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Fighting corruption: an overview


Who can take action to fight corruption?

Anyone who has suffered from the effects of corruption can take action to fight it.

This includes anybody who suffered, or may suffer harm from corruption: an individual, a local community, a local government of a town, a regional government, a country, a business enterprise or any other affected organisation.

EXAMPLE: In 2011 more than a hundred Cambodian families were ordered by a local judge to give up their land in Sihanoukville to a government official, even though many of them had lived there for more than a decade. Despite fearing reprisals, the villagers decided to fight back. They brought legal proceedings to recover possession of their land and to prosecute the government official for forging public documents.

As the above example shows, people who seek to expose corruption (called “whistleblowers”) sometimes have understandable fears of reprisal from the wrongdoers. Some countries have specific legal procedures designed to protect whistleblowers from harm. We discuss this in the section headed “Right to protection as a whistleblower”.


What are the main ways of fighting corruption?

There are various different ways to fight corruption:

  • you may be able to report the conduct of the corrupt individual to his/her employer or to law enforcement agencies.  This will often trigger the commencement of an investigation, and perhaps a criminal prosecution.  We discuss this in the section headed “How do I start an investigation into corrupt conduct?“.
  • you may be able to start a claim for compensation in a civil court.  We discuss this in more detail in the section headed “How do I start a civil court claim?“.
  • you may be able to challenge the corrupt conduct by asking for an administrative remedy, either from a state body or from the administrative courts in your country.  We discuss this in the section headed “How do I get an administrative remedy?“.
  • If you are concerned that you may suffer reprisals or other adverse outcomes as a result of bringing attention to the corrupt conduct, you may wish to explore whether there are procedures available under the laws in your country that may protect you from this.  We discuss this in the section headed “Right to protection as a whistleblower
  • If you have lost money or other assets as a result of the corrupt conduct, you may be able to recover them.  We explain how to do this in the section headed “How do I recover stolen assets?

What remedies might I be able to obtain?

There is a wide variety of remedies that you can seek in respect of the damage caused by corrupt conduct.  Here are some examples:

Criminal sanctions: for example, the conviction of wrongdoers (individuals or corporations) for committing criminal offences.

EXAMPLE: In 2017, former Brazilian President President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was convicted of corruption charges and sentenced to nine and a half years in prison. The prosecution claimed that Lula had been given an apartment as a bribe, in a scheme involving the state oil company. The conviction is under appeal.

Civil or private law remedies:

  • financial compensation for damages
  • a court ruling confirming that your rights have been breached
  • a court ruling preventing the wrongdoer from engaging in further corrupt conduct;
  • a court order that the wrongdoer should repay the monies that you lost as a result of the corrupt conduct;
  • a court order that the wrongdoer should pay punitive damages (in other words, compensation that is not limited to the amount of your loss);
  • an order that annuls or cancels a contract or licence/permit that was obtained through corruption.

Administrative remedies:

  • the overturning of a decision of an administrative body overturned
  • the annulment or cancellation of a public law contract
  • the imposition of a financial penalty for an administrative offence

EXAMPLE: In 2016, the government of Panama announced that it would cancel a contract awarded to a Brazilian company named Odebrecht, after the company admitted in proceedings in the US that it had paid $59million in bribes to intermediaries in Panama between 2010 and 2014. Odebrecht was also banned from participating in future public bids in Panama.

Specific remedies for whistleblowers

In countries which have whistle-blower protection, these remedies generally aim to alleviate the consequences of any reprisals for seeking to tackle the corrupt conduct, with the aim of making the “whistleblower” whole. This includes:

  • interim and injunctive relief;
  • legal and other professional fees;
  • transfer to a new place of work;
  • compensation for lost earnings and status;
  • compensation for pain and suffering (which may also include medical expenses, relocation costs or identity protection).

Asset recovery:

“Asset recovery” refers to the process by which proceeds of corruption are returned to the country, county, community, person from which they were taken (i.e. the prior legitimate owner).

The “proceeds of corruption” can cover any property that was obtained through, or derived from, the commission of a corruption offence: including monies paid or taken, and any property that the corrupt person bought with that money.

Changing the culture!

Perhaps most importantly of all, by taking action against corrupt conduct you may be able to influence public opinion, mobilise people who are interested in the outcome of the case, create a safer environment for people who report corruption and make authorities more alert to the risk of corrupt conduct.


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