A global treaty to fight corruption go into force in 90 days, empowering nations to prosecute officials accused of stealing public funds and to override bank secrecy laws to ensure stolen public money can be recovered.
Ecuador on Thursday became the 30th country to notify the United Nations that it had ratified the U.N. Convention Against Corruption, the number needed to put the document into effect. The treaty has been signed by 128 nations. The treaty covers a broad range of issues, including bribery by corporate bodies, embezzlement, fraud, theft and extortion. It also provides broader powers to fight money laundering.
“This dream has become a reality,” the executive director of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, said in inviting other countries to join the convention.
“As of today, countries can no longer hide behind banking secrecy. Until yesterday, there was no obligation for a repatriation of (stolen) assets,” he said at a news conference.
Officials in the past have given the example of over $9 million in bribes deposited by a former Mexican prosecutor in a U.S. bank. After six years of haggling, the United States turned over less than one-tenth of that amount to Mexico in 2003.
Costa said he had recently visited Nigeria and concluded that “of the several billions of dollars stolen over just a few years, especially by former President (Gen. Sani) Abacha, only a fraction can be found.”
He said stolen funds tended to be dispersed among yachts, airplanes and villas, as well as divided up among many bank accounts.
He conceded the United Nations could not act as an enforcer of the treaty, which instead provides countries with the means to pursue criminals.
Costa said it would be up to individual nations to decide whether to go after high-level criminals. The treaty allows the screening of officials through financial disclosures and checks on whether their wealth matches their incomes.
“It’s important not only because it implicates those involved but also it facilitates the recuperation of stolen money,” Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Antonio Parra said after a signing ceremony that brought the treaty into force.
Ecuador itself is known for corrupt politics. In August, the then-president of the state oil company, Petroecuador, Carlos Pareja, said he had discovered more than 1,000 cases of corruption involving contracts under deposed President Lucio Gutierrez.
The ratification of the convention comes a week after investigators criticized alleged corruption within the United Nations, accusing officials of mismanaging the oil-for-food program in Iraq.
Officials started work on the treaty in 2001, and the first countries signed on in Merida, Mexico, in 2003.
Michelle Faul, Washington Post, September 15, 2005
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