18 February 1999
(Gore says corruption threatens global prosperity) (670) By Phillip Kurata USIA Staff Writer Washington -- Representatives from 79 governments and scores of international bodies and non-governmental organizations gather in Washington February 24 to 26 for the first global conference devoted to fighting corruption. "As we move into the global information age, foreign corrupt practices threaten to undermine both the growth and the stability of our global trade and financial system," conference host, Vice President Al Gore said. "Nowhere are the consequences more evident than in emerging and developing economies." Billed as a "new approach" to fighting corruption, the U.S. government intends for the conference to develop methods to enforce integrity among justice and security officials, including police, border officials, military personnel, prosecutors and judges. The prime mechanism by which the war on corruption will be waged is "peer review," according to a State Department document. That means once governments make public commitments to outlaw corruption, they will be held accountable through a continuous process of mutual evaluation. During the three-day conference, panel discussions will deal with various aspects of the problem, such as private sector corruption, upholding integrity among justice and security officials, religious values in the struggle for clean government and ways to make bribery visible. A special group comprising members from 20 armed forces will deal with integrity issues specific to the military. The U.S. goverment intends to submit the conference resolutions to the members of the Group of Eight (G-8), the seven largest industrial democracies plus Russia, for approval at the next summit which will take place in Cologne, Germany in June. The United States also wants to incorporate the principles and practices against corruption into the United Nations Global Program against Corruption when the U.N. General Assembly convenes next October. The U.S. government urges another government to hold a follow-up conference in two years to evaluate progress in eliminating the scourge that Gore says is thriving at a time "emerging economies open their doors to foreign investment and trade." The head of the criminal division of the U.S. Justice Department, Assistant Attorney General James Robinson, says international crime occupies "easily 50 percent" of his division's time and resources. "We're dealing as much, it seems some days, with the State Department as with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That's been a dramatic change, the amount of work the Justice Department is doing in the international arena," Robinson said. Robinson says the Criminal Division runs international training programs for prosecutors and police agencies throughout the world, notably in South America and Eastern Europe where corruption is entrenched. "That's an exciting development and increasingly important as our borders become larely irrelevant in the fight against crime as people can flee easily and get on the Internet in a foreign country and engage in criminal activities and frauds," Robinson said. Vice President Gore has convened the gathering a few days after the Anti-Bribery Convention of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) went into effect. The 29 OECD members, comprising the world's largest economies, and five developing countries in Latin America and Eastern Europe, have signed the treaty that criminalizes bribery of foreign government officials. The OECD treaty took effect February 15 in the 12 countries that have ratified the treaty and adopted implementing laws: the United States, Iceland, Japan, Germany, Hungary, Finland, the United Kingdom, Canada, Norway, Bulgaria, South Korea and Greece. Among the signatory countries that have not ratified it are France, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium, which account for nearly a quarter of all OECD exports. France and Italy -- members of the G-8 -- may balk at U.S. pressure on them to implement the treaty at the Cologne summit. The treaty "took more than eight years to negotiate," says U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley. "The entrenched interests trying to keep bribery 'business as usual' were hard to beat. These interests are still trying to maintain the status quo."