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Why fighting corruption helps the poor

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Just signing a treaty, of course, does not block all corrupt activities. But the convention includes a major breakthrough. It requires signatory nations to return assets obtained through corruption to the nations from which they were stolen. "Corrupt officials will in future find fewer ways to hide their illicit gains," said Annan.

Though proving that money is ill- gotten may not always be easy, that provision may prevent corrupt dictators, such as Ferdinand Marcos, a past president of the Philippines, or Joseph Mobuto, former president of Zaire, from stowing billions of dollars abroad and getting away with it for years.

The Convention Against Corruption will require ratification by 30 nations to come into force. This process, usually involving legislative approval, could take 18 months or so.

Other moves are also afoot:

• Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo announced in Berlin Nov. 7 that his government would publish the revenues it receives from the oil industry. This would square with the British government-led Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Representatives of oil companies also indicated they would make public what they pay to Nigeria.

In some countries, "signature bonuses," royalties, and other payments have gone to hiring mercenaries or buying arms for a civil war. For instance, Human Rights Watch in Washington charges that over the past five years, $4.2 billion of Angolan state oil revenues disappeared before it could reach the coffers of the central bank. That sum is roughly equivalent to the total foreign aid Angola has received in that period.

• Anticorruption conventions approved by several international organizations - the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Organization of American States, the Council of Europe, even the African Union - have pushed many nations to pass their own antibribery laws.

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