Going faster down a bumpy road - mixed prospects for global legal cooperation against corruption

The launch of the International Anti-Corruption Coordination Centre(IACCC) delivers a key initiative from last year's London Anti-Corruption Summit. This could fill a gap in international anti-corruption efforts by providing a standing forum for law enforcement cooperation against large-scale corruption. It may also lead to an increase in information requests to members, but perhaps less quickly than originally planned.

This is because, despite Germany and Switzerland originally committing to support the establishment of IACCC, both have decided to remain observers. This is surprising, as both counties have coordinated multi-jurisdictional corruption settlements with the US, including Siemens and Petrobas. Germany also chaired this year's G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group.

It's possible that  data protection concerns led these countries to stand aside for now. The London Summit announcement to set up the IACCC followed a new transatlantic agreement on cross-border data transfers, but the agreement has already come under legal challenge and is attracting close political scrutiny in the run-up to its first annual review this September.

Without them, it leaves the IACCC as a less ambitious evolution of the International Foreign Bribery Taskforce. This group was established in 2013 with annual meetings of investigators from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, US and the UK. These countries all operate under the common law system and have a long tradition of close working due to the Five Eyes intelligence cooperation agreement.

So how to assess this initiative?

On the credit side of the ledger, it is clearly more than a rebranding exercise. The IACCC puts this pre-existing group on a standing operational basis and expands it to include Singapore and hopefully Interpol later this year. This should speed up mutual legal assistance requests and may enable more efficient processing of requests for asset freezing and reparations. The addition of Singapore is significant, as a global financial hub with a key role in Asian markets.

More international coordination should also help the UK's asset recovery efforts, which have been criticised by Parliament for poor implementation and administration. Better use of non-legislative measures may reduce the temptation for governments to rush through new criminal liabilities and overlapping compliance requirements.

On the other hand, the decision by Germany and Switzerland to stand aside from this initiative doesn't bode well for efforts to speed up the resolution of multi-jurisdictional investigations or to improve legal certainty for multi-national enterprises. This is a pressing issue as mechanisms for international legal cooperation have not kept pace with the spread of extra-territorial jurisdiction for corruption and wider financial crime.

Corporations face considerable complexity and delay when seeking to settle multi-jurisdictional investigations, with inconsistent national regimes on key issues such as data protection, double jeopardy, self-reporting, compliance incentives and procurement exclusions. Over the 20 years since the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention came into force, the average period to conclude foreign bribery cases has risen from around two years to over seven years.

So IACCC feels more like evolution rather than the transformation promised last year. That said, members should prepare for increased scrutiny, such as by mapping their business exposures against national legal inconsistencies and checking that suitable arrangements are in place to respond quickly if the need arises.

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