International Intransparency

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Transparency International's ambiguous criteria and its suspicious links to Operation Lava Jato

The incomprehensible relegation of Brazil in the Anti-Corruption Index of the NGO Transparency International has sparked a series of criticisms about its Brazil Section, with its ancestors' suspicious links to the unseemly activities of Operation Lava Jato and its projected financial profits to form a Foundation based on initiatives by former prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol.

This magazine article Capital letter, by Ana Flávia Gussen, published on 13/03/2021, summarizes the series of accusations raised against the NGO and the lead prosecutor of Lava Jato, even reproducing a letter in which TI Brasil denies them, saying “ persecuted". These accusations against the Brazil Section had wide international repercussions.

Of course, on the other hand, Brazil's fall in the Index was noted and welcomed by traditional enemies of the government led by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, such as The Globe and former judge Sérgio Moro.

But it is not just the Brazilian Section of TI that is under suspicion. A series of accusations, suspicions and criticisms also surround the organization's headquarters, founded in 1993 by former senior officials of the World Bank, with headquarters in Berlin, Germany.

Among its many services and various publications, the NGO publishes a “Global Corruption Barometer” and its “Corruption Perceptions Index”.

The “Barometer” publishes the results of a broad opinion survey, carried out in dozens of countries, asking things such as “whether the person being surveyed paid any type of bribe during the year under examination” to any public authority in their country. The research and consequent “popular” publication of the NGO is considered.

The “Index” publishes the results of consultations carried out with “experts” and “businessmen” (that is, people from the business sector) and local or regional NGOs on corruption in public bodies, worldwide, establishing a classification of these analyzed countries .

Criticisms begin with the methodology and universe of research. In both cases, the target of these criticisms points to the subjectivity of the evaluations, despite the care taken in research, aiming to guarantee a certain plurality of points of view.

But there is more. One of the broadest criticisms of these procedures points out that the universe researched is limited to the analysis of the public sector, excluding the private sector. It is alleged, for example, that the Lehman Brothers scandal in 2008, whose bankruptcy was caused by undue speculation surrounding real estate mortgages, did not influence the valuation of the United States. Not even the manipulation carried out in 2011 by English banks of the so-called “Libor”, the financial indexes in the capital market, had any influence on the United Kingdom's assessment.

Comparing the situations, it would be as if the Lojas Americanas scandal in Brazil should not have any influence on the evaluation of our country. Or that accusations of money laundering or capital transit to tax havens in order to circumvent federal revenues, common practices in the banking system of several countries considered “serious” and well placed on the Index (England, Ireland, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, among others) should not have any influence on their respective assessments.

Another question raised concerns the way in which the reports are prepared, depending on assessments made by agents spread across the planet, who have their own local and regional criteria.

There are accusations that the NGO received funding from companies denounced for corrupt practices. The most notorious case is that of the German company Siemens, a confessed defendant of such illegal practices in relation to at least ten countries, including the “prob” Israel and Norway. She donated $3 million to the central NGO in 2014, in addition to making other donations to various local chapters, as part of an effort to “cleanse” her reputation following allegations that she was targeted.

From a political point of view stricto sensu the most complicated case for the NGO happened in 2013. At the annual meeting held by the German and Irish sections, they presented a motion asking it to speak out in favor of dismissing the charges against Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who exposed espionage schemes by US intelligence services around the world. However, pressure from the United States Section meant that any mention of the case was eliminated from the final statement.

Due to irregularities in its practices, the North American Section was deaccredited in 2017, being reestablished in 2020. The same had already happened in relation to the Croatian Section in 2015.

Finally, it should be mentioned that there are accusations, pointed out for example in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of abuses committed by NGO directors towards male and female employees.

All data mentioned here can be found by consulting the Wikipedia entry (at least in English) about the NGO and in the sources cited there.

In 2016, TI awarded its annual award for combating corruption to the Brazilian Operation Lava Jato. Former prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol came to Berlin to receive the award with great pomp, being welcomed with a red carpet and other honors.

On that occasion, thanks to a mutual friend, I was able to meet in Berlin with one of the directors of the Latin American sector at the central organization. I warned him of the controversies surrounding the Operation. Honestly, I referred to the fact that there were in Brazil: 1. Operation enthusiasts, generally conservative, anti-PT, supporters of the opposition to left-wing governments; 2. skeptics, that is, those who thought that it was all “a lot of noise” that would lead to nothing; 3. moderate critics, who thought that the Operation committed a series of irregularities, but that it was “the best there was”; 4. disbelievers, who, like me, saw in her a vast conspiracy of lawfare to overthrow the governance of the left, persecute PT leaders and others, including the then former president Lula, demoralize Petrobras and the Brazilian construction companies that competed with the North American ones, with prosecutors and judge Sérgio Moro committing a series of judicial offenses of all luck. The IT manager was somewhat impressed by what I was saying, but went off on a tangent, saying that he opted for version number 3: if problems occurred, it was “the best there was”.

When the allegations against Lava Jato grew in a proven and complete way, I and a few other friends sent messages to the NGO demanding a position and arguing for the suspension of that nefarious and nefarious award. We got some evasive answers and that was it. As I said on another occasion, the rest was silence. A deafening silence.  

* Flavio Aguiar, journalist and writer, is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (boitempo). []

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