Fighting corruption is a global imperative. Today, on International Anti-Corruption Day, it is more important than ever that the international community re-affirm its collective commitment to preventing and eradicating public corruption.
The United Nations estimates that the annual cost of corruption is approximately $2.6 trillion, with over $1 trillion paid in bribes each year. That $2.6 trillion is a staggering five percent of the world's economy. But the impact of corruption is far more insidious and harmful than can be measured numerically. Corruption imperils development, stability, and faith in financial markets. The effects of corruption are felt most severely not by the powerful, but by the powerless. In emerging economies, corruption stifles economic development that would lift people out of poverty, improve infrastructure, and better people's lives -- siphoning precious resources away from those in need. Corruption undermines the fundamental promise of democracy, and the fruits of corruption can prop up autocratic and oppressive rulers. And it profoundly weakens the very basis of democratic society -- the rule of law.
Corruption also constitutes a multi-faceted threat to global security and international stability. As we have seen time and again, countries plagued with endemic corruption become breeding grounds and havens for other criminals and terrorist groups who threaten global security. Corruption often serves as a gateway crime, paving the way for human rights violations, money laundering, transnational organized crime, and in some cases even terrorism. In many cases, corruption hollows out the police and military forces that are needed to respond to these security threats -- compromising effective public safety responses.
Combating corruption is a priority for the United States, and we are bringing a variety of tools to bear in this effort. On the "supply-side" of international corruption, the Department of Justice is using the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to bring to justice those who pay bribes, no matter how rich and powerful they are. Since 2009, the Justice Department has convicted more than 50 individuals in foreign bribery cases, and resolved criminal cases against more than 50 corporations with penalties and forfeitures of approximately $3 billion.
The U.S. is also targeting the "demand side" by attacking corruption at its source -- prosecuting corrupt officials who betray the trust of their people and stripping them of the proceeds of their corruption, using both criminal and civil authorities. Through the Justice Department's Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, the U.S. investigates and forfeits corruption proceeds and, where possible, returns those proceeds to benefit the people harmed by this corruption. Recent examples of success include over $30 million in assets recovered from a corrupt official of Equatorial Guinea; $20.2 million returned to Peru; $117 million returned to Italy; $2.7 million returned to Nicaragua; and, in coordination with our partners in Switzerland, approximately $115 million used to benefit children in Kazakhstan.
Together with our foreign law enforcement partners we are taking a truly global approach to rooting out corruption. Increasingly, we and our counterparts report schemes to one another and share information. These international partnerships are paying off. For example, the Justice Department's kleptocracy prosecutors worked closely with anti-corruption prosecutors in the Republic of Korea this past year to investigate, identify, and seize over a million dollars in assets traceable to corruption proceeds acquired by Chun Doo Hwan, a former president of the Republic of Korea.
The United States also works in political arenas such as the G20, and through multilateral frameworks such as the OECD Working Group on Bribery, Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Open Government Partnership, and U.N. Convention against Corruption to build political will, share good practices, and promote transparency and compliance with international norms.
The international community is beginning to bring powerful tools to bear on this critical problem. When the Anti-Bribery Convention came into force 15 years ago, the United States was alone in prosecuting foreign bribery cases; now 17 members of the Working Group on Bribery have successfully prosecuted cases, and, in the last five years, more countries have enacted new anti-corruption laws or enhanced existing laws, and we've seen more countries stepping up their enforcement efforts.
The capacity of countries across the globe to investigate and prosecute domestic and foreign bribery cases is key to deterring corruption, ensuring a level playing field for companies, and promoting economic and social stability, which in turn enables growth and development. Continuing to build our partners' capacity is a priority for our agencies. And that is why the Departments of State and Justice, together with other U.S. government partners, provide expert assistance around the world on legislative reform, training, and institutional strengthening related to the capacity to fight corruption and promote good governance.
By way of example, the U.S. is proud to have taken a leadership role in building an international architecture for coordination among multiple jurisdictions. Responding to the interest of Arab Spring countries, the U.S., as 2012 G8 chair, launched the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery to build relationships among countries, exchange information about legal requirements, and start to build cases. The Forum has served as a model for a similar meeting the State Department organized earlier this year with the United Kingdom to coordinate support to Ukrainian officials seeking to recover assets plundered by former President Viktor Yanukovych.
On all these fronts -- investigation, prosecution, and, training -- international collaboration and partnership are not luxuries; they are necessities. Only by working together, across borders and jurisdictions, can we ensure that the ideals set forth in the United Nations Convention against Corruption are realized, that the promise of democracy is fulfilled, and that the rule of law triumphs over the scourge of kleptocracy and corruption. We should not, and must not, settle for anything less.
About the Author: Leslie R. Caldwell serves as the Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Criminal Division, and William R. Brownfield serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears on the Huffington Post.