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KickBack - The Global Anticorruption Podcast
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KickBack - The Global Anticorruption Podcast

Author: KickBack

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This podcast series features in-depth interviews with a wide range of corruption experts, on questions such as:
What have we learned from 20+ years of (anti)corruption research?
Why and how does power corrupt?
Which theories help to make sense of corruption?
What can we do to manage corruption?
How to recovery stolen assets?
33 Episodes
Best known for being the lead investigator in the Obiang case, we welcome law enforcement professional Robert Manzanares, who is also the co-founder of Gatekeeper Consulting ( . Robert outlines how he started off as a probation officer and eventually became the lead investigator of the famous Obiang case. Find out the unexpected role that Michael Jackson memorabilia played in the case. Also, once on the case one article gave Robert extra motivation to successfully close the case (see Foreign policy article). The two also discuss why should American law enforcement officers should actually take action in investigating such cases of kleptocracy abroad and how other states reacted to the US efforts to seize kleptocrat’s assets. Robert outlines in detail the important roles that facilitators played in the case and how it enrages him that none were indicted. The two also discuss the challenging question what should actually happen with the stolen assets? References: The article that Robert mentioned, that served as special motivation to pursue the case: NYT article outlining the Obiang case: UNODC and World Bank repository on stolen asset recovery
This week on the podcast: Sarah Steingrüber (@sarahsteino), Independent Global Health Consultant, and the global health lead for the Curbing Corruption Platform ( The interview touches on many topics related to corruption and public health. Sarah outlines how the global health crisis of COVID-19 poses two main corruption threats. 1) Corruption of funds that are devoted to improving the health situation, due to lack of infrastructure to combat corruption. Sarah outlines that according to conservative estimates at least 6% of all health investment is lost to corruption in a given year and how this affects, and at times takes lives. 2) Opportunistic corruption, occurring in the shadow of the pandemic, as some might take advantage of the unique situation of people’s attention being placed on COVID-19 to engage in corruption. The two further discuss how the urgency of emergencies affects the safeguards against corruption. Sarah outlines that in that process it plays an important role to figure out what forms of corruption one might be willing to live with while making sure that other forms are prevented. Sarah further discusses the donor activities of organizations like the IMF or the Global Fund and outlines how they are at times attached to anti-corruption goals, such that funding is pulled back if cases of fraud and corruption are detected. The interview shifts to discussing what lessons have been learned from the Ebola outbreak (2013-2016) that could be applicable to the COVID-19 crisis. Sarah outlines the risk of corruption within procurement that is especially pertinent in times of health crisis. Moreover, she outlines how misinformation can contribute to corruption, such as fostering absenteeism (#infodemic). She also describes how too bureaucratic and overcomplicated procedures can incentivize workarounds of the rules and how digitization might help to mitigate these risks. The interview then shifts to the topic of monetization and privatization of health more generally. Here, Sarah describes the influence of undue influence on decision-making processes in the health sector. Approaching the topic from a human rights perspective, assuming that access to health care is a human right, she outlines several concrete roadblocks to it. As an example for anticorruption in the health sector, the two discuss approaches to tackle bribery in the Ugandan health sector (see video: and whether this approach should be considered a success (for relevant work by Prof Heather Marquette, on this issue see further below). The interview ends on a positive note, by Sarah providing some examples for success stories from Ukraine.
