At 10am on 27 October 2017, a French court will return its verdict in the unprecedented trial, "Biens mal acquis”*. On the occasion this decision, Transparency International France, the leading civil party in the case, has formulated a proposal to enable the return of money resulting from grand corruption to the populations of the countries of origin, who are the primary victims of these crimes. It is they who pay the highest price for the illicit enrichment of their ruling elites.
Every year, billions of euros are diverted, especially to France, to fuel the expensive lifestyles of corrupt leaders abroad, instead of funding infrastructure and essential public services such as hospitals, roads or schools.
In the event of conviction and confiscation of property, it is essential that the sums recovered be returned to the populations who have been unjustly deprived of them. This is provided for in the United Nations Convention against Corruption (Article 57.3.c).
However, there is nothing in current French law to guarantee that assets recovered from cases of grand corruption are allocated to the benefit of the victims. In fact, the confiscated assets and the money resulting from their sale return to the State budget. Urgent changes are needed to the French legislative framework.
A totally unfair situation
"How can one justify that the assets seized in grand corruption cases do not return one way or another to the victims?" protests Maud Perdriel-Vaissière, a member of Transparency International France and author of the report.
To fill this gap, Transparency International France proposes the introduction of an illicit asset allocation mechanism (see below). The NGO intends to promote this tool during a conference to be held at the National Assembly on 23 November 2017.
Far from being limited to the "Biens mal acquis” case alone, the proposed tool is intended to apply to all cases of grand corruption.
“Fourteen years ago France actively advocated for the return of illicit assets to be included in the United Nations Convention against Corruption. It is high time to implement this commitment," said Marc-André Feffer, President of Transparency France.
The key points of the plan proposed by Transparency International France
1. The seized assets, as well as the sums of money recovered, must be isolated from the State budget and placed in a special account, pending their allocation to the population of the state of origin.
2. The funds shall be used exclusively for improving the living conditions of the populations of the countries of origin and / or for strengthening the rule of law and the fight against corruption.
3. A consultation process must be conducted in a transparent and inclusive manner which includes the participation of civil society representatives.
4. Funds must be managed in a transparent manner and their use strictly controlled.
*Ill-gotten gains: a 10-year legal battle
In 2008, alerted by several reports and the result of a preliminary police investigation, Transparency International France launched through its lawyer, William Bourdon, a legal battle that many described as a lost cause. The goal was to ensure that France is no longer the host of money laundering and embezzled funds and to return these to the people to whom they belong.
After 10 years of proceedings and a course fraught with pitfalls – court rejections, endless appeals, intimidation attempts and defamation accusations – the French courts will deliver their verdict on Friday 27 October in the case against “Teodorin” Nguema Obiang, vice-president of Equatorial Guinea who has allegedly amassed an immense fortune in France (mansions, luxury cars, art pieces…) with funds embezzled in his country.
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