Todays Date
December 13, 2019

THE PRICE OF INTEGRITY

By Aleksandar Krzhallovski    

 

Waiting for some progress in the Racket case (unfortunately the desired fast finish is less certain), with this week’s hearings at the Public Prosecutor’s Office, including today’s of the Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva, let’s do a bit of math on demanding the answer whether we have the capacity to fight high corruption at all.

The impetus for this is the skepticism of a friend of mine, voiced since the founding of the SPO, and I have mentioned it in one of the past articles – that Macedonia simply does not have the capacity to handle severe/major corruption cases. Both for financial reasons and for human potential. And maybe other reasons!

Financial – since in a country where the average salary is 400-500 Euros, how much higher salary should a prosecutor be offered/given to reduce or eliminate his/her bribery? Also, in a country where the largest verdict (at least for a politician, if not at all) was for around 3 million Euros, and the largest one who has not reached a verdict was for 8 million Euros, where to find lawyers, prosecutors and judges who will have to deal with cases of a few (tens) millions of Euros? And finally, if so much money has really been stolen as people say – at least 500 million Euros, it is not logical to conclude that they will pay as much as they need to remain free (e.g. even if they set aside only 10% for that purpose, that is 50 million Euros).

In terms of human potential/capacity, one argument has already been stated above – no one has experience with cases with such a large amount of money. Second is the ability (primarily of investigative authorities and prosecutors) to trace crime, to be smarter, more attentive, or at least more persistent than those who have made (or stolen) those millions, and ultimately to obtain all documents properly in order to get a conviction in court proceedings. And finally, perhaps most importantly – whether we have and how many people we have in those positions of integrity who will not succumb to tempting cash and other offers, or what their “melting point” is.

 

My friend was skeptical of all these issues and the hope was in the strong support for the SPO from the EU and the USA, in terms of training for prosecutors, study visits to similar institutions abroad, experts from their countries available to the SPO, and maybe (I don’t know) more specific assistance in the investigations themselves (e.g. access to suspects’ accounts in other countries). The support was there and it was great…at least until this Racket case. But what about all the other elements?

 

Mathematics for the SPO fund says about 4 million Euros a year was allocated from the budget. Part of this is for the costs of the investigations themselves, hiring external experts, and material costs of running the SPO. According to my practice (I am speculating, I have no verification for these estimates), these should be at least half that budget (which means around 2 million), but let it be just 1 of those 4 million. Let the other 3 be for salaries only. If 150 out of about 160 SPO employees receive an average of 1,000 Euros a month (let it be gross), that is 150,000 Euros a month or over 1.5 million Euros a year. The remaining 1.5 million Euros let it be for the 15 (or 13 remaining) prosecutors, that’s 100,000 gross per prosecutor per year or just under 8,500 Euros gross (about 5,000 Euros net) per month. That would be in the range of the highest salaries in the country (talking about the private sector, well above the salaries of the prime minister, ministers and other officials and senior administration officials, which are up to 1,500 Euros net). If that is the case (and it is probably less), we come to the title question – though 3-4 times higher than the “normal” high salaries in Macedonia, is that enough? That is, whether this salary is sufficient to deter prosecutors from all the temptations and offers they might receive (and according to Racket, they apparently received…at least some of them) and to turn down any “indecent proposal” as it was called the famous film on this subject with Robert Redford and Demi Moore. Or, what is the price of integrity?

 

As a reminder, in the movie, for one night with her, the rich offered 1 million Euros, the girl accepted (and her husband agreed). Watch the movie to find out what it brought to their relationship afterwards, but for our situation it is important to demonstrate the “melting point”, or the saying “the thing that cannot be bought with money, is bought with a lot of money”. And I believe every person has a certain melting point that is commensurate with his/her integrity. Or as it was described in the legendary Alan Ford comic book, and paraphrasing Archimedes’ Eureka (each body submerged in a bathtub will displace water with equal volume as the submerged body) with the saying: each body submerged in POWER will displace the same amount of its convictions as it will displace BENEFIT for itself!

 

So what is the price of integrity? To each of us! With Racket this is put to the test and we will see how it turns out. A little more speculation/math. For the witness-victim in this case, businessman Kamchev, the math would be this: if Forbes estimated his fortune at about 228 million Euros, then the requested (or offered) 8 million is “only” 3.5% of what he owns. I would say – a small sacrifice for freedom and personal tranquility/peace. But 8 million are 8 million, so he seems to have just as many reasons not to give them for a bribe, as we see in Racket. On the other hand, the question is in how many hands (or pockets) these 8 million ended (or should have ended) (not to mention how many other cases there were and how much the total “budget” of the racket would have eventually been). And how much was intended to include a prosecutor in this “play”? If they had a salary of 5,000 Euros a month, 50-60 thousand a year, they would reach about 200-250 thousand Euros of salaries over the duration of the SPO! Great for Macedonian occasions. But if (other than that money) someone offered let’s say 1 million (out of those 8) for a particular prosecutor, would his/ her integrity say “no”? Each of us should ask ourselves the same question – in their place and under such conditions, would they accept the “million plus”? And would they “break” for two? And for all eight? What is your melting point? I hope the investigation will show if there was such a thing and how much someone’s integrity cost.

 

Let’s not be pessimistic and, as the dominant mood is now, let me say something about a possible optimistic scenario. Ideally, of course, integrity cannot be violated (or bought) with money (the phrase: no money can buy me). Or as MasterCard makes great use of (that is, sells) in the Champions League, with the ad: There are some things money can’t buy. For everything elsethere’s MasterCard. And there are many bright examples of this. Probably the best known is the Italian judge (and prosecutor) Giovanni Falcone who conducted the largest mafia trials in Italy. He was not bought or bribed with any money, but he also gave up police protection (to live on an island for greater personal security), which he eventually paid with his life (in a car bomb attack on his way from Palermo Airport to his home). But the legacy he left in the fight against corruption and the mafia is huge. Not only did his death bring the biggest crackdown on the mafia (and all major leaders were arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment, including all who ordered and organized Falcone’s murder), but his work is an anti-corruption guide globally, and his integrity – an example of respect for everyone, especially those who do this work. Or as one Italian friend put it – on the day of Falcone’s death, May 23, all Italy stands up, in reverence for his work and integrity.

Do we have such a hero? Let’s see what Racket will show (and the other cases of SPO, and BPPO). Of course (and still) we need at least one like Falcone!

 

*The text is written exclusively for the purposes of Inbox 7. For each republishing, a consent by the editors must be obtained. Inbox 7 does not always agree with the opinions and views of the authors in the debate section.

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