Pope Francis wrapped up a week-long visit to Latin America on Sunday in this Andean nation warning that a series of explosive corruption scandals that have tarnished current and former presidents is rotting political systems and hurting democracy across the region, The Wall Street Journal reports:
In his speech, Pope Francis referred to Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht SA, which admitted in a settlement with U.S. and Brazilian authorities in December 2016 that it had paid nearly $800 million in bribes across Latin America to win public works contracts. In Peru, the company acknowledged to paying $29 million from 2005 to 2014.
“We have a problem of a political crisis not only in Peru but in all of Latin America,” Pope Francis said in a televised meeting with bishops in Peru’s coastal capital. “Today, a large part of Latin America suffers a large decay in its politics.”
Liberians recently propelled George Weah, a former soccer star, to the presidency, but as he is sworn in on Monday to replace Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (right), he will inherit the problem that stymied her progress against corruption: a political system based on coercion and bribery, notes Benjamin Spatz, a scholar at the United States Institute of Peace, who served on the United Nations Panel of Experts on Liberia in 2012–15.
The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, which was set up by the Sirleaf administration, has opened 21 investigations, but only a handful of relatively low-level cases have been prosecuted so far. Ms. Sirleaf herself appointed three sons to key government positions; she maintains they were qualified, but the perception of nepotism has stuck.
Ms. Sirleaf defended her record in an interview with Foreign Policy a few months ago, saying that she had “underestimated the cultural roots of corruption.” “I don’t think people understand the awesomeness of the destruction of this country — its institutions, its infrastructure, its law, its morals.”
In “Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite,” two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Jake Bernstein shows that almost two decades of governmental efforts to make the global financial system more transparent have yielded scant results, notes Moises Naim, a distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of “The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be” and “Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy.”
Bernstein, an experienced journalist, was a senior member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) team that broke the Panama Papers story, which in 2017 won the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting. But many questions linger, Naim [a former National Endowment for Democracy board member] writes for The Washington Post:
What are we to make of the fact that the most important disruption to the secrecy world was caused not by the substantial and long-term efforts of governments but by John Doe, the anonymous person who leaked the Panama Papers? What are the larger implications of the fact that one of the leading dwellers of the secrecy world was a giant, but largely unknown and poorly regulated Panamanian law firm? And the fact that the organization leading the global investigation was not one of the world’s media powerhouses, but instead a small nongovernmental organization that despite its meager financial resources deployed what probably was one of the largest journalistic projects ever undertaken? RTWT
Kleptocracy ruled by an autocrat
When the president of Kazakhstan was hosted at the White House, Nursultan Nazarbayev looked like any other visiting world leader. But Nazarbayev is not like most of the world leaders who visit Washington, CNBC reports:
Nazarbayev is known as an autocrat, who uses sham elections to extend his nearly three decades in power. In 2015, for instance, he was “re-elected” with nearly 98 percent of the vote. Nazarbayev is also fabulously wealthy in a country where per capita GDP is just over $8,000 a year. In 2013, he reportedly paid rapper Kanye West $3 million to perform at his grandson’s wedding.
“Kazakhstan is a country where there’s no open political system,” said Paul Stronski, former director for Russia and Central Asia on the U.S. National Security Council under President Barack Obama. “You have accusations of torture, and very bad clampdowns on independent religious thought.”
Christopher Walker and Melissa Aten ponder the problem of the melding of authoritarian regimes and transnational corruption. Oliver Bullough looks at offshore finance and its corrosive effects on global accountability. And Miriam Lanskoy and Dylan Myles-Primakoff zero in on Putin’s regime, where oligarchic crony capitalism and dictatorship have fused to devastating effect.