Remarks at Anti-Corruption Summit Plenary

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Lancaster House
London, United Kingdom
May 12, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very, very much. Thank you first of all for the invitation, and thank you for the courage of doing this. There are skeptics, not just probably in the audience but in the world, as to whether or not this is a passing fancy, a moment where there’s an event, or whether this is a beginning of a serious commitment. And I hope and I believe something different is happening. This is the beginning of something different, and I think we all need to focus very, very clearly on why this is so important. We are fighting a battle, all of us, for our states, for our countries, for our nation-state. Corruption writ large is as much of an enemy, because it destroys nation-states, as some of the extremists we’re fighting or some of the other challenges that we have faced.

Now, some people may say, “Oh, that’s hogwash. How can that be?” Corruption tears at the entire fabric of a society. In Tunisia, a revolution started that threw out the person who had been in charge of the country for 30 years when a young fruit vendor got tired of being slapped around by the police and told, “You’ve got to pay me in order to be able to sell your wares where you want to sell them.” And he was so frustrated after a buildup of years, of whatever had contributed to this, that he burned himself to death in front of the police station, and that ignited the sense of outrage people had about years of deprivation.

I have found as Secretary of State – I will just be very blunt with you: I’ve been shocked by the degree to which I find corruption pandemic in the world today. And it attacks all of our states, because we’re left desperately struggling to figure out, okay, how are we going to build a bridge, how are we going to provide health care, how are we going to build those schools. We have hundreds of millions of kids – 2 billion children under the age of 15 – who’re going to need to go to school. How many of those schools are going to get built if criminal syndicates or supposed leaders of nations are (inaudible) billions of money into banks that supposedly have a know-your-customer standard and don’t apply it?

This money goes somewhere, folks. When I read that tens of billions of dollars were stolen from President Buhari’s country by generals and put into other nations, some of it in our country – and we are now working to restore $350 million back, and there’s more to be restored to the people. And every one of those million dollars that comes back to a country is the opportunity to provide a desk and a chair and school and shelter and health care and meet the needs of nations. That is why we organize ourselves in the world around rule of law and in an effort to try to provide for our citizens.

Criminal activity literally is a destroyer of nation-states because it contributes to drug trafficking, arms smuggling; it contributes to human trafficking; it becomes the facilitator of activities that create sub-states – in some cases deep states – within states, and we’re left struggling, fighting. It is a contributor to terrorism, my friends, in many different ways. And the extremism that we see in the world today comes in no small degree from the utter exasperation that people have with the sense that the system is rigged. And we see this anger manifesting itself in different forms in elections around the world, including ours. People are angry and the anger is going to grow unless we shut the doors and try to prove to people there’s a fairness that can be established in the system.

Now, I know some people will say, “Oh, it’s culture – the culture has grown that way and that’s the way it’s going to be.” Well, culture can change. Culture can learn. Culture can adapt to modernity and to a global standard that requires something more. So we’re pleased to be joining with the prime minister in this international center that will work in anti-corruption to share information, to facilitate law enforcement, to be able to provide a barrier to this rampant scourge that is really pandemic on a global basis.

And we are going to ourselves – President Obama just announced – all 50 states, legislation will be put in place to require transparency with respect to businesses that are registered there. We will in addition engage in additional efforts which were already – we’re going to put $70 million into additional integrity initiative to help with local police training in order to help provide additional ability for digital – for internet transmission of payments, which reduces the opportunity for bribery and graft. And there are many different things that we can do technologically to improve this.

But here’s the most important thing that I think ought to come out of today, Mr. Prime Minister, and again, it takes courage to stand up, because in the beginning of this process there’ll be some outlier nations. They’ll say, “Wow, this is a great advantage. They’re going to tighten up their banking system. It’s an opportunity for us to proffer easier terms and we’ll be” – we have to say no safe harbor anywhere. We have to get the global community to come together and have no impunity to corruption. And the minute people begin to feel that enforcement and a broad standard of application, watch how rapidly the standards change. It’ll – you’ll be amazed at how quick this can happen.

So that’s why I view today as genuinely a very important moment. I used to be a prosecutor. I remember when I did the BCCI – Bank of Commerce, Credit International. We found Noriega’s money linked with arms control money, narcotics money, extremist money – even bin Ladin had an account in that bank, and we all know what happened there. That’s why accountability under the law is so critical and that’s why I view this discussion as the beginning of something that can help us in the battle against extremism, help us in the battle for strengthening the commitment to rule of law, and giving people across the planet a sense that leaders at the highest level are not, in fact, part of the problem; they’re part of the solution.