Southeast Asian Anti Corruption agencies come together to address environmental threats

Cebu (Philippines), 14 November 2016
- Anti-corruption practitioners from across Southeast Asia have gathered in Cebu to address challenges related to corruption and integrity in the environment sector. The thematic forum - jointly organised by the Ombudsman Office of the Philippines and UNODC - included representatives of the anti-corruption agencies in Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, and took place a year after the Asia Pacific Economic Forum.

Corruption is widely considered a key factor in facilitating criminal activities in sensitive environmental fields, such as the forestry and the fishery sectors, as well as mining and waste disposal. This forum had a specific focus on the corruption risks associated with the supply chains of the wildlife and timber trades. Each country shared its experiences - including factors contributing to successes and mitigating challenges - related to the prevention and investigation of corruption cases in these sectors.

Important highlights included the successful prosecution in some countries of provincial governors implicated in forestry-related corruption, which also resulted in the recovery of assets and crime proceeds. Another positive development among several countries was the creation of integrity units within high-risk departments in the environmental ministries to detect possible irregularities in procurement processes. Several countries also outlined their strategies and efforts to promote cooperation between anti-corruption agencies, law enforcement and regulatory agencies to prevent and investigate crime.

The Ombudsman of the Philippines, Hon. Conchita Carpio Morales addressed the forum and stressed the importance of having created a team of investigators dedicated to environment-related cases within the Office. "For too long, we have overlooked the role that corruption plays in the facilitation of criminal activities that destroy our forests, our seas, our ecosystems. It is not too late to reverse this mistake and to act together to build a better future for the Planet and for our children", she said.

"The adoption of legislations for the liability of legal persons is crucial to effectively prosecuting corruption cases linked to environmental crimes", said Francesco Checchi, UNODC Regional Corruption Advisor . "The possibility of imposing administrative and criminal penalties, not only to individuals but also to legal persons, offers powerful tools to prosecutors to deter and punish commercial entities that collude with corrupt public officials to exploit and smuggle natural resources".

The forum developed a list of recommendations on both the preventing and investigating corruption cases. These included the need to compile databases of companies convicted for corruption offences and other environmental crimes - such as wildlife smuggling and illegal timber trade - with a view to making them available to law enforcement agencies for the promotion of intelligence-led investigations.

"Anti corruption agencies have a unique mandate to investigate cases in which public officials abuse their power or fail to bring integrity, transparency and justice to public processes in the environment sector", said Giovanni Broussard, from the UNODC Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crimes. "We are therefore committed to supporting regional cooperation among these agencies, and triggering more efficient information sharing, and possibly joint investigations, to target transnational environmental crimes."