Interview of the U.S. Coordinator on Global Anti-Corruption, Richard Nephew with 360 Degrees

Interview of
the U.S. Coordinator on Global Anti-Corruption, Richard Nephew
with 360 Degrees
March 13, 2023  |  Video

360 Degrees: Mr. Nephew, what is the “US Anti-Corruption Czar,” as you have been referred to by some media, doing here in North Macedonia?

Mr. Nephew: Well, I have to disappoint you a little bit.  My title is a little less fun than Anti-Corruption Czar.  I am the Coordinator on Global Anti-Corruption.  It’s my job to help integrate and to elevate all the different parts of U.S. efforts to fight corruption around the world.  And so, of course, we are interested in helping our partners, in helping our embassies, and helping all of the countries that are right now struggling with this challenge of corruption, which is a worldwide problem, deal with it.  So, I’m visiting here because I know that there are a lot of questions and concerns about corruption in this country.  I know that there’s a lot of emphasis on trying to address it.  And so I’m here to help lend my voice in support of reforms, and to have a deeper understanding of the challenges that are facing the people of North Macedonia and to understand a little bit better how we can continue to help support those who are fighting against corruption.

360 Degrees: You mentioned help; because assistance in tackling corruption in North Macedonia is among the top priorities of the local U.S. Embassy, but also of the Deputy Assistant Secretary’s team. What more can the U.S. do?

Mr. Nephew:  Well, look, I think fundamentally we need to all recognize that anti-corruption efforts need to start at home, and that when the U.S. provides help it is to provide assistance to those that are trying to engage in reform efforts and trying to improve their systems and to try and deal with the problems through new legislation and so forth, here at home in the countries we work in.  So, I think I’m here in part to learn a little bit more about what are the current challenges, what are the needs of the people, what are the needs of civil society organizations, what the government is interested in doing more in this space, and to try and bring some of that knowledge and that learning back home to the United States.

360 Degrees:  So, it’s a needs assessment?

Mr. Nephew:  Well, certainly it’s a needs assessment.  It’s also for us to be able to then apply some of the experience and some of the expertise that we as a country have from working around the world. One of the best parts of my job as an anti-corruption official who has global remit, is that I can go around the world and talk to governments in South America, in East Asia, and in other places, and learn things about how they’re working on some of these problems and challenges and then try to bring some of those lessons to other parts of the world, too.

360 Degrees:  There is one current ongoing case that can put U.S. efforts to tackle corruption in North Macedonia in question.  Your arrival here, your presence in Skopje, coincides with the signing of the agreement for the construction of highways, Corridor 8 and part of Corridor 10, between the Macedonian authorities and a U.S.-Turkish consortium, Bechtel-Enka.  And there is a strong outcry in the country raising concerns that the overall process involving the agreement, but also the signing of the tender with the consultant that is going to supervise this agreement, has a large potential for corruption.  I’m asking: is this not a, I would say, danger for the U.S. efforts by the government but also by the embassy here, that can undermine its efforts to tackle corruption in North Macedonia?

Mr. Nephew: Well, again, I’m a global official with a global responsibility, and so I’m not intimately familiar with all the various, different elements of these sorts of contracts in particular countries including here in North Macedonia. Of course, the Embassy is a strong supporter of U.S. business activity here, just as embassies are around the world are, and I think the Embassy has done that with regard to this. That said, I think it’s very clear that we are also an absolute advocate for, and we stand by, the values and the statements that we made about fighting corruption, so if there are corruption allegations, then they need to be investigated.  Corruption allegations should be investigated really wherever they are, and those investigations should be taken seriously.

360 Degrees:  I’m asking about this question about this specific company because there is, I would say, not so good examples, negative examples, about doing their work in neighboring countries, let’s say Albania and Kosovo where there were allegations of corruption, but, you know, nothing happened and the company is still working.

