Tag Archives: Corruption

Zimbabwe – More than 100 days into the new administration, little has changed

 

It has been 123 days since Zimbabweans went to the polls, in an election that was intended to usher in a new era for the troubled Southern African nation. But the fatal shooting of seven civilians by soldiers in the full view of the global media was an important reminder that the new administration looked much like the old. Although he positioned himself as a reformer, little appears to have changed in Mnangagwa’s Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa came in on a wave of popular support after he and his military backers ousted former President Robert Mugabe in a coup that broke the continent’s longest coup-free stretch since the late 1950s. He promised accountable governance, a return to the rule of law and a tough stance on the pervasive corruption that has eaten through Zimbabwe’s social services like a cancer.

Following his election Mnangagwa appointed respected Cambridge-educated economist Dr Mthuli Ncube as his Finance Minister, sending positive signals to international investors and the IMF and World Bank that the country planned to turn over a new economic leaf. He also appointed a commission of enquiry into the killings on 1 August, headed by the respected former president of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe.

But the Military…

As if to confirm the fears of political scientists about the adverse outcomes of coups, the military has continued to play an outsized role in Zimbabwe’s post-coup dispensation. Rumours abound of the factional fights between the president and his Vice-President Constantine Chiwenga, the former Commander of the Defence Forces. It is widely reported that the deal between the two men was that Mnangagwa would serve just a single term before handing over to his second in command.

But repeated statements suggest that Mnangagwa has other ideas and hopes to run again in 2023. This was reportedly the reason behind the grenade attack at one of Mnangagwa’s rallies during the election campaign. The country’s independent media carries regular articles detailing the alleged factional fights within the state which continue to give lie to Mnangagwa’s ‘new dawn’ narrative.

At the same time, Chiwenga and Foreign Minister and former Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo (of the Chiwenga camp) are reportedly gravely ill, with Moyo apparently suffering from unexplained kidney failure. In a country where many leaders have died under unclear or suspicious circumstances – notably Mugabe’s former General, Solomon Mujuru, in 2011 – the illnesses amongst those said to be opposed to the President further raise suspicions.

As for Kgalema Motlanthe’s Commission, the military has bizarrely claimed that the deaths of civilians were caused by the opposition to destabilise and discredit the army and administration. Having refused to take any responsibility for civilian deaths, it appears that impunity will continue to plague the country’s armed forces. Zimbabwe’s civic groups have expressed grave concerns over the process, and confidence in the Commission appears to be waning rapidly.

What about the Economy?

Despite promises of massive international investment during the election campaign and the appointment of a technocratic Finance Minister, Zimbabwe’s economic woes appear to be deepening. Ncube has promised both austerity and wide-ranging reforms, vowing to cut down the country’s public sector wage bill which consumes 90% of the annual budget. In trying to restart the economy, he will need to bring the opaque extractives sector back under the wing of treasury and ensure that the burgeoning diamond and platinum sector remit finances to the state.

But in doing so, the Finance Minister will find himself up against entrenched interests in the military and the upper echelons of the governing party. Vowing to root out ghost workers in the public sector through biometric registration, Ncube will find himself up against the ZANU-PF elites who draw the salaries from these ghost workers in order to finance their own patronage networks. These reforms will also retire more than 6 000 ‘Youth Officers’ on the public payroll, who behave as little more than ruling party enforcers. This will certainly ruffle some feathers with their handlers.

The Minister faces a massive debt mountain; at the end of August 2018, public debt stood at $17.69 billion USD of which domestic debt accounted for 54%. This represents a national debt of over 100% of current GDP. But with industrial capacity operating at 20%, a massive trade deficit engendered by the collapse of local manufacturing and opacity in the minerals sector, it isn’t clear where the finances will come from to turn the listing economic ship around.

The country’s most important export earners are minerals (gold, diamonds, platinum and ferrous metals) but these sectors suffer from heavy involvement of the military and military elites and few of the proceeds from exports reach the public purse. Any attempts to introduce greater transparency in minerals and mineral governance is likely to come up against stiff resistance from those who benefit from the status quo.

