POLITICAL CORRUPTION: A GENERAL OUTLINE
ECPR Standing Group on Organised Crime Blog
Research line on Political Corruption
Only in the last few years has corruption been analysed as a political phenomenon. Mostly newspapers and the media deal with scandals and bribery stories. The common definition of corruption deals with the use of public resources to gain private benefits; it is, however, a more complex issue which originates from several contexts and frameworks, implies numerous tools and indices, causes multidimensional consequences. Placed on a vertical line, it could start from a basic acceptance of bribery by a civil servant for obtaining a better and more rapid service (petty corruption), going through the subtraction of State money and the transformation of the institutions into personal feuds, by involving key State sectors (medium scale corruption), escalating into a larger connections which engage directly the most important State representatives (grand corruption). It is true that the diversity of actors and interests, which are involved, necessarily produce a wide range of consequences and effects; nevertheless, the main outcome remains the withdrawal of the public authority in front of illegal behaviour. This phenomenon seems to affect every country in the international system, even the more developed and efficient democracies. It reaches, however, its highest level/form in countries undergoing transition and/or in those countries in which weak institutions and immature political elites are not able to plan adequate policies. This leads to the development of what Ethan Nadelmann defines as “institutionalized corruption” (Nadelmann, 1993) and which affects such contexts like the Balkans. The Corruption Index, made every year by Transparency International, aims to measure the level of corrupt practices and behaviours, following some rigid indices, like the amount of bribes as well as the number of prosecutions.
At the same time, the increasing interest in corruption is also due to the rising use organised crime groups are making of it. In 1996, UN Commission on Crime Prevention stated:
Organized criminal groups have demonstrated their preference towards ‘systemic’ corruption designed to ensure the preservation of a congenial and low-risk home base or a comfortable environment in the host countries. Such a method of operation may be characterized by widespread use of bribery and favours to ensure the malleability of key positions and agencies; political funding to ensure that politicians elected to office will be indebted to the criminal organizations; carefully targeted ‘payoffs’ to law enforcement personnel to provide intelligence; and the provision of financial incentives to members of the judiciary to ensure that the penalties for criminal activities are either not imposed or are modest. These links between the underworld and the ‘upper world’ have a corrosive effect on governance .
Corruption – mostly on a political and institutional level – is the required condition to successfully manage illegal traffics and to avoid official controls. Thus, it is becoming a broader dimension which any organised crime group should take into account.
This research line had been launched with the hope of increasing academic interest in this issue and, at the same time, to push scholars and practitioners to reflect more on its global effects.
It aims to collect as much bibliographical resources as possible, as well as short articles and papers dealing theoretical framework and/or case studies.
Our suggestion is to continue to implement research on well-known areas, like the Balkans but also to focus on some “unexplored” ones, like Central Asia or Caucasus.
It is clear that no restriction is scheduled and that every comment and intervention will be considered useful to the general discussion and to help develop an innovative analysis on the issue.
 Report no. E/CN.15/1996/2 april 4th, 1996, Commission on crime prevention and criminal justice in Review of priority themes, Implementation of the Naples political declaration and global action plan against organized transnational crime, par. F, ‘Linkages between the licit and the illicit and the problem of corruption’, p. 8.