Corruption and Illegality in Asian Investment Arbitration

Written by: Asst Prof Nobumichi Teramura (UBD-IAS, CAPLUS affiliate) and Luke Nottage

[Updates: I have co-authored draft introductory and Thailand chapters for this book project proposed with Springer, and will present them at an invitation-only webinar for book contributors hosted by UBrunei on 15 June 2022, as well as at Griffith University’s Law Futures Centre on 21 July 2022.]

The Institute of Asian Studies at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD-IAS) has recently funded a conference volume project on this important topic, involving several professors from the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the University of Sydney (CAPLUS).

Bribery and other serious illegal behaviour by foreign investors are widely condemned in any society. The problem is that people seem not to have reached a consensus on the consequences of corruption and illegality in international investment and especially in investment arbitration – a transnational procedure to resolve disputes between a foreign investor and a host state. A core issue is whether a foreign investor who violated a host state’s law would be awarded protection of its investment, as per its contract with the host state and/or the applicable trade or investment agreement between the home state and the host state. Some suggest such protection would be unnecessary, as the investor committed a crime in the host state, while others attempt to establish an equilibrium between the investor and the host state. Some others claim to protect investment, invoking the sanctity of promises made. This research explores ‘Asian’ approaches toward the issue, considering the extent to which significant states in Asia are likely to become ‘rule makers’ rather than ‘rule takers’ regarding corruption and serious illegality in investor-state arbitration. To this end, we will employ a comparative method, inviting scholars from the Asia-Pacific region, including UBD-IAS and other institutions.

The Principal Investigator is Dr Nobumichi Teramura, the Co-Principal Investigator is Assoc Prof Bruno Jetin (UBD-IAS Director), Luke Nottage (appointed also now a Visiting Professor at UBD) is another contributor and the others are listed below. Many have previously worked together on related Asia-focused projects, notably their co-edited volume with Shahla Ali on New Frontiers in Asia-Pacific International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution (Wolters Kluwer 2021) and Luke Nottage’s book co-edited with Julien Chaisse on Investment Treaties and International Arbitration Across Asia (Brill, 2018; expanding on country reports from a 2017 JWIT special issue on ASEAN with Prof Sakda Thanitcul as joint special editor and supported by the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre).

This new project’s primary purpose is to examine Asian approaches and case studies regarding corruption and serious illegality in international investment arbitration. It focuses on corruption-related disputes between private parties and public sector entities. It also covers other serious illegal conduct by foreign investors  related to or broadly equivalent to corruption and bribery, including serious non-compliance with key provisions of national laws regulating the admission or operation of foreign investment.

Regional free trade agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP Agreement) mandate member states to combat corruption and other illegal conduct. However, they remain silent on how specifically to deal with public-private disputes arising from corruption and illegality. Trade and investment law experts have become well aware of the problem, and some suggest treaty reforms even at a global level. Against this backdrop, the research aims to accumulate Asian perspectives, for Asia to build the foundation of leading the next rounds of treaty reforms. In particular, it intends to address the following questions:

  1. Whether Asia has been and will remain ‘ambivalent’ about international law prohibiting corruption and illegality. How have Asian countries been combatting corruption and other illegal activities particularly as to foreign investment? What laws and rules exist, and how do they operate in respective jurisdictions? What are the recent developments?
  2. Whether and how Asian countries have dealt with corruption and illegality in relation to foreign investment projects. If they have faced any international investment cases, what are the outcomes and consequences?
  3. Whether Asian countries have been or are more likely to become ‘rule makers’ rather than ‘rule takers’ in international investment law (as explored generally in the Brill and Wolter Kluwers books mentioned above) regarding corruption and illegality.

Those questions will support us to achieve the central objective: to examine Asian approaches toward  corruption and illegality in international investment arbitration. As we enter an age in which Brunei is increasing its engagement with foreign companies, it is probable that there will be disputes that need to be arbitrated, and corruption and illegality in investment arbitration are issues which other countries in the region are already facing. This research project will help the Bruneian authorities and the academic community, and counterparts in other Asia-Pacific jurisdictions as well as further afield especially when engaging with this region, learn more about such topical issues and potential counter-measures.

More specific expected outcomes include:

  1. One international online research workshop in mid 2022 and one international symposium in early 2023 (depending on pandemic travel restrictions), both in Brunei, for the contributors to present their papers and exchange opinions.
  2. An edited volume in the IAS-Springer Book Series on “Asia in Transition” based on the research papers by the contributors. (A further grant will be applied for to assist with related copy-editing etc, and CAPLUS interns and other Sydney Law School resources will assist particularly with the chapters authored by CAPLUS members.)
  3. A journal article co-authored by Professor Nottage, A/Professor Jetin and Dr Teramura for a Q1 Scopus journal.

Contributors based at UBD:

Name and FICsDescription of contribution
Dr Nobumichi TERAMURA (UBD-IAS)Principal Investigator – general editor and author of chapters for the edited volume in the IAS-UBD “Asia in Transition” series
Associate Professor Bruno Jetin (UBD-IAS)Co-Principal Investigator – general editor and author of chapters for the edited volume in the IAS-UBD “Asia in Transition” series
Yang Amat Mulia Pengiran Indera Negara Pengiran Anak Haji Puteh ibni Al-Marhum Pengiran Pemancha Pengiran Anak Haji Mohamed AlamGeneral contributor (re corruption, investment, arbitration and the Asia-Pacific) and author of the forewords of the edited volume
Professor Ahmed Masood Khalid (UBD-SBE)Contributor (re business and corruption)
Dr Masairol Bin Haji Masri (UBD-SBE)Contributor (re business and corruption)
Dr Hammeed Abayomi Al-Ameen (UBD-SBE)Contributor (re business law and corruption)

Other Contributors:

Professor Luke NottageUniversity of Sydney, Australia (CAPLUS Associate Director); UBD (visiting professor)Co-organiser – general editor and author of chapters for the edited volume in the IAS-UBD “Asia in Transition” series
Dr Colin Ong QCArbitration Association of Brunei Darussalam; and Colin Ong Legal ServiceContributor (re standard of proof for corruption allegations)
Professor Sakda ThanitculFaculty of Law, Chulalongkorn University, ThailandContributor (re Thailand)
Professor Sirilaksana KhomanFaculty of Economics, Chulalongkorn University; National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), ThailandContributor (re Thailand)
Mr Antony CrockettHerbert Smith Freehills, Hong KongContributor (re Indonesia)
Professor Simon ButtUniversity of Sydney (CAPLUS Co-Director)Contributor (re Indonesia)
Professor Romesh WeeramantryNational University of Singapore; Clifford ChanceContributor (re Lao Republic)
Justice Anselmo ReyesSingapore International Commercial CourtContributor (re corruption regulations for economic warfare)
Professor Vivienne BathUniversity of Sydney (former CAPLUS Director)Contributor (re China and Hong Kong)
Professor Joongi KimYonsei Law School, South KoreaContributor (re South Korea)
Professor Dai TamadaKyoto University, JapanContributor (re Japan)
Dr Prabhash RanjanSouth Asian University, IndiaContributor (re India)
Dr Martin JarrettMax Planck Institute, Heidelberg, GermanyContributor (re general investment law and investor misconduct)
Professor Tim LindseyUniversity of Melbourne, AustraliaContributor (re Indonesia)
Dr Jocelyn CruzDe La Salle University, the PhilippinesContributor (re the Philippines)