Finally, Mnangagwa’s flagship project of 2017 was the country’s ‘Command Agriculture’ project which sought to incentivise and push agricultural sector growth to revitalise the ailing economy and return the country to its former status as a major agricultural producer. This project was run by the military and is said to have been lucrative for many government and military insiders. Ncube’s recent declaration of intent to scale down this programme will likely push him further into conflict with the beneficiaries of this scheme.

And the Opposition?

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has continued to loudly contest the legitimacy of Mnangagwa’s government and tries to capitalise on broad public dissatisfaction with the collapsing economy. On 29 November they held a massive march through the streets of the capital to deliver a petition to parliament demanding a new transitional government to address the financial and political crisis.

Although the opposition is a far cry from its strengths of the early 2000s and the country’s formerly indomitable trade unions are a shadow of their former selves, the widespread desperation brought on by 20 years of deepening economic crisis have pushed citizens to the brink. This has won the MDC many inadvertent supporters and poses a threat to the ruling elite.

Mnangagwa the Reformer?

There remains a robust debate in Zimbabwe about whether or not the president is honest about his intentions to reform the state – and many would like to believe that he is indeed trying to rein in the military. Even if he is sincere in his intentions to reform the state, he is facing threats from all sides – the military, the economy and the opposition – and it remains difficult to see how the administration can possibly dig their way out of the current morass.

The events following the July elections have reminded foreign governments and investors of the reasons for their long hesitation over investing in Zimbabwe, and consequently little foreign investment has been forthcoming in the three months since. The instability of the relationship between the military and the executive as well as the entrenched nature of the army in the country’s productive sectors continues to give investors pause.

Sadly, a year since Mugabe’s removal, the country’s battle-weary citizens hardly look any closer to the end of their long suffering.

Ukraine – High Anti-Corruption Court and Prospects for Curbing Corruption

On June 26th, President Poroshenko signed a law establishing the High Anti-Corruption Court. The creation of the body was highly anticipated by both domestic and international observers. The Court is expected to be the last link in the chain of recently established bodies designed to fight top-level corruption in Ukraine and is one of the key conditions to unlock 1.9 billions in IMF aid.

As we previously mentioned on the pages of this blog, it has been a long and rocky road for the fight against corruption in Ukraine. Ukraine’s corruption levels reached an all-time high under the rule of Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in 2014 and is currently under investigation. Since being elected in 2014, among other economic, political, and military problems facing the country, President Poroshenko also had to reform the justice system. In the past 4 years, Ukraine established three institutions tasked with fighting corruption in the country – National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), the Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, and the National Agency for Corruption Prevention. The role of the newly created High Anti-Corruption Court is to ensure that officials indicted by NABU face trial. Up to now, out of 220 indictments, only 21 officials have been convicted and no senior officials were imprisoned.

Since one of the central demands of the 2014 protests was to eradicate corruption in the country and bring corrupt officials to justice, the lack of convictions has started damaging the credibility of NABU as well as other institutions and governing bodies. According to the nationwide public opinion survey conducted in May 2018,

  • 83% of Ukrainians believe that the fight against corruption in the country has not been successful so far
  • Half of the population (50%) surveyed believe that it is a total failure
  • 48% of the population believe that currently no institution in Ukraine is actively fighting corruption
  • Only 11% believe that the National Anti-corruption Bureau was actively combating graft, but only 15% believe that its efforts are effective
  • Only 4% of those surveyed believe that the President is actively fighting corruption

The new law addressed the criticism previously raised by the IMF and the World Bank and allowed international experts to play a significant role in selection of judges. At the NATO summit in Brussels on July 13, the President confirmed his willingness to allow international experts to be involved asking NATO member countries to provide experts as soon as possible.

