The Politics of the Construction of Victimhood in Foreign Corruption

By Tammy Chu

The criminalization of transnational corruption practices is a recent phenomenon. In Canada, this has been evident in the discussion surrounding transnational corruption in the case of SNC-Lavalin operating in Libya.

Transnational corruption occurs when a company, or its subsidiary, commits a corrupt act in a host state, usually a developing country, by bribing among others a public official of the host country. The host state may either permit the corrupt act or declare that illicit acts never took place. Corruption has been defended by some as simply being standard for doing business abroad in certain countries. However, corruption is not a victimless offence. From a criminal law perspective, there is harm and there are consequent victims.

A current issue in tackling foreign corruption is victim redress. Foreign corruption has foreign victims, diverting funds from government accounts that could have been used for public services and those in need. A significant difficulty is first and foremost identifying the victim. The victims are usually located overseas, and they lack representation in home states (such as Canada) where the corruption is being prosecuted. The shareholders who initially benefit from the crime only stand to lose what they should not have had in the first place. They are victims of a general social cost in enforcing criminal law, not of the crime itself. For example, in the Canadian context, the charges against SNC-Lavalin allege that $47.7 million was paid in the form of bribes and $130 million was defrauded from state organizations in Libya. [1] The victims in Libya are not represented, and the defrauded funds are not likely to be re-allocated back towards their public services, such as education or healthcare. Rather, a plea deal with SNC-Lavalin will likely result in a surcharge or penalty that goes towards victims’ assistance programs in Quebec. [2]

When national economic interests are at the centre of foreign corruption allegations, the decision to exclude victims from legitimate consideration is large and impactful. Beyond recognizing who the victims are, there are several other issues stemming from victim redress in foreign corruption. What assurances are in place to ensure that funds are allocated properly to the direct victims of the crime? Who is determining how these funds are allocated? Further, if one state determines who the victims are, what happens to another state’s determination of victims? These are important considerations that are part of the politics of the construction of victimhood in foreign corruption.

[1] Joanna Harrington, “Lost in the SNC-Lavalin controversy are the Libyan victims,” (21 August 2019), online (blog): Institute for Research on Public Policy: Policy Options Politiques <>

[2] Ibid.

Western University

Contribute to the discussion - comment below each article

Copyright 2019 The Western Journal of Legal Studies. All Rights Reserved.

Western Journal of Legal Studies