6 May 2004
04 May 2004
U.S. Attorney General Speaks at OAS
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft says the fight against corruption in government is "critical" to realizing the shared interests of the countries in the Western Hemisphere.
Speaking April 29 at the Organization of American States (OAS), Ashcroft said corruption in government undermines the goals of peace-loving and democratic nations, jeopardizes free markets and sustainable development, provides sanctuary to the forces of terror, and supports the illicit activities of international and domestic terrorists.
In short, corruption "saps the legitimacy of democratic governments and can, in its extreme forms, threaten democracy itself," Ashcroft said at the OAS meeting of the Ministers of Justice and Attorneys General of the Americas.
Ashcroft said World Bank studies estimate that the negative effects of corruption can reduce a country's economic growth rate by as much as a full percentage point each year.
Recognizing the danger, the international community is focused on the need to address the problem of official corruption, and the OAS has been a leader in this regard, said Ashcroft.
He pointed to the OAS Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, which he described as the first "broad-based multilateral agreement" focused on the problem. But he said a few OAS member states still are not party to that convention, and "to be successful in our fight against corruption, full hemispheric cooperation is needed and necessary."
Ashcroft said a roadmap for action against official corruption was laid out in January at the Special Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. The "Declaration of Nuevo Leon," he said, proposed a number of steps to combat corruption, including calling upon the countries of the region to deny safe haven to corrupt officials and those who bribe them.
The attorney general said that "as long as corrupt officials and those who facilitate their corruption are able to enjoy safe haven, there will be no shortage of those willing to rob the citizenry and flout the rule of law."
Ashcroft said that by combating official corruption, "we restore confidence in democracy and the rule of law. We strengthen open trade and investment that drive the world economy. We ensure that donor and government resources benefit all citizens, not a select few. When these conditions are secured, they combine to create faith in the institutions of a civil society."
Following is the text of Ashcroft's remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
U.S. Presentation on Combating Corruption
Organization of American States
April 29, 2004
Thank you to the Organization of American States for bringing us together to discuss the critical security issues that affect each of our nations and, more broadly, our hemisphere.
I know that you have spent time here discussing a number of issues, including our shared, ongoing war against the terrorist threat. Thanks to the unprecedented level of cooperation and coordination among our nations, this is a fight we are winning.
But challenges and threats to our economy and security remain. One of them, corruption in government, intersects both our security and economic concerns. It is a threat that has commanded my attention since my first days of service as Attorney General.
The 20th Century taught us that free people operating in free markets are the greatest force man has ever known for overcoming poverty and creating opportunity. The success of this system, though, depends on a marketplace of integrity. Where such a marketplace does not exist, the outcome is tragic.
Last December, at the signing of the U.N. anti-corruption convention in Merida, Mexico, I heard Kenya's minister of justice, the Honorable Ki Raitu Murungi, detail the challenge his country faces, quote, "[Corruption] has killed our children. It has destroyed our society. It is the fundamental cause of our high levels of poverty, unemployment and social backwardness. For us in Kenya, the fight against corruption is a matter of life and death."
Kenya's fight is our fight as well. For our hemisphere, the fight against corruption is critical to realizing our shared interests. Corruption undermines the goals of peace-loving and democratic nations. It jeopardizes free markets and sustainable development. It provides sanctuary to the forces of terror. It facilitates the illicit activities of international and domestic criminals. It saps the legitimacy of democratic governments and can, in its extreme forms, threaten democracy itself.
And, as Attorney General Macedo mentioned yesterday, corruption is also a tax on those citizens who can least afford to pay. It provides benefits to the crooked by channeling money from projects for better roads and cleaner water into the pockets of cronies.
When governments make decisions that favor the connected, rather than favor the citizenry, freedom is stymied. When corruption intrudes, the invisible hand that guides the market is replaced by a greased palm.
No society is free from corruption. For example, in 2002, the United States Justice Department dealt with more than 1,000 federal prosecutions of corrupt officials on the federal, state and local levels.
World Bank studies estimate that negative effects of corruption can reduce a country's economic growth rate by as much as a full percentage point each year.
Overall, the World Bank estimates that the cost of corruption represents about seven percent of the annual world economy, roughly 2.3 trillion dollars. This is a staggering amount ... a figure that is equal to the entire federal budget of the United States government [2.2 trillion dollars].
Think of the jobs, the infrastructure, and the educational systems that 2.3 trillion dollars could provide if it were redirected from the personal enrichment of the corrupt to the service of the people. Think of the rising tide of trust and productivity that would result ... a tide that would lift all citizens.
Ten years ago, corruption was a topic that governments avoided in international discourse. Bribery was generally considered to be a domestic issue, simply a part of doing business. In Germany, for example, illicit payoffs overseas were allowable business expenses on their corporate tax returns.
PERO NO MAS. Today, the international community is focused on the need to address the problem of official corruption, and the OAS has been a leader in this regard.
We have reached a global consensus that corruption is a blight that damages economic development, the rule of law, and democracy. Now, we find ourselves at a transformative moment. As law enforcement officials whose functions are critical to combating corruption, we must take the momentum created by the current consensus and convert it into concrete action.