However, barely signed, the law was criticised again for allowing a loophole. According to the original law, all politicians and other suspects currently under investigation by NABU would not have to face trial in the newly established anti-corruption court. Instead, they could be considered in ordinary courts. This affected not only 135 cases currently under investigation but also all other cases submitted before the court was established. Given that it may take between 6 months and 2 years before the anti-corruption court is fully established and operational, this would have given significant leeway to a number of corruption cases.

On the urging of the IMF, the original law had to be amended on July 12th to address the criticism. The amendment expanded the jurisdiction of the High Court to include the cases opened before the court was established. Whether the amendments will be enough to unlock the aid from the IMF remains to be seen. More importantly, however, experts agree that the reduction of corruption may require much more than punitive measures alone.

Ukraine – Ex-Presidents and their Legal Troubles

A few weeks ago, on the pages of this blog, we posted an article about Peru’s ex-presidents and their legal troubles. Today, we continue the series with a follow up on Ukraine and ex-presidents’ troubles there.

In March 2018, EU prolonged sanctions against the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his associates, including President’s son, two former Prime Ministers, and Yanukovych’s chief of staff. EU accused the former President and his inner circle of misappropriation of state funds and froze their assets shortly after the president fled the country in February 2014. Estimated to be tens of billions of dollars, access to funds was blocked on the territories of 8 EU countries.

Yanukovych successfully challenged the sanctions during their first year, from March 2014 to March 2015, as EU did not have enough evidence of embezzlement at the time. However, the sanctions were re-instated starting from March 2015, followed by a recent extension for another year, until March 2019. Yanukovych and his son filed appeals in 2016 and 2017 to be taken off the EU sanctions listing. Both appeals have been dismissed and sanctions were upheld. Nonetheless, the President and his son continue to maintain their innocence and deny any involvement in corruption or other wrongdoings.

In the meantime, the court hearing for Yanukovych’s treason case in Ukraine also continues. The trial started a year ago, in May 2017. The ex-president is charged with state treason. The punishment ranges from 10 years in prison to life imprisonment. The current President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, was called to testify in February 2018. However, his testimony  ended prematurely as the judge accused the lawyers of the defense of intentionally asking questions unrelated to the criminal investigation. And in the latest development, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, Mykola Azarov, requested to testify in the case. However, due to fear of persecution, he agreed to appear in court only via a video conference. It is estimated that the investigation and trial will go on for several years.

Despite all the corruption problems in Ukraine, Yanukovych is the only president currently either on trial or on the run. That said, another ex-President, Leonid Kuchma, has experienced his fair share of legal troubles. In addition to being accused of corruption and vote-rigging, in 2011 he was indicted by court for his alleged involvement in the 2000 murder of a Ukrainian journalist. However, Kuchma managed to rehabilitate his image and turned into a respected diplomat in 2015, helping Ukraine negotiate during the crisis with Russia.

Zbigniew Brzezinski has been quoted saying that every Ukrainian president is worse than his predecessor. This may explain the low trust Ukrainians have in the executive office and their readiness to go to the streets to demand responsible politics. With the upcoming election next year, the Ukrainians surely hope that the current president will prove Zbigniew Brzezinski wrong.

Peru – President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski Resigns

The President of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, resigned on Wednesday in the wake of allegations of vote buying and a larger existential threat to his leadership from the Odebrecht scandal.  He was facing an impeachment vote on Firday of this week in Congress, but party leaders have agreed to accept his resignation, which will prevent this vote from going ahead.

President Kuczynski had become entangled in the wider Odebrecht scandal that has engulfed Latin American politicians across the region. The tentacles of the Odebrecht scandal had already reached Peru, where former president, Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), has been accused of receiving US$20 million in bribes from Odebrecht in return for granting them the contract to build a large road and infrastructure project. The presidency of Alan García (2006-2011) also fell under suspicion, given that Obebrecht won a record number of contracts in Peru during his tenure. Last year, President Kuczynski had been accused of receiving US$782,000 from Odebrecht through a company that he owned. He has admitted he received the money, but insists it was above board.

