Speech by the chair of the board of the Sophie Prize

Dear guests and dear Eva Joly,

”Today’s economic system is at odds with the limits set by nature. Too many decisions are based on short-term profit for a few select groups rather than a moral and fair distribution of the world's resources”.
By Liv Røhnebæk Bjergene
Wednesday 13 June 2012

The quote is from the Sophie Prize mission statement but it might well have been written by you, Eva Joly. Because it is precisely this culture of greediness, which undermines the possibility of a fair and sustainable development, that you have dedicated most of your professional life to rendering visible and fighting.

“Impose your luck”, says the French poet René CHAR, “hold on tight to your good fortune, and move towards your risk, when they see you, they’ll get used to it!” The quote is taken from one of your many books and in many ways it sums up your life work.

The first, major step on that road was the tax fraud investigation of the French oil company Elf Aquitaine in the 1990s, where you, as investigating judge, directed the work leading to revelations of tax evasions of several billion Norwegian kroner. The investigation commenced in 1995 and the first cases reached the French courts in 2003, 30 of which resulted in prosecution. In 27 of these the accused were convicted. You and your team revealed how corruption had infected the very top of society, including ex-ministers of government, major banks and big industry. But your tireless effort came at a price.

”Madame, I have heard from a reliable source that you have moved into extremely dangerous territory. Do not go too close to the windows," was the advice of one of France's most prominent judges gave you.

For several years you and your family remained under constant police protection. Their weapons were on the dining room table and the bodyguards slept next to your bedroom. You had a husband, you had children. It would have been understandable had you succumbed to the massive pressure you and the investigation you headed were subjected to.

But you do not give up. Your commitment, your sense of justice and your desire to move the world in the right direction are too strong. You feel an enormous responsibility for sharing your knowledge and experience so that the world may become a better place to live in for coming generations. You draw on your roots and the Norwegian peasant culture, which instilled in every generation that they should hand over the farm to the next in better conditions than they received it.

You did not commit to simply running a farm. You wanted to change the world. Where others of the same or younger cohorts settle down and enjoy life as pensioners, you rev up. Lulls are not to your liking: you prefer that things move.

With determination you seek positions that will give you power to exert maximum influence and force the changes that you believe are essential to defeat what you call the pest of our times: corruption. From 2002 to 2005 you were special advisor on corruption to the Norwegian government, heading the Norwegian anti-corruption and money laundering project and initiating the Paris Declaration against Corruption. You went on to direct Norad's work against corruption in development cooperation, including the setting up of a global anti-corruption network. 

Currently, you serve as a member of the European Parliament and were elected president of their standing Committee on Development. You have been appointed special advisor to the government of Iceland and this spring you even stood for President of France as the candidate of the Green Party.  

Everything is possible”, you say. It should come as no surprise then that one of your books has the sub-heading "A small book of zest for life". Because you are confronting mighty forces.

Every year billions of American dollars are scurried away in closed jurisdictions, known as tax havens. We have put in place a time bomb, you say, and point to volatile markets, bursting financial bubbles and money circulating outside of any government's control. You believe the Eurozone would not have suffered the terrible current financial and social problems had tax havens not existed and call the lack of regulations an unforgiveable political failing.

You hold that we in the rich part of the world base our comfortable lives on a corrupt pact between Western multinationals and Third World despots by hiding their ill-gotten wealth in our banks. You dream of devolving this money and putting it to good use, creating progress and development. We are talking about billions. In Gabon alone, the Bongo clan is estimated to have unlawfully siphoned off some four billion dollars.  

The African continent is particularly vulnerable to capital flight and tax evasion because of its vast natural resources. Today capital flows out of Africa exceed the influx of aid and debt reduction. Now - what is this to do with the environment? Quite a lot, in fact. It turns out that fighting large scale corruption is a precondition to reducing poverty and to preventing environmental damage and global heating. Wealth does not stay in poor, developing countries, such as copper-rich Zambia or oil-soaked Nigeria. A tiny minority become filthy rich while the vast majority remain poor and also get to pay the bill: Zambian rivers polluted by the copper extraction, a Niger delta devastated by oil spills and other, related environmental disasters.  

One of your political flagship battles is therefore to get in place an international criminal tribunal for environmental offences. That would allow society to hold to account greedy environmental lawbreakers who win resource extraction contracts through corruption - as does the International Criminal Court in The Hague with war criminals. It must not pay to destroy the environment that all life on the entire planet depends on.

The following has been said of you: ”You have never been subdued, despite threats, anonymous letters and defeats. Eva Joly is a river that many would like to change its course - but she always returns to the right course”.

In the Sophie Prize we are proud to award you this year's honour. We know that you are not alone in the world in fighting corruption. Many of the members of the Anti-Corruption Network, that you initiated, are present in this hall today. You launched the battle, you blazed the trail. You have proved that victories are possible but you have also shown how corruption is spreading. If we are to prevent an even greater deterioration of the environment and the climate and create a fair and sustainable development, the fight against greed must be stepped up.

Eva Joly, you are a brave and important inspirer.