International Corruption Hunter
Meet Michelle Ratpan (BCL/LLB’06), a litigation specialist at the World Bank who investigates allegations of fraud, corruption and more around the world.
By Bridget Wayland
Law alumna Michelle Ratpan (BCL/LLB’06) fights corruption around the globe. As a litigation specialist with the Integrity Vice Presidency (INT), a unit of about 100 people within the World Bank in Washington, D.C., Ratpan’s team is dedicated to investigating fraud in development projects funded by the organization.
“Corruption is the number-one impediment to economic growth in more than 60 countries,” said Ratpan during her recent presentation to students at the Faculty of Law (see Focus online, November 2013: “MILS Presents a Talk by Two World Bank Litigation Specialists”), when she talked about her career and presented shocking photos from a sampling of World Bank projects gone awry.
The Calgary native, who holds both a B.A. in Political Science and English Literature and a BCL/LLB from McGill, wanted to come back to the Faculty and share her experience because “I am very proud of McGill’s Faculty of Law,” she says. What’s more, “Dean Jutras has been a great advocate of alumni returning to the Faculty to share their work experiences.”
“The Faculty of Law has given me the best possible education,” she says, “with both a practical and theoretical perspective. The Faculty’s teaching style encourages debate amongst students and the confidence to speak up in class—the confidence I gained through my studies at McGill has stayed with me and encouraged me to take risks in my legal career.”
After my first year of law school, I realized that I enjoyed public speaking and was drawn to courses in criminal, international and civil litigation,” she says. “My McGill education also set the framework for my decision about where I wanted to start my career—in the public service.”
After graduation, Ratpan articled with the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Ontario Regional Office in Toronto, then represented the Attorney General of Canada as counsel. Along the way, she took a year off to do an LLM in Global Health Law and International Institutions at Georgetown University. “I wanted to gain some expertise in international development and eventually litigate in this area,” she recalls. “And then, in my final two years at the DOJ, I became certain that I wanted to work in anti-corruption law.”
In 2012, Ratpan moved to D.C. to take up a coveted position at the World Bank. For the past two years, she has provided legal advice and investigative assistance within the World Bank’s INT unit. “I work with a team of investigators representing the Eastern Europe and Central Asia team,” she says, “so several times a year, I travel for work.” To date, she has been to Russia, Serbia, Moldova, India, Bangladesh, Denmark, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The goal of these investigative missions is “to determine whether a company or an individual that has bid on a project financed by the World Bank is likely to have engaged in one of five sanctionable practices: corruption, fraud, collusion, coercion or obstruction,” Ratpan says. “If INT believes there is sufficient evidence, we prepare a written pleading that is submitted through an internal administrative process within the World Bank, and may eventually be heard by the World Bank’s Sanctions Board.”
“I feel that I am very fortunate to be working in the development sector and more specifically for the World Bank,” she adds. “The people who are being affected by corruption want it to stop, and we are providing a means to do that.”
Among these means is a new INT app, designed to allow people around the world to report corruption wherever they see it—users can take a picture of a highway that is falling apart, geo-tag it, and send it to the INT from anywhere around the world.
This is what it’s all about, for Ratpan.
“The Faculty teaches its future lawyers to be socially minded and to care about and work towards social justice,” she says. “I hope that students who are currently studying at the Faculty are excited about their ability to make a positive impact through their careers, whether they decide to work within Canada or abroad.”