As a consequence, he was accused of being “morally unfit” to be president and he faced an impeachment vote in Congress in December of last year. Over 87 votes were needed to impeach him, but the motion, although supported by 78 against 19, did not pass. But a cloud hung over this vote. One of President Kuczynski’s main opponents in Congress has been the right-leaning Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the former President, Alberto Fujimori, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses. Keiko’s increasing power in Congress has placed significant pressure on Kuczynski and her party, Fuerza Popular, has been the main activist behind each impeachment vote. In the December vote however, her brother, Kenji Fujimori, defied his sister by leading a small group of rebellious Fuerza Popular legislators to block the impeachment vote against Kuczynski. A few days later, President Kuczynski pardoned Alberto Fujimori.

On Tuesday night, the fate of President Kuczynski was sealed. Videos emerged, released by Fuerza Popular, which purportedly show the President’s allies offering legislators a share of key public work programs, in addition to access to various government prerogatives, in return for their support in the impeachment vote scheduled for this Friday. Although Kuczynski has alleged that the tapes were heavily edited, already daunted by the prospect of a hostile Congress this Friday, this appeared to the final nail in the coffin of his political career and after just 19 months in office, he resigned on Wednesday.

And so Kuczynski becomes another victim of the Odebrecht scandal. Centered on the Lavo Jato corruption scandal, it has its roots in bribes given to Brazilian politicians (and elsewhere) by the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, in addition to other construction companies, in return for a whole gamut of favors. In fact, Odebrecht has admitted to paying over US$1 billion in bribes and apparently, they even had a designated department whose sole function was to bribe governments across the region in return for state building contracts.

The scandal has also dragged other Latin American executives into its orbit. It was partly responsible for forcing Dilma Rousseff, the former president of Brazil, out of office. In Panama, prosecutors are now seeking to detain the sons of former president, Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014). Ricardo Alberto and Luis Enrique Martinelli are accused of depositing part of a US$22 million bribe that Odebrecht paid in return for lucrative state contracts in Panama. And current Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, has been accused by a former advisor of receiving political donations from Odebrecht. In Colombia, a former senator who admitted receiving bribes from Odebrecht has accused current Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, of receiving illegal campaign donations from the Brazilian firm and in Argentina, members of Mauricio Macri’s centre-right organization have been accused of ties with Odebrecht, and in the case of Gustavo Arribas, of accepting a direct bribe from the firm. In the Dominican Republic, the Brazilian firm admitted that it payed US$92 million in bribes to Dominican government officials to secure large and lucrative infrastructure projects.

In Peru, the former President, Alejandro Toledo, who is also facing prosecution for his dealings with Odebrecht, is currently on the run. This led to the Peruvian government offering a 100,000 soles award (approximately US$30,000) for information leading to Toledo’s arrest.

Undoubtedly, the Odebrecht scandal will rumble on and drag many more politicians into its wake.

Given the line of succession outlined in the Constitution of Peru, the Vice-President, Martin Vizcarra, will now become acting president.

Ukraine – President Poroshenko and the Anti-Corruption High Court

On 31 December 2017, President Poroshenko used his Twitter account to post a video on the last day of the year. The 1 minute 41 seconds video was a collection of clips with a short text underneath each providing a summary of the greatest achievements of the year. Among the biggest successes, the President named the establishment of the visa-free regime and the association agreement with Europe, the release of 73 hostages held in captivity by Russian-led militants in Donbas, large scale highway works as well as pension, education and medical reforms.

One reform area, however, was absent from the video – a demonstration of achievements in the fight against corruption. Given that corruption is one of the chronic, endemic problems that plagues Ukraine and was the reason for ousting its previous President, it is the reforms in this sphere that Ukrainian civil society is most adamant about.

As we mentioned previously on the pages of the blog, to address the demands for corruption reform the President promised to sign a law launching an anti-corruption court by the end of 2017. On December 22, President’s draft law “On the High Anti-Corruption Court” was registered in Ukraine’s parliament. However, the civil society groups and opposition legislators criticized the President’s draft arguing that it did not guarantee the selection of independent judges.

