Marvin ‘Bad News’ Barnes died last week. Barnes probably summed up the state of professional basketball more than any one person in the 1970s. He was enigmatic, supremely talented, defiantly self-indulgent, fell prey to drugs and alcohol and lost everything. He exploded onto the national scene in 1973 with a Providence team who went to the Final Four and then went on to play for one of the most unique collection of basketball talents ever assembled; the aptly named St. Louis Spirits in the old American Basketball Association (ABA). After the folding of the ABA, he played for Boston, Detroit, Buffalo and San Diego in the National Basketball Association (NBA). In his obituary in the New York Times (NYT), entitled “Marvin Barnes, Enigmatic Basketball Player, Dies at 62”, reporter Bruce Weber quoted former Spirits owner Donald Schupak, from a 1976 interview where he said of Barnes, “He’s a nice guy, a sweet guy, everybody likes him. He’s just totally unreliable. He’s probably in the top five players talent-wise. In terms of value to the team, he’s probably in the bottom 10 percent.” My personal favorite Bad News Barnes story was the time he showed up for a Pistons game in the middle of the first quarter, dressed in his game jersey and a full length mink coat, eating some French Fries, claiming he had ‘overslept’. Bad news indeed.
I thought about Bad News Barnes whilst reading some recent Financial Times (FT) articles about China’s fight against corruption. They were “China takes its anti-corruption battle to foreign shores” and “China bribe cases pose test for west as suspects flee” both by Jamil Anderlini. I thought they posed some interesting questions for anti-compliance practitioners, law enforcement officials who enforce anti-corruption laws and the anti-corruption commentariatti out there.
The problem of corruption in China is both well known and well documented, as is the ongoing anti-corruption campaign. In the former article, Anderlini says, “The US-based group Global Financial Integrity estimates illegal flows out of China amounted to $2.83tn [that is Trillion] between 2005 and 2011. The article details that China is carrying the fight against anti-corruption outside the boundaries of the country to seek those persons who may have been the recipients of corrupt payments and have fled the country.” He wrote, “Communist party officials have launched an investigation into assets and individuals based in New Zealand.” The effort, code named “Fox Hunt 2014” (you have to love that moniker), is being run by the Communist Party’s “Central Commission for Discipline Inspection [CCDI], a shadowy organization with a controversial human rights record”. It has set a dedicated office to “investigate allegedly corrupt officials who have absconded or sent relatives and assets abroad.”
In the later article, Anderlini wrote that CCDI status is as the “extralegal body that answers only to the Communist party leadership and has the power to indefinitely detain any of the country’s 86m party members without trial and without access to legal representation. It is often accused of torture, inhumane treatment of suspects and politically motivated investigations, according to human rights groups.” Moreover, some believe this pursuit raises difficult questions for western democracies. Anderlini quoted one un-named diplomat for the following, “Our countries don’t want to be seen as havens where corrupt officials can flee to with their ill-gotten gains but there are serious questions facing any democratically elected government about how far they can co-operate with China’s authoritarian system.” Further, unlike the US, many countries ban the death penalty, which is still legal in China for those Communist Party and government officials who are convicted of accepting bribes. Finally is the issue of the CCDI and the Chinese judicial system. Anderlini said, “Even when cases have been transferred by the CCDI to China’s formal legal system, there are serious questions about judicial independence because the courts ultimately answer to the party hierarchy.”
For some of these reasons and perhaps others, “China does not have extradition treaties with any western democracies although it does have agreements with 38 countries and has repatriated 730 people suspected of “major economic crimes” since 2008, according to state media.” The Chinese government hopes it will “catch more fugitives in countries such as Canada, Australia and the US – the three most popular destinations for allegedly corrupt officials, according to Chinese state media.” Finally, Anderlini noted that multiple “Beijing-based diplomats from several western countries, including the UK, say China has applied growing pressure in recent months in an attempt to secure their help for investigations in their countries.”
Anderlini reported that some people in New Zealand have been made uncomfortable with all of this. He said, “the New Zealand public remains deeply sceptical of closer ties with the authoritarian Chinese government.” Moreover, “In the case of New Zealand, the overwhelming importance of the economic relationship has made at least some people argue for closer co-operation with Beijing in tackling the flow of illicit funds and fugitives from China.” He also quoted Russel Norman, co-leader of New Zealand’s Green Party, who believes “The NZ Police, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Prime Minister’s office need to tell the public of New Zealand what, if any, access we are willing to allow the Chinese Communist party to New Zealand residents. Allowing this to happen would be like giving the KGB access to expatriate Russian citizens during the cold war.”
What should the response of western governments be regarding the efforts of the Chinese government to fight internal corruption? Should western governments, such as here in the US, cooperate with the Chinese government in requests for documents, other evidence or interviews? Can the US or other western governments expect reciprocity from the Chinese in a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act investigation if they do not give the same courtesy to Chinese prosecutors? Should the fact that China has harsher penalties for accepting bribes, even up to the death penalty, preclude western governments from cooperating with the Chinese officials. (Please note such argument would not apply in the great state of Texas, where the death penalty most surely does still exist.) What about the CCDI, the “extralegal body” which is heading up this investigation? Should western countries be required to evaluate who is enforcing the Chinese laws on the books against corruption? Can or should you compare the CCDI with the KGB? If you are going to evaluate that body, does it logically lead to an evaluation of the entire Chinese legal system? Finally, if western governments believe that bribery and corruption are insidious matters that require responses, should they care whether an extrajudicial organ of the Chinese Communist Party is involved? All I can conclude is Bad News indeed for those Chinese officials who the CCDI is after, no matter where they might have fled.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2014