Corruption crosses borders and anti-corruption efforts require cooperation

On April 29, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada released its much anticipated decision in World Bank Group v. Wallace.1 The decision highlights that corruption crosses borders and that anti-corruption efforts benefit from a coordinated approach by law enforcement and non-governmental organizations:

Corruption is a significant obstacle to international development. It undermines confidence in public institutions, diverts funds from those who are in great need of financial support, and violates business integrity. Corruption often transcends borders. In order to tackle this global problem, worldwide cooperation is needed. When international financial organizations, such as the appellant World Bank Group, share information gathered from informants across the world with the law enforcement agencies of member states, they help achieve what neither could do on their own.2

Information shared by World Bank Group with RCMP did not result in loss of group’s immunity

The central issue was whether immunity was lost by the Integrity Vice Presidency (“INT”), the independent fraud investigation unit of the World Bank, over email tips it received and an investigative report that it drafted when it shared some of that information with the RCMP. The RCMP used that information to obtain wiretap authorizations over individuals who were subsequently charged under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act3 with bribing Bangladeshi officials in connection with the World Bank financed Padma Multipurpose Bridge project. As a result of federal legislation giving effect to certain rights conferred on the World Bank Group by its member states, the INT is endowed with immunities which apply to documents in its archives, including the email tips and the investigative report, and its personnel, like INT investigators.

The accused challenged the wiretap authorizations and sought to subpoena the INT investigators and obtain production of contents contained in the investigative file. The Court had to grapple with whether the sharing of information by INT with the RCMP constituted a waiver of its immunity. The issue was resolved in favour of the INT.

Immunity is integral to the World Bank Group’s anti-corruption efforts

A contrary result would render it difficult, if not impossible, for the INT to collaborate with national law enforcement agencies in respect of the breach of national laws. If waiver of immunity resulted every time INT shared information with national law enforcement agencies, there might be a chilling effect on INTs willingness to aid in the prosecution of corruption related offences. According to the Court, such an effect would be harmful since the World Bank Group, and other multilateral banks, are “well placed to investigate corruption and to serve at the frontlines of international anti-corruption efforts”.4

Implications

The effectiveness of anti-corruption efforts is multiplied when there is collaboration between multilateral institutions on the frontlines and national law enforcement agencies. Entities which are subject to sanction proceedings under the jurisdiction of the World Bank Group should be aware that information shared between the collaborating parties will not be subject to production in proceedings brought by the Crown.