The United States is one of the “easiest” places in the world for Eurasian oligarchs and others to establish an “anonymous company and hide money,” according to a leading American anti-corruption activist. But that could change in the near future.
Gary Kalman, the executive director of the Washington-based FACT coalition, said that legislation to close a major gap in American corporate registration procedures is gaining momentum in the U.S. Congress. An increasing number of lawmakers now see the issue of “anonymous” corporate registration as a national security threat. Kalman is optimistic that legislation requiring all states to enhance the recording of beneficial ownership information could be approved by Congress in 2019. That would make it harder for Eurasian oligarchs to take the proceeds of corrupt activities in their home countries and launder them in the U.S.
“We believe we have a pathway forward,” Kalman said, referring to the push to make the anti-corruption legislation a reality.
Kalman outlined the legislative lobbying effort during an early April conference in New York, sponsored by Columbia University’s Harriman Institute. Participants discussed an array of anti-corruption initiatives currently taking shape that are designed to stem the flow of dirty money in the global financial system.
Thomas Firestone, a Washington lawyer and a leading American expert on corruption in Eurasia, called on regulators and legislators to “do more to get at the root sources” of global corruption. One way would be to expand legislation known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), he said. Currently, the FCPA only penalizes individuals and corporations that pay bribes in foreign countries. Firestone urged that bribe-soliciting and -taking also be criminalized under the FCPA. [Disclosure: Firestone is a member of Eurasianet’s board and Eurasianet is based at the Harriman Institute.]
Making the receipt of a bribe a crime could discourage foreign corporate and political leaders from engaging in corrupt practices in the international arena, Firestone asserted. He acknowledged that most of those soliciting bribes under the purview of the FCPA would likely be foreign nationals, who thus would stand a small chance of ever being prosecuted. However, an indictment would hinder the accused’s ability to travel to Europe and the United States, due to the possibility of arrest and prosecution.
Amending the FCPA is an “essential element in combatting global corruption,” Firestone said.
Other initiatives discussed at the conference would provide for the expansion of disclosure and due diligence rules in real estate, private equity and art transactions.
Paul Massaro, a policy advisor for the U.S. Helsinki Commission, said that governmental body is working on a multi-pronged legal offensive to curb global corruption. Commission experts are crafting bills to amend the FCPA and introduce criminal penalties for corruption relating to international athletic competitions, including bribery involving the selection of host sites for major events like the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup. The draft legislation also envisions the criminalization of doping in international athletic competitions.
Massaro said the commission was additionally looking for ways to neutralize the abuse of red notices, which are international arrest warrants issued by Interpol. Activists have accused authoritarian governments in Eurasia and elsewhere of manipulating red notices to persecute dissidents and other regime opponents.
It has taken time for legislators on Capitol Hill to understand that global corruption poses as serious a threat to U.S. national security as terrorism, Massaro said. “Corruption doesn’t explode,” he added, explaining why anti-corruption initiatives have lagged behind efforts to contain terrorism.
But over the last few years, awareness has grown that globalized corruption poses an existential threat to the rule of law because it “hollows-out institutions,” he added. And with growing awareness comes increasing determination to do something.
Attitudes in corporate America are also shifting, said Kalman, the FACT coalition head. He noted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had long opposed efforts to promote greater corporate ownership transparency, but lately the chamber has changed its stance to “neutral.” Executives now realize that corruption abets counterfeiting in the global supply chain, thus exposing their companies to greater risk, Kalman said.
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