Uphill Battle on Accountability

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy campaigning in Nancy this week. / REUTERS

A new survey of 31 countries finds that nearly all–the United States included–lack effective mechanisms to police the flow of private money into political campaigns.

The report, by the Washington, D.C.-based research organization Global Integrity, surveyed the effectiveness of laws against corruption and the power and independence of accountability of anti-corruption efforts. It found that in much of the world, efforts that appear effective on paper are undermined by a lack of independence from the ruling party.

Unlike the more widely-known measure by Transparency International, the new survey does not focus on perceptions of corruption, but on the mechanisms for oversight and accountability in each of the countries. On a scale of 0 to 100, some 29 countries, including the United States, scored below 60.

Sweep to Global Integrity Report: U.S. joins countries that fail to effectively implement money-in-politics rules

And speaking of campaign finance . . .

French Presidenti Nicolas Sarkozy faces a new barrage of questions over his 2007 election campaign.

The questions revolve around donations from Lilliane Bettencourt, the elderly heiress to the L’Oreal cosmetics fortune.

A police investigator has taken Patrice de Maistre, Betttencourt’s former wealth manager, into custody for questioning. Investigators are focusing on her relationship with Eric Woerth, the treasurer of Sarkozy’s party during the 2007 campaign. At  issue is some $1.06 million in withdrawals from Bettencourt’s bank accounts in Switzerland in the months before the election.

Speaking on French television, Sarkozy dismissed the allegations, saying, “As usual, ahead of a presidential election, there are a few stink bombs.”

Sweep to Sarkozy faces new questions in Bettencourt saga

In recent years, Swiss banks have come under intense pressure from U.S. regulators, which forced them to turn over information on clients who may have used Switzerland’s famous banking secrecy to dodge taxes in the United States.

But three German tax investigators are getting quite a different reception this week. A Swiss prosecutor is seeking the arrest of the three on charges of economic espionage, for allegedly purchasing information on German clients of Credit Suisse Bank.

The brouhaha threatens to derail a larger deal that Germany is trying to forge with its neighbor, aimed at recovering an estimated $166 billion in taxes that German depositors are hiding in Swiss accounts.

The bilateral arrangement would allow Switzerland to collect the taxes on these accounts and pass the proceeds onto Germany, without revealing the identities of the account holders. The Swiss could also fine German customers for undeclared assets.

The deal would allow Switzerland to retain its banking secrecy, and give Germany the tax revenues it is due.

Sweep to Swiss spy charge signals German tax deal trouble

Diana Jean Schemo

Diana Jean Schemo

Diana Jean Schemo is co-founding executive editor of 100Reporters and an award-winning former foreign, national and cultural correspondent for The New York Times and the Baltimore Sun.
Diana Jean Schemo

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