ISCI is a cross-disciplinary research centre working to further our understanding of state crime: organisational deviance violating human rights

A Critical Introduction to Corruption

Though corruption is difficult to define precisely, and harder still to quantify, it is undoubtedly one of the most widespread forms of criminal victimization in todays world; and in its most serious forms it is properly regarded as a form of state crime rather than individual deviance. The International Crisis Group report Kyrgyzstan: A Hollow Regime Collapses, describes Kurmanbek Bakiyevs government, overthrown in April 2010, as an example of state corruption, that is, a system where the main levels of state power are controlled by individuals or a group whose main intent is to extract personal gain from public finances (p. 2, n. 2).

The suspected practices of Bakiyev, his close family and other cronies included:

  • Exporting electricity despite acute shortages of power within Kyrgyzstan at a recorded price less than two-thirds of the market price, and pocketing the difference between the recorded price and what customers actually paid.
  • Protecting narcotics shipments from Afghanistan.
  • Ballot-rigging.
  • Forcing owners of profitable businesses to sell them at knock-down prices or face investigation for tax evasion or other offences they might or might not have committed.
  • Transferring profitable state assets to a private company, MGN, which has been indicted in Italy for massive fraud, mafia links and money-laundering.

Systematically corrupt states like Kyrgyzstan lie at one end of a continuum, with isolated acts of corruption by isolated officials in otherwise honest state agencies at the other. In between lies a very large grey area. Outright corruption is not easy to distinguish from the clientelism or exchanges of favours through which many countries are governed. Low-level corruption may be tolerated as a way for officials to supplement their incomes or accepted as an inevitable by-product of government policy. Or it may be overtly encouraged, as in Zimbabwe, where soldiers are offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to benefit from diamond smuggling in an effort to stem the tide of desertions and resignations from the armed forces (Human Rights Watch, 2009, p. 29).

Corruption is closely linked to human rights violations. It denies people access to vital resources such as power (as in Kyrgyzstan), health and education (Transparency International, 2010). State agencies like the Zimbabwean police and army that exploit the countrys resources for their own benefit deal ruthlessly with any competition. Corrupt elites are likely to want to cling to power by any means necessary. And corruption, by its very nature, denies people the right to participate on fair terms in their countrys political and legal processes.

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