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French courts rule

The week in corruption, 19 June 2020

Photo by Sang Hyun Cho from Pixabay

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This week, a Paris court delivered an important judgement for the Syrian people and the anti-corruption community.

On Wednesday, French judges sentenced Rifaat al-Assad to four years in prison for money laundering and embezzlement of public funds from his home country, Syria.

The guilty verdict follows the 2013 civil action proceedings brought against him by Transparency International France and Sherpa.

Rifaat is the uncle of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Once the second most powerful man in the country, he had previously also served as the country’s vice-president, but fled to Europe in 1984.

Earlier this year, the Paris court of appeal also confirmed the conviction of Teodorin Obiang of Equatorial Guinea as part of the same legal campaign led by Transparency International France and Sherpa.

The convictions of al-Assad and Obiang underscore the importance of civil action, along with other features of our envisioned international framework to address grand corruption impunity.

Besides imprisonment, the court also ordered confiscation of al-Assad’s properties in France and the United Kingdom, worth EUR 90 million and EUR 29 million, respectively.

Spain is another country where Rifaat al-Assad is believed to have acquired vast properties, estimated at EUR 695 million. In 2017, the Spanish High Court ordered the confiscation of most of these assets.

But what happens to the confiscated assets?

The confiscated funds should not go into the coffers of the state where they are located. At the same time, when they are returned to the country of origin, there must be measures in place to ensure transparent and accountable return, including a role for civil society organisations in decisions about the use of funds and in oversight.

Image depicting asset recovery

Asset recovery is the legal process through which a country, government and/or its citizens recover the resources and other assets that were stolen through corruption from another jurisdiction.

Corruptionary: Asset Recovery

In France, Transparency International has long been advocating for a legal framework that would allow responsible return of assets to the countries of origin. This legislation must be adopted without further delay.

France is not the only country where such change is desperately needed. Together with our partner civil society organisations, we are proposing an international multilateral agreement on recovery of stolen assets to the United Nations General Assembly which will hold its first-ever Special Session focused on corruption next year, UNGASS 2021.

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