Mark Pieth to step down at year end after 20 years making the OECD convention the gold standard for combating bribery of foreign public officials. Successor Kos praised as tough, strong leader.
WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Drago Kos, chairman of the international committee rooting out corruption in Afghanistan, is lined up to head the premier OECD Working Group on Bribery in 2014.
Mark Pieth said he was stepping down as chair at the end of December after more than 19 years building the Working Group on Bribery into a world leader in the campaign to hold countries to account for how effectively they combat foreign graft and corruption. He confirmed Kos had been chosen to replace him. The OECD said it could not comment but several people close to the process said final details were being worked out before Kos was officially named.
Kos, a Slovenian lawyer who speaks Russian, has won respect among anti-corruption campaigners and policymakers alike for his tough and charismatic leadership when he chaired the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO).
“He brings along vast experience in the field, perspectives from different geographical locations and, this is my personal view, he is an outstanding individual of great integrity who does not bend to political pressures,” said Karen Hussmann, public policy expert at U4, the anti-corruption resource centre.
These attributes will prove particularly important at the OECD Working Group, which relies on country reviews as its primary tool to cajole countries into adopting tough anti-corruption legislation and then using it effectively to crack down on corporate bribery of foreign public officials.
Britain and Canada have in the past faced particularly contentious reviews, and a highly critical report of Portugal released last month stirred intense debate within the OECD Working Group on Bribery. Some members said the language was watered down in order to reach agreement. Even so, the report pointed out what it viewed as worrisome links between top Portuguese companies and countries plagued by corruption, such as Angola and Brazil, and little appetite to investigate.
“Portugal’s enforcement of its foreign bribery laws has been extremely low. Not a single prosecution has resulted from 15 allegations of Portuguese companies bribing foreign officials in high-risk countries. Several investigations have been closed prematurely. Some allegations were not investigated at all,” the report said.
Huguette Labelle, chair of the leading anti-bribery advocacy group Transparency International, said the pressures on Kos to show leniency will be even greater as the number of countries in the OECD Working Group on Bribery continues to expand.
“He will want to ensure that having a larger number of members does not dilute the quality," she said. He will also need to ensure that countries continue learning from each other to achieve the highest level of compliance, she said.
Pieth's great contribution was in establishing the system of peer reviews, where countries assess each other's performance, which Labelle called a "brilliant" innovation to raise anti-corruption standards. "He was thorough, he was strong and he does his homework. He has demonstrated high professionalism," she said.
The Working Group on Bribery was formed in 1994 and four years later crafted a convention, the world’s only legally binding instrument that focuses exclusively on combating bribery of foreign public officials in international business.
It was a breakthrough in the global fight against corruption by committing leading export countries to make bribery a crime. Many governments had until then considered foreign bribery of public officials a legitimate business expense for tax purposes, and in adopting strong rules the Working Group under Pieth’s determined leadership has established a gold standard for efforts to halt bribery of foreign officials.
Colombia and Russia this year became the latest countries to join the convention, bringing its membership to 40 countries. It meets four times a year and is housed at the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a research arm for top exporting countries which serves as the Working Group’s secretariat. Its member countries represent nearly two-thirds of world trade and 90 percent of outward foreign direct investment, according to its annual report.
Pieth, a Swiss native, said in an interview that he viewed as his greatest achievement “to keep the whole thing going.”
Using a mixture of charm, diplomatic skill and bullying, the professor of criminology from the University of Basel has persuaded country after country to follow the United States’ lead in outlawing foreign bribery, arguing that by doing so countries can foster economic development, spread the rule of law and level the playing field for international business.
“Over 20 years, you have seen the internationalisation of the (U.S.) Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. We managed to get people to write the laws. Now you have to have people live up to those laws,” Pieth said.
Germany and the United States today lead the pack on the enforcement front, he said. A middle group of countries including the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy are making progress in bringing corruption cases. But a third group of about 20 countries have seen no prosecutions despite adopting anti-bribery laws, illustrating the gap between words and action, he said.
The biggest challenge for Kos will be to show resolve. “Not to get roped in by individual countries to soften the standards,” Pieth said. “I am pretty confident he is the best choice. He has a lot of experience.”
Kos could not be reached for comment. The Slovenian studied criminal law at the University of Ljubljana before taking a number of positions at the Ministry of Interior in Slovenia in the 1990s, rising to head its organised crime unit. He also headed the country’s justice and home affairs negotiations during accession talks for entry to the European Union, before taking the chair of GRECO in 2004.
Kos currently is chair of the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, which oversees the national and international efforts to combat fraud, bribery and corruption in Afghanistan.
Pieth is taking a new position as chair of the Appeals Board at the African Development Bank and will continue his work at the University of Basel and as chairman of the non-profit Basel Institute on Governance, which advises on asset recovery, corporate and public governance and compliance in anti-corruption.
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