david cameron.jpg

British Prime Minister David Cameron led officials from dozens of nations in pledging Thursday to "substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all its forms" following an anti-corruption summit.

"Today the world has come together... [in] the biggest demonstration of political will that we have seen for many years," Cameron told reporters after officials from some 40 nations, including 11 heads of state, attended the summit.

But global anti-poverty group Oxfam said the summit had delivered an "underwhelming response to the challenge set by Panama Papers." 

Large nations including Iran, Egypt and Pakistan did not attend the summit, while China, Brazil, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia did not put their names to any of more than a dozen intitatives announced at the summit.

Russia only signed up to an intitiative promoting transaparency on taxes by large multinational firms.

"Corruption is at the heart of so many of the world's problems," the group said in a joint declaration. "We must overcome it if our efforts to end poverty, promote prosperity and defeat terrorism and extremism are to succeed."

"We commit to expose corruption wherever it is found, to pursue and punish those who perpetrate, facilitate or who are complicit in it, [and] support the communities who have suffered from it," they said.

Cameron promised Britain would take the lead by launching an international anti-corruption centre, sharing information on company ownership and forcing foreign property buyers to reveal the original source of their funds.

"I believe that corruption is the cancer at the heart of so many problems we face in the world," he said, highlighting problems including poverty, terrorism and money laundering.

Christine Lagarde, head of the Internatonal Monetary Fund, highlighted the "very strong link between corruption and lower growth."

"If you want growth, you have to be against corruption" Lagarde said, adding that she wants transparency and integrity to be a systematic part of IMF country surveillance."

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the summit could be "the beginning of something different."

"I've been shocked by the degree to which I find corruption pandemic in the world today," Kerry said, adding that it "destroys nation states."

"We have to say no safe harbour anywhere, and get the global community to come together," he said.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos highlighted the difficulties involved in waging a global fight against corruption, quoting an exchange in which World Bank President Jim Young Kim was told by the leader of an unnamed country: "What you call corruption, we call family values." 

About a dozen protesters from anti-poverty group ONE gathered close to the summit, shouting slogans and holding a large placard reading "It's a scandal, 170 billion dollars stolen [annually]. Stop tax havens."

Several dozen protesters organized an Oxfam "offshore island” in London's Trafalgar Square, close to the summit venue.

In an embarrassment for Cameron ahead of the summit, broadcaster ITV showed video footage of him saying Nigeria and Afghanistan - two of Thursday's participants - were "possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world."

Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Cameron appeared keen to mend fences, saying Nigeria and Afghanistan were "battling hard" against corruption and had taken "remarkable steps forward."

Reacting to his comments, Cobus de Swardt, head of anti-corruption group Transparency International, said the two nations were highly corrupt but their leaders had "sent strong signals that they want things to change."

"We should not forget that, by providing a safe haven for corrupt assets, the UK and its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are a big part of the world's corruption problem," de Swardt said.

But officials from two offshore "tax havens" listed in the Panama Papers defended their record at the summit, saying global anti-corruption efforts should also focus on the role of major developed nations.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said the international community "has looked the other way for too long," by failing to recover assets stolen from developing nations and deposited with Western financial institutions.

Sitting on a summit panel with Cameron, Buhari cited the oil industry as an example of how corruption is a threat to Nigeria's economy and national security.

Latest news

Earthquake rocks buildings in northern Zambia; no injuries reported

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck Zambia and neighbouring countries early Friday, the US Geological Survey reported.

China overtook US, France as Germany's top trading partner in 2016

China overtook the United States as Germany's biggest trading partner in 2016, according to data provided by the Federal Statistics Office on Friday.

Orban upset by end of Budapest 2024 bid; IOC to ponder adjustments

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday reiterated his regret about the end of his nation's Olympic dream while the International Olympic Committee (IOC) could further revise future bid campaigns in the wake of Budapest's withdrawal.

Italy seizes millions from dodgy Rome businessman

Italian police on Friday seized assets worth 40 million euros (42.4 million dollars) from a Rome businessman who falsely claimed residence in Dubai to dodge taxes.

UN, HRW workers in crosshairs as Israel cites bias, Hamas membership

The United Nations on Friday rejected Israeli claims that one of its aid workers in the Palestinian Territories is a "terrorist" who belongs to the radical Islamist Hamas movement.

Consulates deny telling teachers, parents to denounce Erdogan critics

Turkish consulates in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia on Friday dismissed allegations that they instructed teachers and parents to denounce critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Source: Le Pen defied police summons in assistants' pay enquiry

Marine Le Pen failed to appear for a summons for police questioning on Wednesday, a source close to the investigations has told dpa.

Iraqi forces claim key Mosul base, enter first western district

Iraqi forces seized a major military base from Islamic State on Friday and stormed the first district in the western section of Mosul, part of their campaign to dislodge the radical group from its last key Iraqi stronghold, a senior commander said.

BASF sales down 18 per cent due to Gazprom asset swap

German chemicals giant BASF said Friday that its revenues decreased by 18 per cent, to 57.6 billion euros (60.9 billion dollars), in 2016, due mainly to a multibillion-euro asset swap with Gazprom, Russia's state-backed gas group.

New Delhi shocked at reports of Indian national dead in US shooting

India was in shock and dismay Friday at the news of the death of an Indian engineer in an alleged racially motivated killing in the United States earlier this week.

42 killed in car bombing in Syria's al-Bab, monitor says

At least 42 people are dead after a car bombing in Syria's northern city of al-Bab on Friday, a day after Turkish-backed rebels seized control of the city from the Islamic State extremist militia, a monitoring group reported.

Car bombing kills at least eight soldiers in Yemen

At least eight government soldiers died in a Friday car bombing in Yemen’s southern province of Abyan, a local security official said.