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Investigating Corruption: US versus UK – A Widening Transatlantic Divide?

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Explore developments in the US & UK related to tackling global corruption and the ongoing challenges facing journalists working to expose it

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Speakers:

  • Tom Burgis, investigative journalist at The Financial Times and author of ‘Kleptopia: How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World’
  • Casey Michel, US investigative journalist and author of upcoming book ‘American Kleptocracy’
  • Dr Tena Prelec, Research Fellow with the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford
  • Dr Sue Hawley, Executive Director of Spotlight on Corruption

Chair: TBC

Barely into the start of 2021 and events around the world have brought the question of global corruption and the fight against it sharply into focus. Noticeable is the increasing divergence between governing authorities in the US and UK’s approach towards tackling anti-corruption and money laundering. The new Biden administration has clearly identified corruption as ‘a core national security interest’ and recent ‘historic’ legislation passed through US Congress takes aim at ending anonymous business practices. Meanwhile concerns raised about illicit finance flowing through the UK, including in last summer’s Russia Report released by the Intelligence and Security Committee have resulted in little action from the UK Government, which is still playing catch up with the US in terms of sanctions regimes. Less well addressed in both jurisdictions has been the wider societal impact of dirty money and reputation laundering schemes, including through the marketisation of universities raising questions regarding the potential impact on academic freedom.

This webinar hosted by Foreign Policy Centre, as part of its ‘Unsafe for Scrutiny’ project kindly supported by the Justice for Journalists Foundation, will explore these developments together with the ongoing challenges for journalists working to expose corruption facilitated through US and UK financial and legal systems.

Background

In the US, President Biden’s entry into the White House has signalled a renewed energy for the country to lead the global charge against corruption, with his administration declaring it a ‘core national security interest’. The President’s recently published interim security guidance (March 2021), notes how free societies have been challenged from ‘within’ by ‘weaponised corruption’. This follows on from the historic passing in the US Congress of the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA) in early 2021. Amongst other measures, the CTA introduces requirements that will put an end to the practice of anonymous shell companies operating inside the country. Two further bills - the Countering Russian and Other Overseas Kleptocracy Act (CROOK Act) and Combating Global Corruption Act - are currently under consideration.

Meanwhile in the UK, anti-corruption efforts appear to have slowed down in recent years. Despite some promising commitments made at the 2016 London Anti-Corruption Summit and the introduction of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, the UK has still yet to implement a number of planned reforms. There was also notably little follow up to UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee’s July 2020 Russia Report, which highlighted the threat of the existence of a ‘London laundromat’ and “a growth industry of ‘enablers’ including lawyers, accountants, and estate agents,” supporting kleptocrats to clean their dirty money. There are concerns that the current ‘enforcement gap’ between legislation and implementation risks the UK lacking a credible deterrent against the illicit finance flowing through its jurisdictions.

In July 2020, the UK did finally introduce a global human rights sanctions regime, similar to the US Magnitsky Act, which was introduced in 2016. UK sanctions have already been enacted against those linked with August 2020 poisoning of the Russian anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, whose recent imprisonment upon his return to Moscow, has sparked nationwide protests in Russia. While currently not as comprehensive as its American counterpart, the UK regime is expected to be expanded to cover corruption in spring 2021.

These developments sit against a backdrop of an already challenging environment for investigative journalists, who are more often than not central to the exposure of financial crime and corruption. They face a wide variety of threats to their safety and security but notable is the increasing use on both sides of the Atlantic of reputation management services and strategic lawsuits against public participation (known as SLAPP lawsuits) to try to silence journalists and prevent information key to uncovering corruption from coming to light. All the while, academics on both sides of the pond have also been impacted by such dynamics, as the increasing marketisation of universities, accompanied by a sharp rise in private funding, has exposed higher education institutions to increased risks of reputation laundering, with likely ill effects for academic freedom.

Michel and Prelec are both part of the Global Integrity's Anti-Corruption Evidencing Project ’Testing and evidencing compliance with beneficial ownership checks’, funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

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