Civil society groups were not the only ones to disapprove the draft law. Transparency International urged the President to withdraw his draft, rework it and submit a new one, listing several areas where the draft did not adhere to the recommendations of the Venice Commission of October 2017.

Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also wrote to the President’s office this month expressing concern that the draft law fails to meet the recommendations of the European rights and legal watchdog. Establishing an independent and effective Anti-Corruption Court is one of the reforms required for Ukraine to qualify for the further funding from the IMF, which amounts to $800 million.

Political scientists Robertson and Pop-Eleches call this joint effort between the Ukrainian civil society and the international community to force the country down the road of anti-corruption reforms a “sandwich” model. The model worked effectively in the case of defending the director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau and other anti-corruption reformers. Whether it will be effective in the case of the Anti-Corruption Court remains to be seen. Recently, the President confirmed that he will amend his legislation to make it more effective.

However, Anders Aslund, a leading specialist on economic policy in Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe, is pessimistic about the prospect of the effective reforms in Ukraine. In a recent article, Aslund wrote that the ruling coalition did not seem to be interested in a real independent anti-corruption court or electoral reform even if legislation was under way. Instead, Ukraine’s politicians seemed to be deeply absorbed by the upcoming election scheduled to be held in May 2019.

Ukraine – EuroMaidan: 4 years on

On the night of November 21st, 2013, the citizens of Ukraine came to the streets to protest the policies of then government of Viktor Yanukovych. The wave of demonstrations and civil unrest now commonly referred to as EuroMaidan ultimately forced the president and many high political officials to flee the country. Although the demonstrations were sparked by the decision to suspend the signing of the association agreement with the European Union, the protests were also against corruption at the highest levels of the Ukrainian society. Yesterday marked 4 years since the beginning of EuroMaidan, what progress has been made since then?

Last week, the President of the World Bank, Jim Young Kim, visited Ukraine to discuss the reforms in the country. The President of the World Bank affirmed “we applaud the remarkable reforms Ukraine has implemented, which have helped the economy return to growth.” However, Jim Young Kim called for establishment of an independent corruption court as “a critical step to tackle corruption.”

Chatham House also issued a report on the state of the Ukrainian reforms in October 2017, praising “the remarkable progress in laying the foundations for reducing corruption in public life.” Nonetheless, the report also noted that, despite numerous achievements, from the standpoint of the Ukrainian population there has been little to show for the reforms [1]. Thus, it is not surprising that last month Ukraine was engulfed in yet another wave of anti-graft protests. Over 4,000 people gathered outside of the parliament demanding to lift parliamentary immunity, change electoral system to an open-party list, and create a National Anticorruption Court.

President Petro Poroshenko took immediate steps to speed up the legislative process to address the three demands raised by the protestors. As a result, the legislators agreed to fast-rack a bill stripping members of parliament of immunity from persecution possibly as early as next year. Parliament also started discussing the possibility of changing the electoral system. Finally, President Poroshenko promised to sign a law launching the anti-corruption court by the end of the year.

However, it is important to note that scholars still know very little about corruption, why some countries succumb to it, and most importantly how to eradicate it. Certainly, more research is needed on the topic, especially since Ukraine is definitely not the only country struggling with corruption. This year alone, on these pages we have reported on the corruption scandals at the highest levels of government in Brazil, Romania, South Korea and Guatemala, among others.

Although protestors in many countries in the world, including Ukraine, rightly demand the enactment of anti-corruption reforms and the elimination of corruption, these do take time. Unfortunately, Ukraine does not have that much time. In their 2015 article, Rosas and Manzatti found that victims of corruption are more likely to punish presidents and governments that condone or engage in corruption. Furthermore, “those that suffer corruption and find themselves in a situation of poor economic performance are even more likely to offer pessimistic assessments of the siting president” [2]. Only 18 months are left before the next presidential elections in Ukraine. Given the levels of inflation and struggling unemployment figures, Ukrainian citizens are likely to hold the president accountable for failing to curb corruption in the next elections. Therefore, to improve his chances of winning the re-election, President Poroshenko will need to show progress in reducing corruption in the country or at least to take significant steps toward it.

