Evidence is something that supports or provides proof that your “version of events” (i.e. what you are saying happened) actually happened. Evidence comes in many different forms and could include:
If you are taking action to challenge corruption you will need some evidence that a corrupt action has taken place. This section will give you some general tips on what type of evidence you might need when you’re challenging corruption and how you can gather it.
What you need to prove will depend on a number of factors:
If you are reporting corruption to an authority, you will need some evidence to persuade the authority to investigate the issue and/or take further action.
The exact amount of evidence you need will depend on what authority you are reporting corruption to, but less evidence will be needed compared to if you are taking legal action in court.
If you are bringing a legal case, a higher level of evidence is needed to persuade a court, an investigative or an administrative authority that a corrupt act has occurred, and it was committed by the individual or body you say was responsible. The exact amount of evidence needed will depend on:
Later sections in this Guide will go into more detail on these issues. However, it will generally be important to prove the following issues:
It is often important to have evidence that shows:
- What: What was the nature of the corrupt act (e.g. a bribe, an extortion, an embezzlement)?
- Who: What businesses or individuals were involved in the activity that caused the harm? What role did these people occupy? (e.g. a public officer, a private or organised crime) Are there directly injured parties (e.g. whose property was embezzled) or victims?
- How: How was entrusted authority abused? (e.g. Did an employer abuse their power in an employment relationship? Did a public official abuse their position in a public office? Was there a contractual arrangement that was abused?)
- Where: Where did the corrupt act take place (e.g. in a public office by or in a company)?
- When: When did the act occur, or is it still happening?
- Why: Why did the individual or organisation commit the act? (i.e. did they intend to commit the corrupt act? What was their motivation?)
If possible, you would also provide evidence of the consequences of the corrupt act and how the wrongdoer is responsible for the harm you suffered as a result of those actions.
What evidence you need and how you can gather it will also depend on whether you are challenging petty or grand corruption.
Petty corruption is the type of corruption we are most exposed to; it is defined as the everyday abuse of power of public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens. This kind of corruption takes place when citizens are trying to access basic goods or services.
Examples of Petty Corruption:
- You are applying for a driving license or benefits from the government, and the public official asks you for a bribe to pay for a service that should be free;
- A police officer pulls you over when you’re driving and says he will give you a speeding ticket if you don’t pay a bribe;
- A public healthcare provider asking for money to provide a free public service;
- An authority gives a contract for an infrastructure project to a company that paid a bribe or has a special relationship with a public official (i.e. there is a conflict of interest);
- A judge accepting money to give a favourable decision to one party in a case;
- A business partner using your machinery that you lent them, as if it was their own, for their own benefit instead of what was agreed and never returns it to you;
- The police or prosecutors demand you pay them money to start an investigation into a crime;
- An investor is constructing an oversized building right next to your house, disregards numerous construction rules, zoning plan, and damages your property as a result. The construction authority refuses to look into the case, most probably due to bribes paid by the investor;
- An acquaintance of yours offers to get a permit for your small business from the authority, though they already refused to grant it because your company is ineligible. He says he knows people there and can arrange it for you for some money;
- A colleague of yours “forgets” to ever return his office laptop after his dismissal; and
- The buyer of your company takes some bribe from a stationery retailer so that he chooses their products when buying copy paper.
The following could be useful evidence to prove that petty corruption has occurred:
There may be evidence someone is buying things that are way beyond her/his salary (photos etc), which could raise suspicion.
Practical tip: Official Asset Declaration
In every second country, public officials (senior and low-level officials) are obligated to make public not only their income but also Official Asset Declaration to monitor their wealth variations in order to identify illicit enrichment throughout their period as public servants.
This declaration contains a wide variety of assets, such as properties, extended loans, and savings in bank deposits and in cash. The obligation to disclose assets may also cover private entities and individuals empowered to provide public services through outsourcing.
The disclosure of public officials’ income, assets and financial interests can make a difference to strengthen your evidence before Court if a public servant or a company had a variation in his or her wealth.
Where can I find them?
Public disclosure of declarations may take different forms. Generally, they are published in electronic format online. However, in some countries, this information is available on demand only to comply specific conditions such as introducing it as evidence in court.For more information on official asset declaration, see the World Bank’s How-to Guide on Effective Disclosure.
These are all examples of what evidence could be useful. It doesn’t mean that you have to gather all of this evidence. Sometimes, one piece of evidence will be enough to show that petty corruption has occurred. For example:
Sometimes even one statement from a witness could be enough to get an authority to investigate further, even if more evidence would be needed if legal action is later taken.
In some cases, there is time between the solicitation of a bribe and the actual payment. If a trustworthy authority can be notified before the payment, they often can record a key moment of the corrupt deal that can be strong evidence.
Because corruption involves the abuse of entrusted or public authority, evidence is also needed about what role the wrongdoer holds in an organisation or public body.
You could find information about an individual and their role in the following ways:
Grand corruption involves two main elements:
This sort of corruption is generally made by complex and well-established networks and, in some cases, takes place across borders. For example, if the resources allocated to basic services are embezzled, this results in health or education priorities to remain underfunded.
It is very difficult for an individual or single organisation to uncover grand corruption through their own investigation. Grand corruption is most commonly proven when an individual or organisation pulls together different pieces of evidence that are disclosed after one or more of the following events:
In addition, the following evidence may be helpful:
Practical Tip: Putting it all together
Grand corruption is rarely proved by a single piece of evidence. It is often necessary to put together a number of pieces of evidence like a jigsaw in order to demonstrate that grand corruption has taken place.
For example, you may have evidence from a whistleblower or leak that reveals suspected corruption in an organisation or government body. It can then be helpful to find “corroborating evidence” that confirms this evidence (e.g. other witness accounts) and/or specifies the roles of individuals involved (e.g. information from FOI requests or on company directories) and the value of property involved (e.g. tax records, bank statements etc). It may also be useful to get general information on those organisations, their connections and whether any changes in their financial position could be connected to the corrupt activity you are reporting.
When gathering evidence it is important that this is not obtained through unlawful means, since this can affect the outcome of the investigation, be prejudicial for the case and amount to a criminal offence in some situations.
Be careful not to publicly disclose protected information, such as private and confidential information, national security information or business secrets, unless there is a strong public interest in their disclosure. Even in situations where public interest in disclosure, you will need legal advice to decide whether the disclosure would be lawful in your country.
In order to obey the law when gathering evidence we strongly recommend to:
It’s important to check the law in your country to ensure that any evidence you have is gathered lawfully. If you would like more general information on evidence gathering, see How Can I Prove My Case? in A4J’s Going to Court: Q & A.