The interview starts with Sam outlining how the documentary about Eliot Spitzer, called Client 9, got him interested in corruption and how it inspired him to study an MA in corruption research at the University of Sussex. Sam describes the research questions he sought to answer with his dissertation on party financing and corruption. Namely, he unpicks the relationship between money and politics, using interviews to examine whether the amount of state subsidy has an effect on perceptions about corruption and which types of corruption it brings about. Here he builds on Michael Johnston’s work on syndromes of corruption Sam describes how his dissertation shaped his perceptions about the amounts of money involved in politics, referring to the famous example of Stuart Wheeler who held the record for the highest donation of 5 million pounds to a political party in the UK. One of the main insights from his work comparing party financing in the UK and Denmark is that perceived donor based corruption does not differ between the countries even though the party financing is mostly private in the UK and largely state-funded in Denmark . Sam describes how he went about conducting elite interviews and how he managed to get people talking about corruption. The interview tackles the question of what even counts as corruption when it comes to financing political parties: is it access or influence? Sam, Christopher and Nils discuss the complex nature of networks of influence in politics and how perceptions and reality about the effect of money on policy might at times differ starkly. Sam refers to the so-called Thomas theorem - if people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences - and how perceptions about corruption often might follow a similar logic. Zeroing in on perceptions about corruption Sam compares the public’s views on corruption to a thermostat. The last part of the interview deals with Sam’s work on Facebook advertising and party financing. It shows how Facebook advertising works and how it essentially differs from classical political campaigning. One main difference is that it allows political parties to use Facebook and similar services to test ads. For more information about how social media is used in political processes Sam recommends “Who targets me?” Christopher drawing on work by Helen Margetts which argues that “Social Media May Have Won the 2017 General Election” asks about the corruption risks that emerge with social media advertising by political parties. Sam describes several corruption risks that arise from social media political campaigning, referring to the challenges outlined in a recent report by the Electoral Reform Society
29. Mushtaq Khan & Paul Heywood on populism, digital technologies & RCTs (Part II) Social norms of Corruption The interview picks up on a discussion about research on social norms and corruption, mentioning the distinction between descriptive and injunctive norms (for more insights check out our previous episode with Prof Bicchieri In evaluating these and other projects, Paul points out the general challenge to measure success in anti-corruption projects. Many insights can serve as a proof of concept, that then need further support via follow-up research. One promising example is the work by Liz David-Barret and Mihály Fazekas on identifying red flag risks in procurement by using big data (see here: and the work by Jan-Hinrik Meyer-Sahling and Christian Schuster on training civil servants ( Further resources need to be invested to gain better insights and to evaluate the success more broadly. Can it be a problem that there is apparently no progress in anti-corruption (at least when looking at the CPI)? Paul outlines that major organizations such as the World Bank are aware that the standard toolkit approach of the last 25 years has not worked very well. They start to ask themselves what they can do. There is space for further support. So when it comes to the donor’s perspective, the lack of progress does not lead to apathy but a rethinking of corruption efforts. When it comes to the public perception of apparent lack of progress, Paul outlines that this unfortunate, yet something that we on our own cannot address. At the same time he emphasizes the work with the change agents who can help to bring about real change. Mushtaq adds that indeed, not all problems can be immediately addressed. It often requires a long transition for corruption on a broad scale to be reduced. Development will not happen without detailed anti-corruption work across different sectors. At the same time, he argues that there are some forms of corruption that can be addressed pretty quickly. Having more nuanced, sectoral-level indicators, will help to better understand which efforts have impact and are feasible. He thereby proposes a “radicalism of digging into solvable problems” and working hard to solve them. The double-edged sword of public perceptions about corruption Large scandals have helped to get a better understanding about corruption among key policy makers. Particularly important have been the revelations such as the Panama papers (see more insights Kickback #6: ) as they show that corruption is a multi-faceted concept, not a thing. It is complex, dynamic, and new forms of corruption often emerge, in particular revealing that corruption often occurs in networks that span across several countries. These revelations have raised awareness and moved away from a simple interpretation of corruption. Yet, at the same time, the public eye, such revelations might reinforce a view that corruption is widespread.
Taryn Vian (@TarynVian), Prof. at the Department of Population Health Sciences, School of Nursing and Health Professions, University of San Francisco (USF). For people who think about the relationship between corruption & public health, what are some of the main lines of research & what are some of the important findings? Taryn outlines that one main problem lies in the fact that people have to pay doctors for public health services that are supposed to be free of charge. Quantitative & qualitative studies have investigated why people pay doctors & how they know why they have to pay or give “gifts” while intervention has tested how corrupt practices like informal payments & absenteeism can be reduced. What does health care corruption- look like during times of emergencies in comparison to “normal times”? Taryn points out that one of the risk factors for corruption during emergencies stems from the pressure to finish things quickly. Such pressures can create incentives to ignore controls. As a result, higher tolerance of saying “we’ll figure out the paperwork later” often emerges. In an emergency situation is it even more important that we stick to corruption guidelines or not? How do you implement the right measures in emergency situations? Taryn describes audits conducted by the catholic relief service after a natural disaster revealing 100 findings. Yet, closer examination often revealed that minimal mistakes were committed such as a single missing signature out of four. This suggests that we need to find a different procedure for times of emergency. There are streamlined processes e.g. for the procurement of emergency medicine. How many countries in the world have implemented emergency measures/procedures? Are there examples? There were gaps in procurements of test kits in the US because the US proceeded as business as usual. Many countries have emergency procurement procedures. The question is how to launch such special procedures at the right time for the right products & also still holding people accountable. What observations do you have on a relation between the coronavirus pandemic & corruption? One place where Taryn sees a link between corruption & the Coronavirus play out is in the US. Here, one of the big problems is that the government has not appointed actors, which undermines the trust between decision-makers & scientific leaders. There is a lack of trust in science in our government right now. The personalization of power is a big problem. Such distrust can have very adverse effects. In a public health crisis, the government needs to give directives to people. Directives that are not popular. If there is no trust in the government, people will not want to follow their directives. Yes, e.g. Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone & Liberia. People were actively avoiding government directives because there was no trust. Corruption during “normal” times eroded the trust towards the government bodies which undermines emergency response efforts as people might to not comply with the recommendations or orders of the government. Informal payments & bribes during normal times do have an adversarial effect on trust in the payment system. Can you elaborate on the evidence for this claim? Dagmar Radin looked at the connection between corruption & trust. She argued that there is a connection. Other work showing similar links stems from Nicaragua, where a comparison of social audits over a 4 year period has been conducted, showing that trust increased when the government tried to work against informal payments. Which measures have been effective in reducing corruption in the health sector under control? There is a famous study on community monitoring in Uganda by the World Bank showing promising effects of involving communities to increase accountability. However, studies by the Harvard Kennedy School in Tanzania did not exactly replicate the findings above. There have been many interventions against corruption.