Notes

[1] Lough, John. 2017. “Anti-corruption Reforms” in Ash, Timothy et al. Chatham House Report: The Struggle for Ukraine.

[2] Rosas, Guillermo and Luigi Manzatti. 2015. “Reassessing the trade-off hypothesis: How misery drives the corruption effect on presidential approval,” Electoral Studies 39: 26-38.

Brazil – President Temer Continues to Battle Corruption Charges

Michel Temer continues to fight the corruption allegations that have dominated his short presidency. On Tuesday, a report presented to the Constitution and Justice Committee (CCJ) by Bonifacio de Andrada (PSDB-MG), a Temer ally, urged the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies to reject the latest criminal charges against President Temer, and two members of his cabinet, Eliseu Padilha, the Chief of Staff, and Moreira Franco, the General Secretary.

Temer is accused of obstruction of justice an racketeering by the federal prosecutor as part of the Lavo Jato scandal that has engulfed the Brazilian political class. This latest charge has emerged as a result of a set of tapes that was given to prosecutors by two brothers, Joesley and Wesley Batista, who are in control of the gigantic Brazilian meat packing firm, JBS. As part of a larger plea deal involving allegations of bribery and corruption, the Batista brothers released these tapes to the federal prosecutor, on which we can allegedly hear President Temer approving continued cash payments by the Batista brothers to the former Speaker of the House, Eduardo Cunha, in return for his silence. As part of their testimony, the Batistas also allege that President Temer received millions of dollars over the last seven years in order to fund his electoral campaigns. Temer and his party are accused of receiving nearly US$190 million in return for political favors.

The Brazilian lower house now have to vote on these accusations. They will do this towards the end of October. For the investigation to continue, 342 out of 513 members of congress must vote in support of the allegations. If the Chamber reject the charges, then the investigation is frozen until Temer leaves office. If the charges are accepted, then Temer will be suspended and his case will be heard in the Senate, under the direction of the Supreme Court. In fact, this is the second time that the Chamber will have voted on charges levelled against Temer. In August, by 263 votes versus 227, they rejected a different allegation of corruption presented by federal prosecutors.

The wider Lavo Jato corruption scandal centers upon bribes given to Brazilian politicians (and elsewhere) by the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, in addition to other construction companies, in return for a whole gamut of favors. In fact, Odebrecht has admitted to paying over US$1 billion in bribes and apparently, they even had a designated department whose sole function was to bribe governments across the region in return for state building contracts.

The scandal has also dragged other Latin American executives into its orbit and has included allegations of corruption involving the former president of Peru, Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), the sons of former Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), current Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, current Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, and in Argentina, members of Mauricio Macri’s centre-right organization have been accused of ties with Odebrecht, and in the case of Gustavo Arribas, of accepting a direct bribe from the firm. In the Dominican Republic, the Brazilian firm admitted that it payed US$92 million in bribes to Dominican government officials to secure large and lucrative infrastructure projects.

Michel Temer has a lot on his plate. He has been trying to push through crucial legislation relating to pensions and the retirement age in Brazil, but this scandal has dominated the political scene. Temer is now the most unpopular president ever in Brazil. According to a recent Ibope poll, only 3 per cent of the population consider his government good, or very good. Indeed, 77 per cent consider his government bad or terrible. One thing is for sure – the Lavo Jato will continue to dominate Brazilian politics for the foreseeable future.

