Promises Unfulfilled: How Investment Arbitration Tribunals Mishandle Corruption Claims and Undermine International Development

Andrew T. Bulovsky*

In recent years, the investment-arbitration and anti-corruption regimes have been in tension. Investment tribunals have jurisdiction to arbitrate disputes between investors and host states under international treaties that provide substantive protections for private investments. But these tribunals will typically decline to exercise jurisdiction over a dispute if the host state asserts that corruption tainted the investment. When tribunals close their doors to ag-grieved investors, tribunals increase the risks for investors and thus raise the cost of international investment. At the same time, the decision to decline jurisdiction creates a perverse incentive for host states to turn a blind eye to corruption. Together, these distorted incentives hinder developmental goals and undermine the fight against corruption. To correct these problems, this Note proposes a framework to guide arbitral tribunals when faced with a corruption-tainted dispute. Specifically, this Note argues that when both parties participate in corruption, arbitral tribunals should invoke equitable estoppel to accept jurisdiction over the dispute. When considering the corruption claims, investment tribunals should use a contributory-fault approach that evaluates each party’s role in the corrupt act to determine the final award. This framework not only helps align the investment-arbitration and anticorruption regimes but also advances developmental objectives.

*J.D. Candidate, University of Michigan Law School (2019); M.Sc., University of Oxford (2016); M.Sc., London School of Economics (2015). Thank you to Professor Tim Dickinson for his mentorship, guidance, and friendship. Thank you also to Professors Steve Ratner, John Niehuss, and Katherine Simpson for their discussions and insight into this topic. Finally, thank you to Nicholas Checker for his invaluable edits and support.

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