Illegal Political Financing – The French Example

Editorial

It is generally assumed that political financing by the corporate sector has been taking place since long. What is difficult to ascertain are the exact amounts offered to political parties, but the sheer scale of spending that we see during the local political campaigns point to the invisible presence of wealthy financiers funding their preferred party while also placing heavy bets on what they perceive to be winning horses.

Several high-profile politicians from different countries have had their insider dealings with the different financiers uncovered. Few of them have been successfully indicted when in power for having taken political bribes in exchange for favours, which would be corruption. It is always difficult to prove the link between the financing received and the favourable policy or administrative decisions taken in the context of the so-called “business-friendly” environment. Thus, there are not a lot of resounding cases involving such horse-trading which could be considered as abuse of office.

What may prove even more difficult to ascertain is the nexus between politics and the world of crime, including drug trafficking. Although nothing has been proved so far on the strength of compelling evidence that such a nexus does exist locally, we have had some snippets from the report of the commission of inquiry chaired by former Judge Lam Shang Leen.

As far as the regulation of political financing is concerned, it was reported during the mandate of the previous Lepep government that instead of the comprehensive electoral reform that opposition parties in particular were expecting, the government would come up with proposals for the financing by the State of political parties. To that effect, the Prime Minister stated in Parliament on 24 July 2018 that the Financing of Political Parties Bill was under preparation at the Attorney General’s Office. Not much has been heard since, but the subject of electoral financing and especially their legal limits in constituencies resurfaced in the context of the judicial inquiry into the murder of political activist Soopramanien Kistnen. It was then announced that the police had started an investigation into the allegations of breach of electoral laws in light of the details of electoral expenses in Constituency No. 8 as contained in what are called the ‘Kistnen Papers’. If the genuineness and authenticity of those documents are established, these might point to a breach of electoral expenditure ceilings in a constituency where there is already a judicial challenge based on allegations hinging on electoral promises for votes.

In a comment on the oversight of the electoral process in Mauritius, Lex had stated in this paper (August 17, 2021): ‘The Electoral Commissioner or the Electoral Supervisory Commission is not empowered by law to investigate any offences in relation to election expenses. One cannot expect the Electoral Commissioner or the Electoral Supervisory Commission to don the garb of investigators. That would place them in an invidious position. Their mandate is to see to it that elections are held in accordance with existing rules and regulations. In so doing they must be scrupulously independent. Whether the police will initiate an investigation into the various allegations levelled by opposition candidates and within what delay remains to be seen.’ Everything therefore hinges on a serious police investigation for the successful prosecution of offenders, if any, in this particular case. But, as stated by Lex, that remains to be seen and is clearly not very reassuring in light of the trend of investigations by the authorities involving members of the government or their followers.

It is difficult to conjecture whether government intends to bring forward a legislative proposal to regulate campaign financing and possibly review the mandate of the Electoral Supervisory Commission or the Representation of the People’s Act, all of which might go towards a clean-up and consolidation of our democratic processes. The case has sometimes been made for State financing that would obviate the need for shady back-room and illicit flows of unregulated funds from unknown sources. The French system we believe, allows candidates and parties to fund their campaign from own funds and claim-back State reimbursement so long as the set criteria, in particular, expenditure ceilings, are strictly adhered to.

In the recent case of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, he is being sued for the financing of his 2012 election campaign far in excess of authorised limits. From press agencies, we learn that Nicolas Sarkozy was accused of having spent about €20 million — above the maximum legal amount for his 2012 re-election campaign and that this was deliberately hidden by a system of “fausses factures”. ‘Prosecutors believe Sarkozy knew weeks before the ballot that his expenses, which are strictly limited under French law, were getting close to the legal maximum. They accused him of having ignored two notes from his accountants warning about the money issue. He is not accused of being part of the system of false invoices at the heart of the fraud, but prosecutors argued Sarkozy is “the only person responsible for his campaign financing” and that he chose to exceed the limit by organising many rallies, including giant ones.’ He was eventually sentenced, end September, to a jail term of one year, though the Paris high court made allowance for an electronic bracelet rather than jail time. His lawyer has confirmed that he will appeal the sentence.

There is not necessarily an appetite for State – i.e. taxpayer — financing either of political parties functionings or their regional and national electoral campaigns. But in view of the shenanigans and explosive level of expenditures, mostly occult, plaguing our electoral processes, are there any alternatives? More importantly, will a governing party that may have benefited from the current state of affairs, entertain and bring to Parliament the radical legislative transformations that are clearly needed in our democratic space?


* Published in print edition on 8 October 2021

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