OCCRP Weekly News Roundup: Good intentions can have bad results.

Valerie Hopkins

This is not a good week for the bad guys, but it isn’t great for the good guys, either.

An 18 year old Ukrainian girl who was gang raped and set ablaze by three men, two of whom were sons of local politicians, died Thursday after prompting a nationwide discussion about corruption in her country.

An Albanian reporter is facing charges for simply doing her job covering a dispute between high level officials. The Prime Minister’s office filed charges against journalist Lindita Cela for her coverage of politicians accusing one another of being part of the repressive communist regime that ruled the country until 1992. Albania’s Union of Journalist condemned the lawsuit as an attack by state officials on journalists who publish critical stories based on documents and facts. 

And now for the bad guys…

Convicted arms smuggler Viktor Bout’s defense attorney has filed a motion asking New York Judge Shira Scheindlin not to sentence him for the crime he was found guilty for several months ago: conspiring to sell anti-aircraft weapons to terrorists.

He said his arrest was all about “private politics” from “the then White House,” a reference to former U.S. President George W. Bush, in office when Bout was arrested in Thailand in March 2008.

Bout’s lawyer Albert Dayan called the minimum 25 year prison sentence “way too much under the facts and circumstances of this case.”

Did the good guys go bad because of Western money, pressure, and policies?

Tales of corruption in the European Union's newest member countries Romania and Bulgaria are frequently cited as the reason they have not yet gained access to the EU's visa-free Schengen travel zone..  But Central European EU members Austria, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic are all gripped by corruption scandals of their own as is the Union’s future member Croatia.

But could we have predicted this?  A 2007 book by Professor and Faculty Head of Political Science at Arizona State University Carolyn M. Warner argued that the pots of money open for European Union membership could invite corruption.

Now, a study just published in the American Sociological Review argues that it was the policies espoused by Western governments and institutions such as the World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the International Monetary Fund that led to the corruption that has come to define former communist country’s transition to democracy.

The new study, by Lawrence King, and David Stuckler, of Cambridge, and Patrick Hamm, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Harvard University, explores how mass privatization negatively impacted the transitional economies’ growth.

“The more faithfully countries adopted the policy, the more they endured economic crime, corruption, and economic failure. This happened, the study argues, because the policy itself undermined the state’s functioning and exposed swathes of the economy to corruption,” says the abstract.

The lessons could have useful application in Russia, which has been trying to apply Western-backed reforms in order to gain access to markets and join economic units like the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development while struggling to combat a legion of government officials and businessmen, who remain so tightly knit that sometimes they are indistinguishable.

Or could it be that corruption was just endemic even in the former communists structures and liberalization of the economy also liberalized corruption.  Throw in the criminal services industry like offshore registration agents and dodgy London lawyers who helped crooked government officials and oligarchs hide and launder their wealth and you have a recipe for a buffet of corruption.