In the first part Mushtaq and Paul outline the milestones in their carriers as corruption researchers. ACE The next section of the interview takes a deep dive into the Anti Corruption Evidence Program. Paul outlines how it was initiated after concerns about the lack of evaluation of development projects and the risk of development spending being lost due to corruption were voiced. As a response DiFiD developed AntiCorruption Evidence, which has two parts: A Research partnership consortium led SOAS ACE which is led by Mushtaq and GI ACE which consists of grants competition for leading international researchers to examine the most effective ways to fight corruption. Mushtaq gives some background information about how SOAS ACE consists of projects that are linked and share a common theory of change, which focus on Nigeria, Tanzania and Bangladesh. Mushtaq argues that the reason why many anti corruption efforts have failed lies in the assumption that most people in developing countries follow rules and a few greedy people break the rules. The common approach has then been to find and punish these “bad apples” in order to get rid of corruption. SOAS ACE however starts from the assumption that in many developing nations, people do not have the capacities to follow rules leading to a large informal sector. Also politics in developing nations is different. There is less tax revenue in developing nations, leading to more clientelism. In order to then bring about anti-corruption one has to identify the demand for anti corruption. That is, finding organizations which need a rule of law in their own interest and are powerful enough to demand it. He then outlines how the rule of law is different from rule by law and how economics can help to identify a market for anti corruption. Paul in turn outlines the approach of GI ACE which has four features: a) Focus on anti-corruption, b) a focus on real world problems real issues, c) politics of anti-corruption, and d) demonstrating impact. It marks a swing towards local problem driven approaches. In this work GI ACE is focused on three core themes, namely International architecture enabling illicit financial flows, promoting integrity and moving away from nations as units of analysis. He comments on whether the integrity turn by organizations such as OECD and World bank indeed offers a better approach than classical anti corruption efforts. In the last part of the interview you can find out how much cross-fertilization happens between GI and SOAS ACE and how Paul’s and Mushtaq’s views differ when it comes to intrinsic integrity and how research in behavioral ethics might provide empirical answers (for more info on the study by Gächter that Paul mentions see references or this Kickback episode: References Matthew’s blog post Blogging in a Time of (Mostly Unrelated) Crisis–A Note to Readers can be found here: Gächter, S., & Schulz, J. F. (2016). Intrinsic honesty and the prevalence of rule violations across societies. Nature, 531(7595), 496-499.
