This week offered some optimism as representatives of countries signed on to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) discussed obstacles to international asset recovery.
Imagine you’ve been robbed of your personal belongings, but fortunately the police are able to locate them. You would expect to swiftly get back what was stolen from you, right?
There is a lot more uncertainty when the victim is a community or an entire population of a low- or middle-income country, and when their rightful belongings are stashed in bank accounts or property markets in another, often wealthier country.
Over the last ten years, only one third of international asset recovery cases have resulted in returns, according to the preliminary results of a recent survey by the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative. The US$2.4 billion that has been reportedly recovered is disappointingly low compared to the US$400 billion that developing countries are estimated to have lost to corruption during the same period.
Countries signed on to the UNCAC should recognise the links between asset recovery and the realisation of human rights as enshrined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, writes Gillian Dell.
Why so few and so little? Barriers to international cooperation, weaknesses in national legal frameworks and lack of enforcement are among key impediments to asset recovery in cross-border corruption cases.
We urgently need countries where proceeds of cross-border corruption and other illicit assets are stashed to step up for the common good, including taking proactive steps when the countries where the assets originated are not doing their part.
Earlier this year, Portuguese authorities seized bank accounts, properties and company shares of Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the former Angolan president. Transparency International Portugal is now campaigning to have these assets returned to Angola.
Transparency International France is also campaigning for the safe and responsible return of assets to countries of origin – especially after French courts delivered much-welcome rulings in the cases of Rifaat al-Assad of Syria and Teodorin Obiang of Equatorial Guinea.
To fix the problem in the long-term, we are asking the international community to initiate a new multilateral agreement on asset recovery during next year’s first-ever UN General Assembly Session against Corruption, UNGASS 2021.
The stakes are high, and a lot depends on how negotiations go between national governments during the next few months. UNGASS 2021 could have a transformative impact on our societies if it agrees to concrete measures to prevent and combat grand corruption – or corruption involving vast quantities of assets, in UN-speak.
The Gambia: Grand corruption under Yahya Jammeh (Short)
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The reign of Yahya Jammeh in the Gambia is a textbook case of grand corruption: how it dramatically inhibits a country’s development, the blind violence that accompanies it and the crushing poverty it leaves in its wake. Last summer, the Gambian people rejoiced when the US Department of Justice announced it was going after the former dictator’s mansion in Potomac, Maryland. Authorities believe that US$3.5 million Jammeh’s family paid for the house may be linked to corruption proceeds.
But the question remains: if recovered, will the Gambian people see this money and, if so, when?
Join us in discussing how we can tackle grand corruption and speed up the slow progress in international asset recovery for the communities who were wronged during the upcoming 19th International Anti-Corruption Conference, taking place online from November 30 to December 5:
- Recovering after Hyena: Justice for grand corruption in the Gambia (December 2)
- Setting the anti-corruption agenda: Priorities for the UN General Assembly Special Session 2021 against Corruption (December 3)
- The role of civil society in the recovery of stolen assets and proceeds of corruption (December 4)
- Truth, reparations, accountability and asset recovery: How transitional justice can fight corruption (December 4)
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