A roadmap for action was laid out for us in January at the Special Summit of the Americas, hosted by Mexican President Vicente Fox, in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico.
Our task as principal justice officials of this hemisphere is to implement the "Declaration of Nuevo Leon" in specific and effective ways. Nuevo Leon addresses three key components for combating corruption.
First, Nuevo Leon asks us to adhere to international anti-corruption instruments. OAS Member States should be proud of our hemispheric convention, the first broad-based multilateral agreement focused on the fight against corruption. However, we must strengthen the mechanism for evaluating compliance with the OAS Convention.
There are still a very few OAS Member States that are not party to the OAS Convention. To be successful in our fight against corruption, full, hemispheric cooperation is needed and necessary.
The same can be said for the broader U.N. Convention. For many of us, including the United States, the process of internal review of the Convention prior to ratification is ongoing. Nonetheless, we should not wait for the U.N. Convention to enter into force to begin implementing its terms. Even prior to ratification, we should implement its obligations to the fullest extent possible, particularly those on asset recovery.
Second, Nuevo Leon calls upon us to deny safe haven to corrupt officials and those who bribe them. As long as corrupt officials and those who facilitate their corruption are able to enjoy safe haven, there will be no shortage of those willing to rob the citizenry and flout the rule of law.
There are important steps we can take to implement this commitment:
-- First, within the next year, we should all ensure that we adopt legal
measures to deny entry to corrupt officials and to those who bribe them.
-- Second, all OAS Member States should now, and without delay, become Party to the 1992 Inter-American Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, and its optional protocol. This will help ensure that evidence related to corrupt officials is gathered irrespective of its location. Less than half of the OAS Member States are currently party to these important instruments.
-- And third, to ensure that corrupt officials do not avoid justice, we must enhance our abilities to extradite fugitives by reducing the exceptions to extradition.
Nuevo Leon places equal importance on denying safe haven to corrupt officials and denying safe haven to their illicitly acquired assets. The victims of corruption should not be deprived of the funds needed to improve their societies. Asset recovery is the final critical component set forth by Nuevo Leon.
As a banking center, the United States has had much experience with foreign, corrupt officials seeking to deposit their illicit gains on our shores. We are prepared to do our part to help the countries whose assets have been stolen.
For example, the United States recently agreed to transfer more than $20 million to the Government of Peru. These funds were derived from corrupt acts of presidential advisor Vladimir Montesinos and his associates during the Fujimori Government, and were seized and forfeited by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The asset return agreement we reached with Peru requires transparency in how the repatriated funds are spent, and that funding of further anti-corruption programs be given high priority. This is an investment in the future and an investment in democracy. The better financed a country's anti-corruption infrastructure is, the stronger its ability to safeguard the public trust in government to provide for the public good -- stronger schools, cleaner water, and better roads.
The standard we must apply is most succinctly set forth in the asset recovery provisions of the recent U.N. Convention Against Corruption. That agreement pledges Parties to assist each other in the return of assets stolen by corrupt officials.
However, that Convention may take several years to enter into force. While we move forward with our ratification processes, we should ensure that in the interim the following steps are taken:
-- Each Member State must establish the legal ability to return looted funds
to countries from which they were taken.
-- In order to make effective requests for recovery of corruption proceeds, each Member State should establish specialized units with experience in financial investigations, preparation of mutual legal assistance requests, and the seizure, freezing and confiscation of assets.
-- In order to assist other countries in recovering such assets, each Member State should ensure that it has sufficient manpower and financial and other resources to provide substantial assistance to a State that has been the victim of grand corruption.
-- States that do not currently have the ability to confiscate assets in the absence of a criminal conviction should seriously reconsider their position. We cannot allow corrupt officials to profit from their abilities to remain at large, or where death or incapacity intervenes to prevent criminal prosecution.
We, as the chief law enforcement officials, can show leadership by implementing the commitments to combat corruption made by our heads of State in Nuevo Leon. The proposals I have made are examples of practical ways in which we can do so. I urge you to consider these proposals seriously when formulating the conclusions of this meeting.
By combating corruption, we restore confidence in democracy and the rule of law. We strengthen open trade and investment that drive the world economy. We ensure that donor and government resources benefit all citizens, not a select few. When these conditions are secured, they combine to create faith in the institutions of a civil society.
The Organization of American States has shown leadership in fighting corruption. We must continue to do so.
For with each word of leadership, we send the unmistakable message that government will not be sold to the highest bidder.
With each example of courage, we send the message that the poor will not be held hostage by the greedy and corrupt.
And with each act of justice, we send the message that citizens -- all citizens -- will not be denied the opportunity to achieve a better, more prosperous life in a hemisphere dedicated to freedom.
I understand that tomorrow you will visit the Department of Justice. When I returned from a trip last night, I learned you had been invited for tea. I told my staff, "Look, I am not the British High Commissioner for Justice. We live in the Americas." So I would like to personally invite you to the Department of Justice for a good, strong, cup of coffee produced here in the Americas.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)