This week we have a special episode in which Dr. Ina Kubbe (political scientist, University of Tel Aviv, interviews Dr. Doron Navot (political scientist, University of Haifa ( Corruption charges against PM Benjamin Netanyahu and the divided society After Doron gives a short overview of his work on corruption and populism, the interview outlines the corruption allegations against PM Benjamin Netanyahu, outlining how three main charges are brought against him involving gifts of cigars and champagne, recorded dialogue between Netanyahu and a publisher which allegedly reveals a quid pro quo and the favorable media coverage by the online platform Walla ( The interview continues by giving an overview of the different views on these allegations within the diverse Israeli society, in which no clear majorities exist, leading to a current political deadlock. Doron outlines why Israelis have divergent views about the allegations, touching on lack of trust in the media, public institutions, populism and post-truth politics. To give you a more detailed insight into the political landscape in Israel, the corruption allegations and the recent elections we compiled a few articles describing the situation in English in the references below. Corruption research in Israel Ina and Doron discuss what (anti-corruption) academics can do about this lack of trust that also affects trust towards academic work on corruption. Doron then outlines why generally there is little research about corruption in Israel. As a recent exception he describes the new book Corruption and Informal Practices in the Middle East and North Africa edited by Ina and Aiysha Varraich. ( In it, Ina and Doron wrote a chapter about corruption informal practices in Israel, which leads to a discussion about the concept of Combina, which describes the combination of interest and opportunities. While at times it describes forms of favoritism, at times it is used as a euphemism for corruption, or illegalism. ( Doron outlines how combina, similar to the concept of wasta, describes the connections that are often necessary but not sufficient for success. The interview closes on a discussion about different forms of corruption and how common they each are. Dorot outlines why many forms of street level corruption are rather uncommon in Israel, what role political institutions play, which trajectories he sees for the future of the Israeli state and what to learn of Israeli anti-corruption efforts. Pick of the pod When asked about literature on corruption, Doron recommends Paul Heywood’s Political Corruption: Problems and Perspectives ( And the work by Michael Johnston (see for example here: References Articles outlining the allegations against Netanyahu and the political support for him: Article on the corruption allegation and the election:
During his last visit to Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Matthew took the opportunity to interview Roberto de Michele (@rodemichele61) and Francesco De Simone, both Modernization of the State experts. As usual, the interview kicks off with providing some information on both interviewees’ background and motivation to do work on (anti-)corruption. The interview pursues to outline the four main clusters of anti-corruption work by the IDB: 1. financial integrity supporting countries with anti-money laundering tax transparency 2. governance in the extractive sector 3. control systems government oversight 4. open government access to information, open government partnership The three discuss how IDB standards can ensure progress in anti-corruption and what the track record of each assistance project has been. You can view the overview of all IDB projects on the website via The interview points out new challenges for anti-corruption such as targeted transparency and which procurement specifics can actually ensure that oversight continues beyond the point when public contract are awarded. The three discuss the challenges of how to measure success, touching on the difference between outputs vs. outcomes, and how it might makes sense to rely on intermediate outcomes that indicate that things are improving, e.g. number of bidders in public procurement as a sign of competition. Underlying the challenges to measure corruption, Roberto and Francesco mention a IDB workshop with experts on measurement of corruption, featuring research by Mitchell Seligson (see for an example paper on victimization surveys below) Roberto and Francesco also outline what they have learned in the last decade about anti-corruption that surprised them. The three discuss the IDB’s “Report of the Expert Advisory Group on Anti-Corruption, Transparency, and Integrity in Latin America and the Caribbean” (See link in references). They cover why it is both unusual and useful. They discuss the different ideas about incremental vs. big push policy reforms and more broadly discuss which academic research has been valuable to the work of IDB. In particular, they touch on Benjamin Olken’s work on how to measure corruption (see most famous paper in ref list) and Paul Lagunes work in Peru (to find out more about Paul’s great work, you can check out this previous episode of Kickback: The interview ends with Roberto’s and Francesco’s optimistic & pessimistic takes on corruption in South America. Francesco increasingly perceives himself in a pedagogical role emphasizing patience as anti-corruption is a long-term process, referring to the book The shame of the cities by Lincoln Steffens. References and further readings Engel, E., Noveck, B. S., Ferreira Rubio, D., Kaufmann, D., Lara Yaffar, A., Londoño Saldarriaga, J., Pieth, M., & Rose-Ackerman, S. (2018). Report of the Expert Advisory Group on Anti-Corruption, Transparency, and Integrity in Latin America and the Caribbean. Lagunes, P. (2018). Guardians of accountability: a field experiment on corruption and inefficiency in local public works. Available via: Olken, B. A. (2007). Monitoring corruption: evidence from a field experiment in Indonesia. Journal of political Economy, 115(2), 200-249. Seligson, M. A. (2006). The measurement and impact of corruption victimization: Survey evidence from Latin America. World Development, 34(2), 381-404. Full text available here: Steffens, L. (1904). The shame of the cities. McClure, Phillips & Company.
