The time for instituting a new global corruption court is now

The writer is a Labour member of the House of Lords, former cabinet minister and anti-apartheid campaigner

At the New Institute in Hamburg, a group of eminent jurists and lawyers will begin, on August 27, to draft a treaty to establish an International Anti-Corruption Court.

The need is urgent. Money laundering causes a staggering $1.6tn in global losses annually, with more than $7tn in private wealth held in secretive offshore accounts — the equivalent of 10 per cent of global GDP. Countries are left destabilised and in some cases corruption leads to state failure. As Navi Pillay, the former UN high commissioner for human rights, ominously warned in 2013, “corruption kills”.

Kleptocracies have ravaged their populations for far too long, with corrupt leaders looting public funds for personal gain and thrusting their people deeper into poverty. Developing countries bear the brunt of this abuse. But it is a global responsibility. Perpetrators enjoy the help of global companies and banks, most based in New York and London. Dubai and Hong Kong are notorious money-laundering centres.

In South Africa, the infamous “state capture” decade under former President Jacob Zuma triggered a collapse in the country’s GDP, leading also to paralysing daily electricity cuts and water supply contamination.

In oil-rich Angola, billions of US dollars were stolen by former President José Eduardo dos Santos and his cronies, with dire results — 53 per cent of Angolans live on less than $2.15 per day.

Why can’t we rely on the International Criminal Court to fight back? Because the ICC focuses on atrocity crimes such as genocide and war. It cannot prosecute individuals for corruption. Amending its foundational Rome Statute to include corruption in its remit would be extremely difficult, requiring ratification by the vast majority of its 123 member states — some led by people guilty of corruption themselves.

But the core crimes in the proposed new court’s jurisdiction would not require time-consuming fresh examination, because the UN Convention Against Corruption already obliges its 189 parties to criminalise bribery, embezzlement, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. However, in many nations kleptocrats abuse their power to prevent enforcement. The IACC would target high-level officials, bribers, and money launderers who commit a part of their crimes within member states.

Entrenched kleptocracies (including Russia) may resist joining but kleptocrats frequently conceal their illicit assets in countries such as the UK. That would enable the new court to freeze and recover stolen assets, even where they evade arrest by staying in their home countries. If they travel to an IACC member state or a country with an extradition treaty, corrupt individuals would face the risk of arrest, trial and imprisonment.

So far, 73 per cent of respondents in the UK favour the establishment of the court and over 300 prominent figures, including over 50 current and former heads of state and government, plus 30 Nobel laureates, have endorsed the idea. Integrity Initiatives International, a non-profit organisation, has co-ordinated a global network of civil society organisations, championing an IACC, resulting in commitments so far from countries including Canada, Ecuador, Moldova, the Netherlands and Nigeria.

London and UK overseas territories — from the Caribbean to Gibraltar — are infamous money-laundering hotspots, and our government should adopt a leading role in gathering global support for the IACC. The UK must also do much more to regulate lawyers, bankers, real estate, accountants and other financial advisers aiding money launderers, enforce laws against foreign corruption and enhance transparency.

It’s no good vocally criticising corruption while turning a blind eye to it. The time to act is now.

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