May 20, 2020

Corruption: Why the Powerful Never See Inside of Prison

Trustworthy and indepth news stories are more important now than ever.
Support our newsroom by MAKING A CONTRIBUTION HERE

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, up to 25% of global procurement funding is lost to corruption. With billions of dollars flowing into developing countries to support their COVID-19 responses, there is an urgent need to ensure that the money goes where it is intended.

Kenyan activists take part in a protest against corruption in tha capital Nairobi on May 31, 2018. – Kenyan President vowed on May 30 that some $80 million (70 million euros) stolen from the national youth agency in the country’s latest corruption scandal would be recovered. (Photo by SIMON MAINA / AFP) (Photo credit should read SIMON MAINA/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – COVID-19 is a ticking time bomb in Africa. Some of the risks are widely documented. Health-care systems are weak and overburdened, with ten African countries reportedly having no ventilators at all. Food supplies are unstable, and have already suffered major disruptions. And over 18 million people are refugees or internally displaced, leaving them especially vulnerable. But another major obstacle to effective COVID-19 responses is being largely overlooked: widespread corruption.

The international community is stepping up to help Africa fight the pandemic. The International Monetary Fund has suspended 25 (mostly African) countries’ debt payments for the next six months. The World Bank Group is making available a package of up to $12 billion in immediate support to assist developing countries in coping with the outbreak. Billions of aid dollars will be allocated to Africa.

Yet, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, up to 25% of global procurement funding is lost to corruption. Such losses are prevalent in many African countries, where senior government officials and their international collaborators have used public policy and resources to enrich themselves.

Donated medicines intended for the poor have been stolen and resold for profit. Government procurement contracts have been manipulated and misused. Foreign-aid disbursements have been diverted to private accounts. In late March, a former health minister in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was sentenced to five years of forced labor for embezzling more than $400,000 from the DRC’s funds earmarked for responding to Ebola.

Most corrupt officials and business leaders, however, never see the inside of a prison cell. For them, stealing money meant for vulnerable populations is business as usual, and, given their powerful connections, punishment is often the furthest thing from their minds.

This may be all the more true during the COVID-19 crisis, because movement restrictions and office closures have hamstrung the anti-corruption work of oversight bodies, activists, and the press. If action is not taken soon, many African countries may face sharply higher death rates, not only from COVID-19, but also from inadequate economic support and social protections.

Avoiding this outcome hinges on the credible threat of punishment for anyone caught stealing funds or otherwise disrupting COVID-19 response efforts for their own gain. Fortunately, mechanisms for doling out such punishments already exist: an array of tried-and-true financial policies by governments, multilateral institutions, and banks around the world.

In the United States, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act gives the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) the authority to impose sanctions on anyone who engages in public-sector corruption. Stealing, diverting, or obstructing resources meant for the COVID-19 response would fall neatly into this category.

OFAC has a truly global reach: given the US dollar’s global primacy, the vast majority of international financial transactions touch the US financial system. As a result, OFAC can effectively cut off entities from the international financial system.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network – the Treasury Department bureau tasked with combating domestic and international money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financial crimes – also has a key role to play. FinCEN advisories give banks guidance on filing suspicious-activity reports, which financial intelligence units can use to pursue corruption investigations. During the COVID-19 crisis, FinCEN can issue an anti-money-laundering advisory, warning banks worldwide to strengthen due diligence on suspicious financial transactions related to emergency public-health responses.

Likewise, banks operating in Africa can independently enhance their risk-assessment frameworks and transaction screening, in order to detect suspicious activity in pandemic-related funding streams. Since banks already screen for financial crimes, they would merely have to broaden their focus to suspicious activities involving senior government officials, companies in public-health procurement, and the broader health sector.

The Egmont Group of global financial intelligence units, of which FinCEN is a member, can collaborate to investigate diversions of public-health funding by corrupt actors. Although siphoned money usually crosses borders, the Egmont Group’s information-sharing agreements help to overcome this hurdle, facilitating international investigations.

Meanwhile, governments and financial institutions should do more to support the African civil-society groups, responsible businesses, and concerned officials who raise red flags and blow whistles on corruption. The evidence that these actors collect will facilitate legal action against networks of corrupt officials and businesspeople.

These solutions are not just theoretical; they have been used in South Sudan and the DRC, with encouraging results. The Israeli diamond dealer Dan Gertler made millions looting the DRC’s natural resources thanks to deals with corrupt officials, and laundered the money through the international banking system. But – armed with investigative dossiers by The Sentry (of which I am a co-founder with George Clooney), reports by Global Witness, and the work of investigative journalists – the US imposed sanctions on Gertler and his global network.

with those anti-money-laundering measures – have helped to push warring parties toward peace.

During a pandemic, there is a temptation to focus solely on protecting public health and fostering economic recovery. But failure to continue – and even intensify – the fight against corruption could severely undermine those efforts. Only by implementing credible consequences for corrupt-related disruption of COVID-19 responses can we ensure that government officials and business elites respond to the urgent needs of people, rather than profiting from their misery.

John Prendergast is Co-Founder, with George Clooney, of The Sentry.

The text has been adapted from Project Syndicate website

We can't do quality journalism without your support

Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn't cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue are declining, The Chronicles remains committed to "Serving Your Right To Know The Truth". Stand with us as we document Rwanda's remarkable journey for you and the future generation. Do you value our journalism? We can't do it without you. Show us with your support by CONTRIBUTING HERE.
Email your news TIPS to or WhatsApp +250788351327.
You can also find us on Signal


  1. You are abⅼe tߋо taкe y᧐ur prize, howerver үou neeԀ to wait
    up tо 2 oг 3 dayѕ befогe iit wiⅼl reflect tо yⲟur bank account.
    The game also сomes wіtһ security features, ѕuch as
    otp. Alѕo, yoᥙ wwill be automatically log-ߋut from timme tо
    timе for security reasons. And before trying this game, maқe suгe you can discipline yourself.
    I ԝon aⅼmoѕt 500K аnd I temporarily sop playing.
    Besst оf luck to everyone!

  2. Hello! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website with us so I came to take a look.
    I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers!
    Terrific blog and terrific style and design.

  3. Greetings, I do think your web site could possibly be
    having browser compatibility problems. Whenever I take a look
    at your web site in Safari, it looks fine however, if opening in IE, it’s
    got some overlapping issues. I simply wanted
    to give you a quick heads up! Aside from that, wonderful site!

  4. Hey there just wanted to give you a quick heads up.

    The text in your content seem to be running off the
    screen in Firefox. I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with internet
    browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let
    you know. The design look great though! Hope you get the issue fixed soon. Kudos

  5. I’m impressed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog
    that’s both educative and engaging, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
    The problem is something too few folks are speaking intelligently about.

    I’m very happy that I came across this in my search for something regarding this.

  6. I’ve been surfing on-line more than three hours nowadays, but I
    by no means found any interesting article like yours.

    It is pretty worth sufficient for me. Personally, if all webmasters and bloggers made just right content as you did, the internet will likely be a lot more helpful than ever

  7. Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Thanks, However I am having troubles with your RSS. I don’t know the reason why I cannot subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting identical RSS problems? Anyone that knows the solution will you kindly respond? Thanx!!

  8. I’m truly grateful you shared this article; it was a fantastic read. It’s well-known that Filipinos are fond of online casino games. Right now, Casino Plus is a leading favorite in the Philippines, boasting live slots and other games like Jin Ji Bao Xi. Don’t miss out; join and grab your chance at big winnings!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *