You've probably watched this scene in a Hollywood movie: A relative of a minor despot in an unnamed African country mixes smooth talk with a hint of menace while conversing with a Western businessman over tea. The businessman then craftily pushes a suitcase across the floor, eliciting a hearty chuckle from his counterpart.
Corruption is found in all countries, yet the countries where bribery is most insidious—the places where the minor despot's brother-in-law gets what he asks for when oil and gas contracts are in the offing—are the nations often left out of the bargain when the world's anti-corruption forces actually crack down and extract big monetary settlements. A new report from The World Bank and UN Office on Drugs and Crime's Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative found that the biggest regulators and long arms of the global law are doing a good job of cracking down on foreign bribery—they just aren't sharing the wealth when the corruption cases are closed, or helping those countries to cut off corruption at its roots.
Between 1999 and mid-2012, 395 foreign bribery cases were legally settled in a different country from the country where the bribery occurred. From a total $5.8 billion extracted in settlements, only 3 percent ($197 million out of $5.8 billion) was returned to the "affected" countries, The World Bank found. Most of the money stays in one country—the United States. Of the 395 cases studied by The World Bank, just under 70 percent of those cases were prosecuted by the U.S., primarily the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission.
The World Bank/UN study, though, is not an implicit indictment of the United States in the fight against global corruption. The U.S. looms large in the study, primarily in reference to the total sum of assets recovered, for a few key reasons. For one, the country's Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) put it ahead of many other nations in directing resources to the global effort. In addition, multinational corporations that list in the U.S., the world's biggest market, are subject to the FCPA. But if things are going to change and more money from corruption settlements go to systematic reform in the developing world, the U.S. will have to play a big role in sending settlement money beyond its own federal coffers.