Corrupt and Illicit: Solidifying the Linkage

September 15th, 2010

Does legal corruption exist? Unfortunately yes, and it poses a major challenge to the anti-corruption fight. Friendship is hardly banned by law, but friendship between political leaders and business people can hurt credibility or legitimacy of the decisions of the former, when the latter make them friendly gifts or donations.


The claim for transparency is also a claim for true accountability of the decision makers, whether in the political or in the business world. Informal and opaque networks often advance their financial interests by using the discrepancy between what is formally condemned by law and what would shock every honest citizen if he or she was to find it in the press.

Networks of nice and supposedly honest people created the financial bubble that exploded in 2008, because all of them wanted to be wealthier and as a result, none of them was adequately assessing risks or asking for their transparent disclosure. Most of those people had done nothing illicit, but they were contributing to a highly corrupt economy, an economy which is still to a large extent ours in spite of all G20 commitments.

Financial flows largely ignore the borders and a vast amount of flowing money derives from corrupt practices, practices which promote private benefit to the detriment of public good. The financial planet is largely unified, but the legal planet is not, most of the law still being domestic. Kant has been one of the first modern philosophers to establish the theoretical foundations of any fight against theft, crime or corruption. Private practices which hurt public good violate Kant’s categorical imperative because they cannot become universal practices. But in a world still divided into many domestic laws, who decide what universal practices should be? There are attempts at a universal law, and those are the international conventions, starting with the one probably of greater importance to us, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).

It may be that we need other or additional conventions to adequately fight against corruption, but we surely have to address the striking contradiction between the vast, almost universal, ratification of the UNCAC and, to say the least, its uneven implementation. Many countries are preaching a universal law but their practices as individual countries, and the practices they tolerate, encourage or protect among a certain number of their individual citizens, directly contradict this universal law. We are sometimes challenged by people who question the legitimacy of civil society or its very existence, as opposed to governments or parliaments. As long as a universal law will be formally endorsed and concretely denied by the domestic political bodies, there will be an immense space for civil society and the organizations trying to structure it.

The linkage between corrupt and illicit is widely acknowledged at the level of the universal law. If that law, namely the UNCAC, was effectively enforced everywhere, dubious friendship would for sure diminish between political leaders and business people. The challenge for us is to help universalize the definition of the licit and its practical consequences, at least in the areas in which a universal principle has to be enforced, and that is the case of the fight against illicit financial flows.

Dr. Valérian  will chair a panel under the same title, “Corrupt and Illicit: Solidifying the Linkage,” at the Task Force’s 2010 annual conference in Bergen, Norway, September 28-29.  Visit our conference site for more information.

Written by François Valérian

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