This week’s episode features Gary Kalman, the director of the US office of Transparency International in Washington. Work of the FACT coalition ( The FACT coalition has been pushing regulation on anonymous companies. One key element is beneficial ownership (check out our episode with Elise Bean). The principle is simple: When you register a company, you have to name the natural person who owns and controls the company. Gary mentions an example in which a person registered a company in the name of her cat Suki ( Beneficial Ownership Gary and Matthew then go on to discuss about legislation on beneficial ownership in the US in comparison to other countries such as the UK where the registry is public. Such a law may have an enormous impact. Gary mentions an example of an undercover operation carried out by the NGO Global Witness that tried to found a company in the name of a corrupt businessman. 12 out of 12 collaborated some of which from highly respected law firms in New York City (for more in the story Vision for Transparency International As Gary is the director of the new office of TI in Washington, Matthew asks him about his vision for TI. His top priorities are Illicit finance in the US as a facilitator for global corruption, trade based money laundering, issues around gatekeepers and supporting other anti-corruption institutions on issues like ‘revolving doors’. TI US is also going to comment on corruption within the US. He further discusses the role of partisanship. In the end Gary outlines a few more issues that anti-corruption efforts should focus on: - International trade issues - Whistleblower protection - Strengthening independent media Additional links Elise Bean’s book “Financial Exposure Carl Levin's Senate Investigations into Finance and Tax Abuse”: The FACT Coalition:
We welcome Andrés Hernández (@hmandres2011), executive director of Transparency International Colombia (Transparencia por Colombia), to this week’s episode of KickBack - The Global Anti-Corruption Podcast. 1. Corruption in the judiciary system The first part of the interview focuses on the challenge of corruption in the Colombian judiciary system. Andrés outlines that according to the latest results of Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer, 40% believe that the judiciary system is strongly affected by corruption (see link to full resource in extra reading, GCB, 2019). The two outline how tackling corruption in the judiciary might bring about a trade-off between accountability (e.g. disciplining judges) and judicial independence. Andrés clarifies how independence and opacity are often confused. The two discuss limitations in the current appointment procedures of high ranking public positions at the state level - you can learn the meaning behind the Colombia saying “Yo te llego, tu me ligues”. Andrés outlines how more transparency would help to avoid patronage. 2. Anti-Corruption Referendum in Colombia The second part deals with the consulta popular - best known as the Colombian anti-corruption referendum. Andrés describes the unprecedented mobilization of the Colombian people against corruption resulting in almost 12 million people voting, more votes than the most recent presidential election. Andrés points out that the result of the referendum, although not legally binding, are politically binding to instigate change. Find out why Andrés, even though he was not excited about the concrete content of the seven points of reform, he was still optimistic in the wake of the referendum. (Sidenote: For some fun music input on the referendum Reggaeton de la corrupción (featuring Antanas Mockus), check out the links in the extra reading material) 3. Potential pitfalls of public outcry against corruption At the time when the interview was recorded - December 2019 - protests occurred in Bogotá and other places across Colombia. Reason enough to discuss the potential and pitfalls of anti-corruption protests ongoing. Andrés emphasizes why and how protests can be an important step towards strengthening institutions, yet also the dangers it might bring about that become apparent when observing the changes in Colombia’s neighboring countries. Andrés also voices his concern about an international anti-corruption court, why it might distract attention away from structural issues but placing too much hope in sanctions that do not instigate transformation and why it might not be pragmatic to realize. Instead, he argues it would be better to focus limited resources into stronger international capacities, stronger national judiciary systems, and for strengthening the international commitment against transnational crime. 4. Reflexion on changes in anti-corruption in the last 20 years In the final part of the episode, Andrés looks back on the last two decades of anti-corruption efforts in Colombia. He points out how corruption has become more complex, covered up more extensively, and why such new forms of corruption require tools. On the positive side, Andrés notes that Colombia now has stronger checks and balances and applauds the more vibrant civil society, brave journalists engaged in anti-corruption.
New year This week on KickBack: Charles Davidson former Executive Director of the Kleptocracy Initiative at Hudson Institute, Publisher & CEO of The American Interest Magazine. The interview covers how the book Capitalism's Achilles Heel by Raymond Baker inspired Charles’ impressive work. For example Charles was involved in: - together with Francis Fukuyama founding of American Interest Magazin: - initiating the think tank, “Global Financial Integrity”: - creating the “The FACT Coalition” which brought together organizations become an activist coalition on issues of corporate transparency. A legislative influence group tackling against beneficial ownership: - serving as an executive producer of the movie “We are not broke”, that premiered at Sundance festival: The interview pursues on more details on beneficial ownership, how International crime and kleptocracy have become an increasing threat to democracy, and the push for greater corporate transparency in the US, spurred by the #PanamaPapers. Charles chimes in on the concrete proposal of beneficial ownership registries, how it might depend on the style of capitalism in a given society, outlining that that an important prerequisite consists of law enforcement agencies having access. Charles outlines how the