Mr. Nephew: Again, our commitment to these values is real, it’s sustained, and it’s permanent.  And so, if there are allegations, those allegations should be investigated, and they should be investigated fully. The U.S. law has got a number of provisions that require us to take corruption by U.S. companies abroad very very seriously; those laws are going to be enforced.  I think the main thing I would say is our position on this is absolutely clear, that we believe that if there is evidence, if there are allegations of corruption, those allegations should be investigated, and the investigation needs to be allowed to proceed as it should.

360 Degrees: Even if it is maybe involving a U.S. company?

Mr. Nephew: Again, as I said, we’ve got very specific and strict laws about U.S. companies and their ability to engage in these kinds of activities abroad. And so our position I think is quite clear, it’s dictated in terms of policy and in law.  It’s also worth pointing out that part of my job is to implement the U.S. national strategy to combat corruption.  It’s a national strategy.  It deals with our international partners and international efforts, but also deals with efforts at home, and we take the issue of corruption as seriously in the United States and with U.S. companies, as we do with anyone else.

360 Degrees:  Public trust in the judiciary and the prosecution office here in the country is at an historic low, and that leads to overall distrust of the public in the public institutions, and also undermines democracy, of course.  So how can we make, how can you help make this process reversible, and what should the focus be on in the following period?

Mr. Nephew: Well, you’re absolutely right that when you have a distrust of the integrity of rule of law it damages society, it damages confidence in governance, it damages the confidence of the population in the country itself, as well as society more generally.  So, I think from my perspective, the most important thing to do is to try to restore that confidence by being able to demonstrate that those actors who are engaged in corrupt actions are held to account, and that comes down to being able to ensure that the judiciary can do its job.  We’ve got a number of different projects and activities that we’re doing to help support the judiciary here and to help enable it to have more capability to be able to operate in this space.  But ultimately, of course, those are steps that are intended to support actions that need to be taken by authorities here in North Macedonia.  We’re also looking in engaging very closely with our partners here both talking with civil society organizations as well as the government about the importance of judicial independence, about the integrity of institutions, and encouraging reforms and steps that can be taken to enshrine those.  So, I think our perspective is that if you are in a position to be able to demonstrate to the population that you have judicial integrity, that you have institutional integrity, that you have judicial and institutional independence, then you’re in a position to be able to show that even if there are challenges, they are being overcome.

360 Degrees:  Expectations in the country concerning the OFAC list are very high.  You work closely, I guess with the Treasury Department and the Treasury Sanctions Team.  Whether and when should the citizens expect an update with new entries from North Macedonia on this so-called “blacklist”?   Because this is a very important question, the buzzword is the “blacklist,” and possible new entries, and we also had the U.S. Ambassador a couple of days ago talking about a possible name or two on the list.

Mr. Nephew:  We don’t call it the blacklist, but I know why it’s got that kind of attraction here. We work on our sanctions authorities, and we work on our sanctions cases on the basis of evidence, and so when there is evidence, we follow it up and pursue it with sanction steps, including some that are mandatory under U.S. law.   And so, it’s an evidence-based process.  As the evidence is developed, as the cases are developed, there will be additional sanctions, additional sanctions will be announced.  But it has to be dependent on evidence, it’s a rule of law tool and so it therefore needs to also meet with rule of law standards.  And that means that we follow the evidence and then we impose sanctions as those pieces of evidence are materializing.  I’ll also say, too, in some of course, this sometimes can take time.  In other countries where I’ve been, there has been this sense of “oh, we haven’t seen it in the last two months;” “we haven’t seen anything in the last three months.  That must mean they’ve fallen asleep.  That must mean they no longer care about my country.  They no longer care about this country…”

Let me assure you that it may take us some time, because we are developing the evidence, to be able to have an effective rule of law tool, but we will follow the evidence and we will impose sanctions when we see it is necessary.  It is also worth noting of course, that sanctions tools are only one tool of a strategy, the whole objective is that we’re able to encourage reforms and encourage the types of steps that don’t require us to have to utilize these sanctions authorities, and that sanctions are only one tool in our anti-corruption toolkit.

360 Degrees: Possible timeframe?

Mr. Nephew: Again, we let the evidence show us where we need to go.

360 Degrees: Thank you very much.

Mr. Nephew: Thank you!

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