 

Brazil – Former President Lula Sentenced to Nine and a Half Years in Prison

In a decision, where the true political ramifications are, as of yet, unknown, last week, the former two-term president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was sentenced to nine years and six months in prison by judge Sergio Moro. Lula, of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) or Worker’s Party, served as Brazil’s president between 2003 and 2011. Probably Brazil’s most popular politician in recent decades, Lula was sentenced for his part in the ever-widening Lavo Jato corruption scandal. The sentence is connected to some UK£590,000 in bribes that Lula allegedly received from the Brazilian engineering firm OAS. Apparently, Lula bought a seaside apartment in a complex built and operated by OAS for UK53,000, but OAS then ‘upgraded’ Lula to a lavishly refurbished duplex apartment worth nearly UK£600,000 in the same complex.

The Lavo Jato corruption scandal, which has engulfed the Brazilian, and increasingly the regional, political establishment centres upon bribes given to Brazilian politicians (and elsewhere) by the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, in addition to a host of other companies, in return for a whole gamut of favours. In fact, Odebrecht alone has admitted to paying over US$1 billion in bribes and apparently, they even had a designated department whose sole function was to bribe governments across the region in return for state building contracts.

The scandal has rocked Brazil. The current president, Michel Temer is facing corruption charges, and a much discussed list, known as Fachin’s list, when released, contained details of prominent politicians that are under investigated for allegedly receiving payments from Odebrecht. This list is based on information provided to federal investigators in Brazil by 77 former Odebrecht executives as part of a larger plea bargain and includes at least eight government ministers, nearly a third of the whole cabinet.

The scandal has also dragged other Latin American executives into its orbit and has included allegations of corruption involving the former president of Peru, Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), the sons of former Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), current Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, current Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, and in Argentina, members of Mauricio Macri’s centre-right organization have been accused of ties with Odebrecht, and in the case of Gustavo Arribas, of accepting a direct bribe from the firm. In the Dominican Republic, the Brazilian firm admitted that it payed US$92 million in bribes to Dominican government officials to secure large and lucrative infrastructure projects.

Although this sentence hangs above Lula like the sword of Damocles, Judge Moro has allowed Lula to remain free until he appeals, a process that could take up to eighteen months. The decision will also have significant implications for the next presidential election in 2018. Lula has long been touted as a possible candidate for the beleaguered PT, and opinion polls suggest that he would be one of the hypothetical front runners in any election contest. Currently, as long as the legal action is ongoing, Lula is free to run. However, if he appeals and his appeal is successful, the verdict must completely quash Moro’s ruling. Any slight alteration or amendment to the sentence would still result in a conviction and would present Lula from running in the next election, as his case would have been heard in two different courts. If he accepts his sentence and does not appeal, he is also free to run, but he most likely will end up in prison. Not an easy choice for either Lula or the PT.

Ukraine – Ex-president Viktor Yanukovych on Trial

On May 4, Ukraine began a high treason trial of its former president Viktor Yanukovych. According to the Ukrainian state prosecutor’s website, Yanukovych is accused of committing “treason by helping the Russian Federation and its representatives to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

The so-called “trial of the century” has already held two sessions. The prosecution’s main evidence are copies of letters written by Yanukovych asking Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops to Ukraine. In addition, the prosecutor says that it has witness testimonies, documents, and photo materials to support the case. The punishment for treason in Ukraine carries a sentence of 10 to 15 years.

However, in addition to the treason trial, Yanukovuch is also under criminal investigation in three other cases. First, the former president is accused of ordering the use of disproportionate force against the demonstrators during the so-called Europmaidan protests between November 2013 and February 2014. Second, Yunukovych is accused of having formed criminal groups. And finally, the Mezhyhirya case of illegal acquisition of property. The Mezhyhirya residence of the former president became famous when it was confiscated in 2014 after he fled the country. Later authorities discovered fleet of luxury cars and other luxury items that have stored in the the now infamous estate.

Currently leaving in exile in Russia, the president is being tried in absentia. To enable this, Ukrainian legislature had to pass a number of amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code. This, however, generated a number of controversies. Some argued that the bill is a case of selective justice and is politically motivated, drafted with a sole purpose of putting the former president on trial. Furthermore, the defence has argued that there is no legal basis for the treason trial as Yanukovych has not been presented with an official notification of the charges against him. Most importantly, however, the bill has been criticised for the potential impact it may have on regular citizens. Many argue that the amendment can lead to the dangerous abuse of power allowing the possibility of convicting a person in absentia, without them even knowing about being on trial.