essential element of transparency around beneficial ownership would be making the data available for governments yet also outlines that publicly available information facilitates the work of journalists. The next segment deals with the details around kleptocracy and how it is linked to authoritarian regimes. The basic model across several countries is: The regime loots resources at home and then take the money out and store it in the west (using anonymous companies etc.) to safeguard their money, leading the US to become increasingly kleptocratized. Charles outlines the importance of understanding that “The fact that we welcome authoritarian money into the west, means that we are incentivizing authoritarianism.” The two discuss the challenges of preventing kleptocracy and how the Magnitsky act ( might provide a first step into that direction. The two describe how corruption for the effectiveness of development aid. Finally, the interview covers the concept of reputation laundering, which describes how gifts and donations to educational institutions or museums by oligarchs intend to uphold a positive reputation towards oligarchs. The two unpack the typical step-by-step process for reputation laundering and discuss how universities can protect themselves from such influence. Online Articles: Human Rights Watch: “The Anniversary that Shouldn't Be: 40 Years of President Obiang in Equatorial Guinea “ The Guardian: “Son of equatorial guineas president convicted of corruption in France” Books: Raymond W. Baker - Capitalism's Achilles Heel: Dirty Money and How to Renew the Free-Market System
For this special episode Nils and Christopher sat down to reflect on the first 20 episodes of Kickback and discuss some plans for the 2020. For those who want to support us financially to cover our running costs: For those who want to follow us via Social Media: The Kickback team wishes you a happy holiday season! We look forward to 2020! Chapter I - Basics 1. Susan Rose-Ackerman on the principal-agent theory of corruption 5. Bo Rothstein on corruption as a collective action problem and long term fixes 7. Paul Heywood on which questions to ask to gain new insights into the wicked problem of corruption Chapter II – Perspectives on Corruption 12. Oguzhan Dincer on measuring corruption at different levels & historic developments in Turkey 13. Cristina Bicchieri on social norms of corruption, Antanas Mockus and Soap Operas 16. Kevin E. Davis on his book "Between Impunity & Imperialism" and fighting transnational bribery 17. Shaul Shalvi on behavioral ethics and the psychological roots of corruption 19. Monika Bauhr on need vs. greed corruption and how it is linked to gender Chapter III - Regions 4. Paul Lagunes on transparency 2.0, the importance of citizens for anti-corruption in Latin America 11. Daria Kaleniuk on the anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine 14. Kieu Vien on encouraging discussions about corruption & shaping anti-corruption laws in Vietnam 20. Leonor Ortiz Monasterio & Miguel Meza on anti-corruption in Mexico Chapter IV - Journalism 6. Frederik Obermaier on Panama Papers, Ibiza video & the role of media freedom for anti-corruption 8. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi on corruption in Romania, democratic transitions, advise for young scholars 18. David Barboza on investigating the hidden wealth of Chinese elites Chapter V - Practitioners 2. Deltan Dallagnol on leading the prosecution of the Lava Jato investigations in Brazil 3. Robtel Neajai Pailey on how to teach anti-corruption through children's books 9. Debra LaPrevotte on being an FBI agent, asset recovery, safe havens for cleptocrats & war crimes 10. Elise Bean on financial fraud, money laundering and the top 3 policies to curb corruption 15. Sergei Guriev on the value of governance, inclusion & the internet for anti-corruption efforts
This week on Kickback: Leonor Ortiz Monasterio ( and Miguel Alfonso Meza (Twitter: @MiguelMezaC). They describe their work for the Anti-Corruption Organization “Mexicanos contra la corrupción y la impunidad” (Mexicans against corruption and impunity, ( They outline how the anger about corruption inspired them to work for MCCI. They critically evaluate the Anti-Corruption efforts by the new Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador “AMLO” and the new harsher laws against corruption. The refer to their own research of speeches by “AMLO” across different campaigns revealed that, counter to common beliefs, the latest campaign was not the one where he used the word corruption the most and how corruption was rather framed as an ethics issue and not focusing on corrupt networks. The three discuss the appointments of the new government, their anti-corruption prosecution efforts, the pros and cons of a clean slate approach to fight corruption. The interview closes on Leonor and Miguels’ elevator pitch of what key issues need to be address for anti-corruption.
Our guest this week is Monika Bauhr, Associate Professor at the Quality of Government at the University of Gothenburg ( The interview kicks off with Monika describing how her work on climate change led her to get interested in corruption, showing how the technical solutions for Climate change were known but that it often lacked political will to implement them. The interview further covers Monika’s three main areas of interest: 1. Transparency Monika was inspired by the diverse effects of transparency on corruption. In her work she has zoomed in on when transparency succeeds to lower corruption and when it can conversely lead to a demoralization effect. 2. Types of corruption Monika bemoans that frequently the average effects of corruption (such as the country level Corruption Perception Index) are used as a measure of corruption. She argues that more refined measures, distinguishing between corruption types is needed. Monika’s work has particularly focused on the distinction between need vs. greed corruption (see The interview also points out the challenges to operationalize these different forms of corruption. 3. Gender and corruption Monika’s third main field of interest lies on the link between gender and corruption, inspired by one of the most consistent finding that the share of women in government lowers petty corruption. Monika and Matthew discuss different theories help to explain the multifaceted ways in which gender and corruption are related.
