UNITED NATIONS - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged business leaders across the world to denounce corruption and institute measures to combat the vice, in line with the UN convention against graft, saying corruption distorted markets and hindered economic growth. Corruption acts as a hidden overhead charge that drives up prices and erodes quality without any benefit to producers or consumers. Preventing corruption makes good business sense, the UN chief said in a message to mark International Anti-Corruption Day. Increasingly, investors are factoring not only environmental, social and governance considerations into their decision-making, but sound ethical performance as well, he added. Ban noted that the UN Convention against Corruption has helped the public sector to make progress in detecting and preventing graft. State parties to the treaty, which now number 148, last year established a peer review mechanism to identify gaps in national anti-corruption laws and practices, a move he termed a major breakthrough that can help governments halt bribe-taking and the embezzlement of public funds. The UN is itself fighting corruption in its work, he said, by ensuring individual accountability, collaborating with law enforcement agencies, and investigating all possible instances of corruption. The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) yesterday brought together representatives from various organizations around the world for a two-day conference aimed at strengthening the role of internal investigations in combating corruption. On this International Anti-Corruption Day, let us all do our part to foster ethical practices, safeguard trust and ensure no diversion of the precious resources needed for our shared work for development and peace, Ban said. In particular, he called on businesses to join the UN Global Compact, the worlds largest corporate sustainability initiative, which provides participants with tools to fight all forms of corruption, including extortion and bribery. To mark the Day, the Global Compact, together with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the UN Ethics Office, is hosting a high-level discussion in New York on the role of the private sector in fighting corruption. Yury Fedotov, UNODC Executive Director, stressed in his message for the Day the need for the private sector to make effective use of the Convention against Corruption. The private sector plays a key role in fostering development, but it is lagging behind the public sector in its efforts to stop corruption, said Fedotov. In the past year, a number of countries have stepped up enforcement of anti-corruption laws, and we have seen high-level prosecutions of major companies, but many of these cases have ended in plea bargains. He noted that although companies found culpable in graft cases have paid huge fines, the money stayed in the States where the settlements were reached and none of it went back to countries from which it was taken. Ordinary people are the losers. We need to address this integrity deficit. I encourage the working group on asset recovery to look into this, Fedotov said, referring to the intergovernmental body set up in 2006 by the parties to the corruption treaty and mandated to advise and assist parties on the issue of the return of proceeds of corruption.