Corruption busters

Interpol calls for training academy to fight organized crime

By Thomas Land


The beleaguered judicial and law enforcement agencies of the Czech Republic could definitely benefit from the new “corruption busters” academy being established by Interpol to target fraud.

The research and training academy was originally intended to help the authorities of the formerly Soviet-dominated lands of the region to clean up their acts. But the rapid globalization of organized crime has ensured that all countries must learn how to collaborate if they are ever to beat the common enemy.

Fraudulent transactions cost the global economy an estimated 110 billion euros per year. They lubricate criminal activities in many spheres from human trafficking and organized prostitution to terrorism, money laundering and drug-running.

A disturbing recent report issued by the World Bank concluded that corruption is on the rise in the Czech Republic. Its authors estimated that well over 25 percent of enterprises routinely employ graft to find favor with public officials. They found that serious bribery allegations are being leveled at politicians and public servants at virtually all levels of administration.

A U.S. expert on human trafficking and forced prostitution describes the Czech Republic as “the brothel of Europe.” The Vienna-based United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says the country is both a source and destination of victims. The gangs thriving on that highly lucrative trade are said to originate in Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and Albania.

Corruption is a white-collar crime, which ultimately costs the consumer in the inflated price of essential goods and services as well as security. This is of enormous concern to the European Union, which the Czech Republic joined in 2004. It’s also a big problem for other former Soviet satellite states still struggling to free themselves from an entrenched culture of corruption inherited from their bygone communist masters.

Interpol’s global counter-corruption program was endorsed by the June summit conference of the world’s eight richest industrial countries — the G8 — at Heiligendamm, Germany. A centerpiece of the program is the establishment of the corruption busters’ academy, for which Interpol has launched a 15 million euro fundraising campaign. It has already picked a site for the academy just outside Vienna.

The institution will open for business in 2009. It will function under the new United Nations Convention against Corruption.

Ronald K. Noble, Interpol secretary general, observes: “Corruption is a significant factor in a wide range of crimes. It must be attacked in a focused, sustained and global manner.
“The academy will provide training and conduct research on trends, best practice and new techniques in anti-corruption investigations. It will offer operational support and information on causes and effects of corruption in the criminal justice system.”

It will be a nonprofit, university-level institution financed from voluntary contributions by governments and the many organizations threatened by corruption. It will serve as a focal point for a series of similar regional centers to be established eventually in many parts of the world.

Up to 150 high-level specialists will be trained at the new center the first year, drawn from the police, judiciary services and government departments of the Czech Republic and Interpol’s 185 other member countries.

Both the curriculum and the research program of the institution will emphasize the sociological, administrative, psychological and criminal aspects of corruption.

Vienna was asked to host the academy under Austria’s presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2006. Once the seat of the Habsburg empire, Vienna likes to regard itself as the main bulwark against organized crime invading the EU from the east. Interpol was founded here in 1923 to provide secure global police communication, data and organizational support services worldwide.

Austria is still widely perceived as largely crime-free, holding the 11th-best place in the current Corruption Perception Index published by the authoritative global watchdog

Transparency International. The Czech Republic is a lot lower on the list, at 46th place, even worse than Italy. Bulgaria and Romania, the source of many kidnapped sex slaves traded in Central and Western Europe, joined the European Union this January holding the 57th and 84th places, respectively, on the crime ladder. That made them the worst within the EU and among the worst in Europe.

You might think Vienna is much better at law enforcement than Prague, but is it? To the surprise of many Viennese, their prosperous and clean city will be the first to benefit from the Interpol college. They are stunned by current revelations of big-time gangs thriving here, trading in a wide range of such proscribed commodities as narcotics, radiological materials and child pornography.

A report issued by the UN’s Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board names Austria as one of the major transit zones though which Afghan heroin shipments are being smuggled into the lucrative markets of the EU. The trade is accelerating.

The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, also in Vienna, describes an upsurge of traffic in radiological materials smuggled through this region. The contraband comprises radioactive materials suitable for release in crude “dirty bombs” that the security services of several EU countries believe terrorist organizations intend to deploy in their vulnerable population centers.

The Austrian federal police have unmasked a pornography network based in Vienna and linked to thousands of suspects in Britain, France, Germany and elsewhere. Police say the network traded in images involving “child sex abuse of the worst kind” and describe the scoop as “a strike against child pornography unprecedented in Austrian criminal history.”

No country is immune to organized crime during this era of mass trade and travel. The only realistic line of defense, according to Interpol, is police cooperation under the UN Convention against Corruption of countries united by their common vulnerability. This is borne out by the experience of the Czech Republic, which has already established successful collaborative legal assistance programs with Austria and Germany leading to several successful prosecutions.

The police forces of many countries are still notoriously distrustful of each other and fear corruption-related information leaks. The international corruption busters’ academy will teach them how to cooperate.

— Thomas Land is a Vienna-based author and foreign correspondent who writes on global affairs.

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