This week on KickBack: Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times correspondent David Barboza (Twitter: @DavidBarboza2). The interview begins with a deep dive into David’s famous investigation into the vast wealth of the Chinese elite. You can read the NYT articles in the Archive here: David outlines the challenges and unexpected breaks in investigating such highly sensitive topics while being tracked by the government, involving a strict “no phone call” policy, as well as the very real dangers he and his faced in pursuing the story. David outlines the reasons why even though the original article merely describes the amassing wealth was met with extensive attempts to prevents its publication. The explanation shows that having extensive wealth is often seen as a sign of corruption, as historically allegations of corruption spurred the famous 1989 Tiananmen square demonstrations (see David shares insights into how the system of dealings among the elites works and how each year 200,000 public officials are brought down for corruption. David provides a history of how the norms around business activities of political leaders and their families changed since the end of the 1980s, how hidden ownership and plausible deniability from the sides of Western companies plays a role. In the last part of the interview, Matthew and David discuss the developments since the publication of the seminal investigation and how the anti-corruption efforts by Xi Jingping differ from other anti-corruption efforts.
The interview kicks off with Shaul outlining how the EU Anti-corruption report served as a motivation Shaul to do corruption research and why psychologists have only more recently started to get interested in corruption. To give listeners an idea how behavioral scientists seek to understand corruption and unethical behavior more broadly, Shaul and Nils discuss behavioral ethics, an interdisciplinary approach to study when and how people break ethical rules from a descriptive perspective: Hence, instead of telling people what they should behavioral ethics observe what they actually do. Shaul describes his personal inspiration to join the field (e.g. other researchers like Max Bazerman, ) and the methods he helped to develop (see for more info here: The two also discuss when children develop the ability to cheat studied by researchers such as Marile Claire Vileval, For all of those who want to get an overview of some of the insights gained we recommend this great website In the second part, Shaul and Nils discuss the shift from an individual perspective – studying people who make ethical decisions by themselves – to a more social perspective where people make ethical decisions together. They cover, how others can influence people’s own willingness to break ethical rules by being bad role models – as corruption corrupts (, see also Others can also play a role as a victim. Shaul mentions a recent meta-analysis that showed how people are more readily willing to cheat when the victim is abstract (e.g. the society) compared to when it is concrete (e.g. another person; Shaul describes his work on the collaborative roots of corruption and whether people’s inclination to cooperate or to be honest prevails ( and how people might at times engage in “ethical free-riding” ( Pick of the podcast: Economic Gangsters by Ray Fisman and Edward Miguel (
For this episode of Kickback we are delighted to welcome Kevin E. Davis, Beller Family Professor of Business Law at NYU. ( The interview covers Kevin’s new book Between Impunity and imperialism, the challenges of fighting and deterring transnational bribery and the return of stolen assets. The interview begins with a short overview on Kevin’s academic background and how he became interested in the law and economic development. Then the two discuss Kevin’s book which through its title expresses Kevin’s ambivalence about the efforts to fight transnational bribery. On the one hand there is wide consensus that impunity in form of letting corrupt actors go unpunished is condemnable, on the other hand, Kevin criticizes the legal imperialism reflected in some of the approaches adopted to fight transnational corruption. The two discuss alternatives to the current approaches, the risk of “derisking” and the state of empirical evidence on these subjects. One more narrow point focuses on whom to punish once transnational bribery has been detected. Should the contract be nullified? Should the company be punished or is a more individualized punishment the way to go? Here the discussion also zooms in on the potential sovereignty issues related to cross-border investigations. Finally, the two chime in on current debates on where the returned stolen assets should be directed to. Kevin’s new book Between Impunity and Imperialism The Regulation of Transnational Bribery is available here:
This episode we are excited to welcome Sergei Guriev (Twitter: @sguriev), the chief economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Academic work: The interview kicks off with a discussion of Sergei’s academic work in the early 2000’s. In it Sergei and Andrei Rachinsky studied the Role of oligarchs in Russian capitalism and showed that oligarchs owned around 40% of the Russian industry (see Guriev & Rachinsky, 2005). Since then his academic and policy work remained related to corruption issues. Transitions: The interview covers the question why some Post-Soviet countries have transitioned successfully into a market economy while others haven’t, touching on the importance of institutional quality, experience of democracy, critical free press and inclusion. Challenges to study corruption: The two also discuss the challenge to study corruption, both from a methodological standpoint but also from a political standpoint, when working in a multi-lateral international organizations that are funded by governments. Positive examples: Matthew and Sergei touch on several anti-corruption examples that give reason to hope, such as the public e-procurement system, Pro Zorro ( in Ukraine or the political transformation in Georgia in the early 2000’s. Bride between academia and policy: As part of Sergei’s job, he communicates corruption research to for policy makers, emphasizing in particular the need for more research on the nexus between populism and corruption. 