Transparency International (TI), the Berlin-based anti-corruption international non-governmental organisation, has added its voice to those calling for the assets of Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko to be seized. On Friday (16 May) the Swiss Government ordered a freeze on Mobutu's US$2.5 million Swiss villa, but not on other assets of the embattled ruler stashed away in Switzerland, estimated by the Swiss media to total $4 billion. President Mobutu is widely regarded as having systematically looted his country for the past 30 years.
"We are delighted that the Swiss government has moved to freeze Mobutu's villa in their country and hope that they will extend this cooperation to include a search for bank accounts, for there are very good reasons of self-interest why western governments should respond positively to requests that efforts be made to freeze these illicit assets" said TI's chairman, Peter Eigen today (Friday, 16 May).
He noted that throughout the cold war, many governments and international actors had been pursuing their own agenda in propping up a rampantly corrupt regime. All had been aware of the extent of the plundering which was taking place, and yet now these same investors and lenders will be expecting to be repaid by the very victims of Mobutu, the ordinary people of Zaire.
"With Mobutu gone, these governments and investors must now face up to the possibility that an incoming government will challenge the legality of the debts their predecessor incurred," Dr Eigen said. "By all the ordinary laws of contract, many of these debts should be declared void and irrecoverable as against the people of Zaire."
"They are clearly poisoned by the illegalities that these governments and other foreign partners were tacitly facilitating, and by any standards they were party to the thefts as they could not have taken place without external complicity," he continued.
Dr Eigen said that his organisation would be taking the matter up with the incoming Zairean administration to provide assistance for a possible legal challenge to the debts. It will also be available to help the new administration build a national integrity system so that any repetition of the tragic events of the past can be minimised.
"This tragedy must not be allowed to recur," he said. "It should also be made an object lesson to other dictators and plunderers in the developing world that no longer can they rely on western institutions to protect their ill-gotten gains."
"In the meantime, it would be in the countries' bests interests if they were to co-operate in the seizing of Mobutu's illicit wealth, as it may very well be their own money that they would be saving," Dr Eigen concluded.
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