exception was Pakistan’s top real-estate developer, Malik Riaz Hussein. This past week, he provided journalists with evidence that, in order to curry favor with the Supreme Court, he had paid for lavish London vacations taken by the son of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Hussein’s admission raised eyebrows in Pakistan: the charges, some journalists say, are part of a plot to discredit the independent-minded chief magistrate.)

Unlike the statements of self-confessed bribers, surveys have been less contentious. In Russia, the independent INDEM Foundation conducts annual surveys of “everyday corruption.” The 2010 survey found that Russians were most likely to pay small bribes to traffic policemen and to facilitate entry in publicly funded kindergartens and colleges. Bribes paid to courthouses were lower down the list, with the average bribe at less than $400. Read the rest of this entry »


How to investigate corruption in the courts 1

Damning photo: Tun Eussof Chin, then chief justice of the Malaysian Supreme Court (second from left), and his wife were photographed vacationing in a New Zealand ski resort with a prominent lawyer who had a case pending in his court. (From Malaysiakini)

This week,  scandals involving high court judges in the Philipppines and Brazil were in the international spotlight. On Tuesday, Renato Corona, the chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court, was removed from office after having been found guilty by the Senate of failure to disclose millions of dollars in his bank accounts.

On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that high court judges in Brazil were alleged to have taken overseas trips on private planes arranged by opposition senator Demostenes Torres. The senator is said to be a “gopher” for Carlinhos Cachoeira, a powerful businessman and illegal gambling operator who is known as Brazil’s Michael Corleone. Read the rest of this entry »