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International Anti-corruption Court

Volume 831: debated on Thursday 6 July 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of proposals for an International Anti-Corruption Court.

My Lords, this Government are fully committed to ensuring that those responsible for the most egregious acts of corruption are held to account. We have considered the idea of an international anti-corruption court, including with 40 international partners in November last year. Together with them, we concluded that now is not the time to endorse a new, bespoke institution of this nature. However, the Government will set out their plans for combating transnational grand corruption in the second UK anti-corruption strategy later this year.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but it is very disappointing. Money laundering represents over 5% of global GDP, or $2 trillion each year, yet there is no effective mechanism to prosecute kleptocrats, corrupt businesspeople, oligarchs or their professional enablers. Canada, the Netherlands, Ecuador, Moldova, Nigeria and the European Parliament have recently called for the establishment of an international anti-corruption court, as have over 300 leaders from over 80 countries, over 45 former Presidents and Prime Ministers and 30 Nobel laureates. A group of leading international jurists and other experts is now drafting a model treaty. Will the Government join with them now to tackle this terrible international scourge?

My Lords, while I appreciate the long-standing commitment and work of the noble Lord, where I disagree with him is that I believe that much has been achieved and is being done. As I said, we have consulted on this issue extensively; we continue to engage with the countries the noble Lord listed that are involved in the development of this concept. At the same time, as he and other noble Lords may be aware, the UK’s international corruption unit is a world-leading capability; it was set up in 2017 alongside the Five Eyes plus others. Much has been achieved: since 2017, the unit has received 247 referrals of grand corruption from over 40 countries and, as a result, has disseminated 146 intelligence reports, identified £1.4 billion-worth assets, and supported the freezing of £623 million-worth of assets and the forfeit and confiscation of £74 million. As I have said, our work continues. In 2022 alone, intelligence collated across these jurisdictions supported the identification of a further £380 million in stolen assets. We are working, and we are working in co-ordination. I appreciate the strong work the noble Lord has done in this area, but, as I have said, an international institution can be set up, as he will know from his own ministerial experience, only with the support of a broad range of partners. The Five Eyes partners are crucial, and we are working very closely with them.

My Lords, in his speech at Chatham House earlier this year, the Development Minister, Andrew Mitchell, pledged that the Government would

“bear down on … the flows of dirty money which … represent money stolen particularly from Africa and African people”.

Can the Minister tell the House what steps the Government are taking to achieve that objective? Would not the establishment of an IACC play a key role in such efforts? The Minister said that world opinion is not in the right place, so could he tell us what he and the Government are doing to lead on this issue to ensure that we get to a point where world opinion is in the right place?

My Lords, this is an ever-evolving challenge, and I fully accept the principle that more needs to be done; we continue to work on that. The noble Lord raised issues about Africa, so I will give examples of the international corruption unit’s success. In March 2021, the first £4.2 million of assets stolen by James Ibori, the former governor of Delta state, were returned to Nigeria. In Malawi, the dual UK-Malawian national Zuneth Sattar is alleged to have defrauded the Malawian Government of billions of kwacha. The ICU has seized 19 properties in the UK, as well as cars, including a Lamborghini and a Bentley, owned by Mr Sattar. Those are two examples; in Angola and Nigeria, the Government and this unit have seen other successes. I assure all noble Lords that we continue to be very seized of these and are working very closely with our key partners. We have seen results since the establishment of the unit in 2017.

My Lords, given that the Government are not in favour of the proposal outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, could the Minister say whether the Government are working via any of the international or intergovernmental organisations to tackle this issue of corruption and money laundering? Does he see that as a useful alternative to a new body such as a new court?

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that we are. For example, there is a UN instrument of which we have been very supportive; it needs to be further strengthened, and we are working with key partners in the UN context to ensure that. I know of my noble friend’s interest in the Commonwealth; we are also looking at aiding and funding support structures in the Commonwealth. Going back to the previous question, a particular focus on Africa is a key part of our work in this respect.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former member of Transparency International UK’s council, and that my daughter works in this field. I put it to the Minister that a recent survey showed that 70% of those recently polled across the G7 and BRICS countries—whose populations account for the majority of the world—support the establishment of an international anti-corruption court to deal with cases that national Governments and their tribunals either will not or cannot handle. Could not the Minister, whose approach to this is welcome, use this fact to persuade his own officials that this is really worth backing?

My Lords, if I may be clear, the noble Baroness talks of the majority of the world’s population, but obviously the G7 does not include countries such as India. We remain focused on ensuring that we work with Governments to tackle issues of corruption. On the particular point that the noble Baroness raises, I too know of the vital work that institutions such as Transparency International, and the FCDO works very closely with them. Such bodies do inform our decisions but, as I said, we have considered this with other partners, including 40 other countries, and setting up a new international structure at this time is not something that has been supported. It needs that level of broad support. It does not mean it is totally off the table; it means that we continue to work in a co-ordinated fashion on some of the instruments that I have already highlighted. As I am sure the noble Baroness will accept, we are seeing real delivery and real results in terms of the seizure of assets and penalties imposed on those who commit these crimes.

My Lords, I will pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, on how we change world opinion on this subject. The president of ECOSOC recently said this accounts for 5% of global GDP—as my noble friend said—and that has a huge impact on sustainable development goals. We will not be achieving them because of this level of corruption. What assessment have the Government made of working within the UN to raise the profile of this issue? In particular, have they considered steps to promote a UN Convention against Corruption as a means of tackling this issue, so that we win world opinion?

My Lords, as I said in response to my noble friend, the UNCAC is one such instrument. In terms of its effectiveness, that is something that needs to be bolstered further; it needs to be adapted and reflective of some of the challenges that we are all aware of—the use of technology, for example, that feeds some of these crimes. I assure the noble Lord that we are working through all the existing structures. He is right: we need to ensure that those that have a transnational approach, particularly the UN structures, are further bolstered. There are, I think, further meetings planned for later this year. As the Minister responsible for this area in the FCDO, I am working not just with key partners within the Five Eyes, as I have illustrated, but also further afield, including in areas such as the Gulf.

My Lords, in proceedings on the economic crime Bill, the Minister’s noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom kindly agreed to the principle of the all-party amendment to that Bill on what to do about sanctioned assets—a point the noble Lord, Lord Hain, was raising. The noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, agreed to bring forward secondary legislation before the end of this calendar year. Given what the Minister has said about the importance of departments working with one another, can he give us an assurance that the FCDO will be co-operating regularly with the Home Office to bring forward that secondary legislation? Will he look again at the parliamentary oversight of things such as the Magnitsky sanctions, so we can understand the rather opaque way in which some of those are decided?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point about Magnitsky sanctions, I am very proud of the fact that we have strengthened our work in that respect. Later today, we will also be discussing, through a Statement, some of the additional steps we have taken using those very levers. The important thing about the sanctions that the United Kingdom deploys is that there is legal oversight. There is a real robustness for those institutions, organisations and individuals that may feel that they have been unjustifiably sanctioned, and that is a strength of the UK law. On the noble Lord’s earlier point, the noble Lord to whom he referred is not only a noble friend but also a dear friend, and I assure the noble Lord that there is full co-operation across all government departments.