3G Internet and Confidence in Government. Finally, the two discuss Sergei’s most recent work on the impact of 3G Internet access on attitudes and perceptions about corruption, illustrating on the one hand that internet access can indeed make citizens more critical of corrupt regimes, but on the other hand the dangers of internet censorship or rising populism. If you want to find out more about Sergei, you can check out his Wikipedia Article or follow him twitter (@SGuriev). References Guriev, S., & Rachinsky, A. (2005). The role of oligarchs in Russian capitalism. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 19(1), 131-150. Guriev, S., Melnikov, N., & Zhuravskaya, E. (2019) 3G internet and confidence in government. European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Working Paper No. 233,
Kieu Vien, Founder and exec director towards transparency in Vietnam ( The interview begins by Kieu outlining a meaningful encounter with a woman who experienced the frustrating consequences of corruption first hand that sparked her to found towards transparency in 2007. First organization on corruption when it was still a taboo to work on anti-corruption which led her to found the NGO as a company. 1. Legislation meets international standards and is enforced 2. Ensuring that private sector practices adhere to integrity standards 3. Teaching youth youths integrity to enable long term anti-corruption movement 4. Promoting Open Governance How the work towards transparency has helped to reduce the taboo about corruption by encouraging discussions about corruption and building trust with many organizations such as Transparency International and even the Vietnamese government by a critical, constructive approach that relinquished from “naming and shaming” to allow actors to keep face. How the government followed the majority of Towards Transparency’s recommendations to enforce United Nations Convention against Corruption ( The challenge to motivate non-state actors to join the fight against corruption The most important aspects of the Vietnamese anti-corruption law. Introduced 2005, revised 2007, latest revision approved 2018 Also including private sector, preventive measures of conflict of interest, asset declaration of public officials.
The interview this week features Cristina Bicchieri – the S. J. Patterson Harvie Professor of Social Thought and Comparative Ethics at University of Pennsylvania. The Kickback interview kicks off with Cristina’s early work on corruption in the mid 1990’s together with the physicist Carlo Rovelli (1995) and John Duffy (1997) and how this work was sparked by the mani pulite scandal in Italy. This theoretical work describes why corruption is often so “sticky” . Cristina then outlines the importance of measurement to provide empirical support for her theoretical concepts, especially the distinction between unconditional versus conditional behavior and empirical versus normative expectations (for more info on this we highly recommend her newest book: Norms in the Wild). She describes how cleverly designed vignette studies help researchers to understand why a certain behavior persists. One of the places where Cristina has done research on corruption is Nigeria (for more details see Hofmann & Patel) where she finds interesting differences in perceived frequency and acceptability of corruption depending on the gender of the perpetrator. The interview also covers what Cristina has learned in the past decades of doing research on corruption. Anti -Corruption Cristina outlines how making the negative consequences of corruption salient could help to deter corruption and why classical punitive measures usually don't work. Another interesting nugget: When it comes to information campaigns, providing information about the high corruption levels of others can backfire by giving people a license to corrupt themselves. Finally, Nils and Cristina discuss the work of the former mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus, who became famous for his unorthodox measures to change social norms. For example, you can find out how pantomimes helped to improve the traffic situation in Bogotá. Cristina’s Picks of the podcast: Bicchieri C (2016) Norms in the Wild: How to Diagnose, Measure, and Change Social Norms, 1 edition. Oxford University Press, New York, NY The soap opera: Simplemente Maria If you want to find out more about Cristina’s work: Bicchieri, C., & Duffy, J. (1997). Corruption cycles. Political Studies, 45(3), 477–495. Bicchieri, C., & Rovelli, C. (1995). Evolution and Revolution: The Dynamics of Corruption. Rationality and Society, 7(2), 201–224. Bicchieri, C., & Mercier, H. (2014). Norms and Beliefs: How Change Occurs. The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly, 63(January 2014), 60–82. Bicchieri, C., & Dimant, E. (2019). Nudging with Care: The Risks and Benefits of Social Information. SSRN Electronic Journal, (January). Hoffmann LK, Patel RN (2017) Collective Action on Corruption in Nigeria: A social norms approach to connecting society and institutions. 1–53
Comments (1)

Tris Hicks

The common way to standardise is incidents per thousand which ‘disadvantages states like Wyoming over California’. Apparently. Otherwise an interesting topic with some insight into the complexity of measuring Criminal Justice

Feb 1st
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