Cricket and corruption: The strange case of Shakib Al Hasan

It had been a stellar year for Shakib Al Hasan, the captain of the Bangladeshi cricket team, until on 29 October he was banned from cricket for a year for failing to report inappropriate discussions with an alleged bookmaker. CSC Professor Dan Hough puzzles over why people who know the rules still sometimes break them.

Shakib Al Hasan, the captain of the Bangladeshi cricket team and doyen of Bangladeshi cricket, had a very good summer. He scored 606 runs in cricket’s World Cup, ending as the tournament’s third highest run scorer. He was the jewel in the Bangladeshi cricketing crown.

His Autumn has been altogether different. On 29 October he was banned from all cricket for a year (with a further year suspended) on account of failing to report inappropriate discussions with an alleged bookmaker. He’d fallen foul of the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) rules on how to nip potentially corrupt behaviour in the bud.

Shakib has scored in excess of 11,000 international runs and has taken more than 500 international wickets. He’s had a distinguished career. That career won’t be expunged from the record books. His name will nonetheless be added to the more than 40 players who have been banned for an array of corruption offences. A sorry end to what should have been a year that Shakib could look back on with real pride.

How did it come to this?
Players with Shakib’s experience should not find themselves in this position. As was widely noted in the press, he’ll have attended numerous briefings on how to deal with people asking for information on games that he was playing in. He will have known the warning signs; people whom he didn’t really know asking about team selections, people whom he had never met asking him for his bank account details. When those sorts of issues come up in conversation, you report them to the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU). This really isn’t rocket science, and Shakib will have known it.

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Civil society needs support to fight corruption and organised crime in the Western Balkans

Civil society organisations (CSOs) and investigative journalists in the Western Balkans are critical to raising awareness about fighting corruption and organised crime, as well as supporting state authorities to develop effective strategies. But they lack capacity and resources to address these complex issues, while activists are often harassed and intimidated by the authorities and other powerful individuals. As Andi Hoxhaj (Teaching Fellow in Law, University of Warwick) explains, support from international organisations – both funding and security – is critical.

A rally in Belgrade, Serbia. Credits: Ne Davimo Beograd.

Corruption levels in the Western Balkans are stagnating. Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia saw perceived corruption levels rise in the past year, while Bosnia and Herzegovina remained on the same level, and only North Macedonia witnessed a slight improvement, according to the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2018 of Transparency International. Notwithstanding the CPI’s limitations, it gives a useful snapshot of the situation.

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Montenegro: Captured by Corruption

In the first of a series of posts by investigative journalists and civil society activists working on exposing corruption in the Balkans, Milka Tadić Mijović (President, Centre for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro) discusses impunity in Montenegro and the complicity of the West.

Montenegro. Photo credits: Jarek Jarosz, via a CC BY-NC 2.0 licence.

Last spring, a woman in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, was shot in the leg in front of her apartment. Had the bullet hit the artery an inch further, she could have died. That woman, Olivera Lakic, an investigative journalist who has revealed links between top officials and cigarette smugglers, is still on sick leave. Montenegro is globally known for cigarette and heavy drugs smuggling.

Around Christmas a few years ago, a strong explosion erupted at midnight. The bomb exploded outside the office of the Editor-in-Chief of the daily Vijesti, the most influential newspaper in the country. Just a minute earlier, the editor had left the office. Had he stayed, he might have not been alive anymore. Nobody was held responsible for that crime either.

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Britain, Saudi Arabia and corporate bribery: another Brexit conundrum

Anti-corruption NGOs have recently written to the Attorney General, concerned that the UK government may be tempted to drop its investigation into alleged bribery by Airbus subsidiary GPT in Saudi Arabia. Robert Barrington, Professor of Anti-Corruption Practice at the Centre for the Study of Corruption in Sussex University, argues that this would be a mistake – and not in the interests of either the UK or Saudi Arabia.

Some day soon, we should expect the next chapter in the GPT story. To re-cap, GPT is a defence-related subsidiary of French aerospace giant Airbus. It had a £2billion contract in Saudi Arabia, but a British whistleblower came forward with detailed and documented allegations of bribery. The Serious Fraud Office investigated.

Having investigated, the next stage for the SFO – if it wants to prosecute – is to gain approval from the Attorney General. Where there is sufficient evidence to merit prosecution, there are very few circumstances in which such permission can be legitimately withheld – and inevitably, one of them is that old get-out for cornered governments, ‘national security’ (see paras 49-52 of the Framework agreement between the Law Officers and the Director of the Serious Fraud Office of January 2019).

Could prosecuting some GPT executives, and possibly some colluding Ministry of Defence officials, genuinely threaten national security? It is unlikely. But it might well embarrass the Saudi government, a strategically important relationship for the UK, particularly post-Brexit.

This has echoes of the BAE Systems case fifteen years ago, in which the then Attorney General apparently pressurised the Director of the SFO to drop its investigation into BAE’s (alleged) bribery in Saudi Arabia – on grounds of national security. The sense of unease was compounded when the UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia – who had advised the Attorney General and SFO Director – retired and became the international business development director at BAE Systems. In the end, the US authorities got fed up with the British approach, and launched the prosecution themselves. It is worth noting that the ‘national security’ defence was heavily contested at the time, though it was much closer to the post-9/11 paranoia and concerns about withdrawl of Saudi security cooperation. The legal challenges were taken right up as far as the House of Lords. In today’s parlance, that means the Attorney General could be heading for a showdown in the Supreme Court – perhaps not a great look for the UK Government at this moment.

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Holidays bring warning messages: a Chinese approach to stopping graft

In the holiday season in China, public officials receive messages from the anti-graft watchdog warning them that “gift-giving is not allowed during the holidays”. Yang Wu, a PhD researcher at the CSC, explains the logic behind the messages

With the holiday season coming to an end (the Mid-Autumn Festival on 13-15 September and the National Day holidays on 1-7 October), the top anti-corruption department has been focused on investigating public officials who violate the Party’s discipline, the eight-point frugality code. Party members and public officials have received text messages to remind them to avoid corruption during the holidays. The forbidden acts are detailed as, “any forms of gift-giving is forbidden, including mooncakes, mooncake vouchers, gift cards, banquets etc.” “To secure a clean atmosphere to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China”, as the Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC) puts it, the warnings will get more intense as the holidays near.

These messages of warning are not new to Chinese public officials. The Chinese anti-graft department works very hard on education to prevent (or protect) public officials from violating the Party’s disciplines or even laws. And warnings are considered to be one of the most effective precautionary approaches to curb officials’ luxurious lifestyles and excess bureaucracy. Since late 2012 when the anti-corruption campaign started, these warning messages from the anti-graft department have provided regular reminders for officials about being self-cautious and consciously keeping away from any graft acts.

As an anti-corruption strategy, the warning messages have four aspects.

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