On January 29, Gulf News reported that on January 28 a special court in Kuwait charged with handling cases against government ministers imposed prison sentences on four individuals on corruption charges. A former health minister, Ali Al Obeidi, was sentenced to seven years in prison, and a former undersecretary at the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health, an incumbent senior official, and an agent of a U.S. firm received similar sentences.
The court also ordered the four defendants to repay a total of $243 million “in connection with squandering and seizing public money,” and to pay KD10,000 ($32,830) each to remain on release until a higher court reviews the sentences.
These sentences reportedly are the first such sentences in Kuwait. One member of the Kuwaiti Parliament hailed the ruling, saying that it “can herald a new phase in prosecuting ministers and senior officials for wrongdoing.”
Note: These sentences set an important precedent for the Kuwaiti government, particularly at a time when a spate of recent reports has raised questions about its failure to pursue corruption more aggressively. In November, large anti-corruption demonstrations were held outside the Parliament and the Prime Minister and his cabinet stepped down amidst political turmoil that included alleged misuse of military funds. In addition, Kuwait has fared poorly in recent corruption surveys. The 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) rated Kuwait only 85th (a decrease of seven places) among 180 countries, and the 2019 TRACE Bribery Rik Matrix rated Kuwait still lower, only 121st of 200 countries.
Kuwait’s Public Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha), according to the Kuwait Times, said that one of the main reasons for the decline of Kuwait’s CPI ranking was delay in issuing legislation that could have improved Kuwait’s CPI ranking, most notably a law on conflict of interests, a law regarding the right to know, regulation of information gathering, legislation for regulating appointment of leaders, and legislation on organizing electoral campaigns. Nazaha also called for swift enactment of legislation that included revising the penal code to render bribing civil servants a penal crime, “criminalizing bribes in the private sector, expanding scope of responsibility to cover independent entities (persons and institutions) in tandem with international treaties and accords on revamping precautions against corruption.”
All of these actions would undoubtedly strengthen Kuwait’s hand in combating corruption. But the government must also demonstrate that it will continue to investigate corruption aggressively, if it is to confirm the Kuwaiti Emir’s promise “that no-one, no matter his position, will evade punishment if convicted in public funds crimes.”