In the last year alone, a number of other countries put their presidents on trail. The most high profile recent case is the impeachment and the corruption trial of the president of South Korea Park Geun-hye. Burkina Faso has also recently started a trial of its former president Blaise Compaore. He is also tried in absentia and is accused of using force against unarmed protesters in 2014, during the uprising that took him out of power. The presidents of Brazil and Argentina are also currently on trial for corruption. Thus, a quick look around the world shows that Ukraine is not the only country to have one of its former presidents on trial. However, it is one of the few countries to have a president tried for treason, in addition to corruption and excessive use of force.

The trial is an important test for the Ukrainian judiciary. There are serious grounds for bringing charges against the former president. However, it is crucial for the trial to be conducted in a fair and independent manner in order not to only avoid the verdict being challenged in an international court but also continue to further build and strengthen the judicial system in Ukraine.

Brazil – One Third of the Cabinet to be Investigated for Corruption

Everybody was waiting for this. I have written before on this blog about the long tentacles of the huge Lavo Jato corruption scandal, which has engulfed the Brazilian, and increasingly the regional, political establishment. The whole scandal centres upon bribes given to Brazilian politicians (and elsewhere) by the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, in return for a whole gamut of favours. Odebrecht has admitted to paying over US$1 billion in bribes and apparently, they even had a designated department whose sole function was to bribe governments across the region in return for state building contracts.

Well, now in Brazil, a federal judge, Edson Fachin, has released a list of prominent politicians that are to be investigated for allegedly receiving payments from Odebrecht. This list is based on information provided to federal investigators in Brazil by 77 former Odebrecht executives as part of a larger plea bargain. It was due to be released earlier, but the former federal judge responsible for the investigation, Teori Zavascki, was killed in a plane crash in January.

The list was part of a ruling that allows federal prosecutors to begin investigating politicians named by the Odebrecht executives and for the somewhat beleaguered government of Michel Temer, it is particularly damaging. It may also have consequences for the 2018 presidential elections. At least eight government ministers, nearly a third of the cabinet, will now be under investigation for allegations of bribery and corruption. It includes Michel Temer’s chief of staff, Eliseu Padilha, and his foreign minister, Aloysio Nunes Ferreira. It also includes the Speaker of the lower house and the head of the Senate, not to mention a large chunk of sitting senators (24), 40 federal deputies and 3 governors.

This comes at a moment when Temer is trying to push an important pension bill through Congress, which would introduce a mandatory retirement age and reduce death benefits. This legislation is deemed crucial in order to deal with Brazil’s very large primary budget deficit. The deputy responsible for its introduction to the Chamber of Deputies has also been named on this list.

Potential candidates for the 2018 election have also been implicated, including Aécio Neves and José Serra (both from the PSDB). It is difficult to see how Temer’s party, the PMDB, could realistically contest the election given the incumbency curse they will face, and it remains to be seen whether the PT can shrug off its own involvement in the corruption scandal. Given that nearly the entire upper echelons of Brazilian politics have been caught up in this scandal, a cynical and downtrodden electorate might end up turning to an outsider like Marina Silva, or a populist, like the right-leaning Jair Bolsonaro.

One thing is for sure. There is more to come with this scandal. It has already spread across Latin America and its tentacles have thus far enveloped the sons of former Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), the current president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, and in Colombia, a former senator who admitted receiving bribes from Odebrecht has accused current Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, of receiving illegal campaign donations from the Brazilian firm. In Peru, Odebrecht’s chief executive there has supposedly told Peruvian investigators that Alejandro Toledo, the former president of Peru between 2001 and 2006, has also received US$20 million in bribes from Odebrecht, in return for a lucrative infrastructure project.

We have not seen the end of Lavo Jato by a long shot.