US authorities say they have repatriated about $150 million of stolen money to countries from which they were stolen, frozen $3.5 billion in assets linked to foreign corruption and efforts are underway to do more.
Last Saturday December 9, the world celebrated the International Anti-Corruption Day under the theme: ‘United against corruption for development, peace and security’. And the UN says every year $1 trillion is paid in bribes while an estimated $2.6 trillion are stolen annually through corruption – a sum equivalent to more than 5 per cent of the global GDP. In developing countries, according to the United Nations Development Programme, funds lost to corruption are estimated at 10 times the amount of official development assistance.
Speaking in a teleconference with journalists around the world, Friday December 8, 2017 following the December 4-6 Global Forum on Asset Recovery and its anti-corruption programming in Africa, Robert Leventhal, Deputy Director in the Office of Anti-Crime Programmes in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs at the Department of State said: “As we said, we’ve repatriated about $150 million. To date, we’ve got $3.5 billion in the pipeline. At the Global Forum on Asset Recovery just a couple of days ago, Switzerland signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Nigeria to return $321 million in stolen assets. So the cases can take a long time but they are having more and more success.”
The Global Forum on Asset Recovery was co-hosted by the US and the UK.
He indicated further that the objective of the forum was straightforward; make asset recovery more effective. And the format was based on the experience the two countries had with similar forums supported by the United States and other countries over the years to benefit both the countries in the Middle East and North Africa and Ukraine.
“So, the meetings here in Washington brought together investigators and prosecutors from around the world who are responsible for asset recovery so that they could meet and discuss, face-to-face, their ongoing cases, establish personal working relationships and understand better, each other’s laws and procedures so that we would see even stronger cooperation going forward and more effective asset recovery,” he said.
He pointed out that the Global Forum focused on cases from four countries where increased international cooperation on asset recovery could make a significant impact: The countries are Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Tunisia and Ukraine, he said.
“We’re very excited here in Washington, a bit tired, but we are happy that the GFAR more than achieved its objectives. The meetings saw over 75 bilateral meetings between law enforcement and prosecutors from 26 jurisdictions. In other words, there were more than 75 side meetings where law enforcement or prosecutors from one country would meet with law enforcement and prosecutors from another country to talk face-to-face and move the cases forward,” Leventhal said.
He however, stated that there are likely to be appeals by those who either in good faith feel that they have a claim to the assets or perhaps in some instances, trying to slow down the process and try to create obstacles.
“So, again, this is an area that takes time but the payoffs can be supremely important. As we said, we’ve repatriated about $150 million. To date, we’ve got $3.5 billion in the pipeline. At the Global Forum on Asset Recovery just a couple days ago, Switzerland signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Nigeria to return $321 million in stolen assets. So the cases can take a long time but they are having more and more success,” he said.
According to Mr. Leventhal, there is a dedicated team, a specific team tasked to the issue within the Department of Justice and it’s called the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.
The only thing they work on, he said, is cooperation with other countries internationally to try to help them to train to seize, to confiscate and to return assets.
“Those prosecutors and investigators who work with them will go to a requesting country, they will meet face-to-face with the officials there. They will assist in investigations. One thing that we always encourage is face-to-face, what we call ‘informal cooperation’ providing information about each other’s laws and procedures, trying to do as much of the work as possible before the mutual legal assistance phase, which is a more formal phase. And we find that’s the police-to-police contact, prosecutor-to-prosecutor contact, even financial-intelligence-unit-to-financial-intelligence-unit contact can be extremely helpful. And we can provide all kinds of assistance through those informal channels,” he said.
He also stated that there are a few different ways that they do things.
“We can enforce a conviction with confiscation from another country here in the United States upon request. We can enforce an order of confiscation from another country upon request. And we can initiate our own investigations and prosecutions here with the aim of providing the recovered assets back to the requesting country,” he said.
According to Leventhal, the US has long recognized that the negative impact of corruption affects all aspects of society and touches the lives of all citizens, adding that over the years, they’ve learned that the impact of corruption extends far beyond the borders of the country in which it takes place.
“Kleptocracy, or high-level corruption, breeds instability by driving a wedge between government and the people. It turns institutions meant to serve the people into tools for exploiting them and this can leave many feeling disempowered and convinced that the system is rigged. And this can open the door for transnational organized crime and extremist groups to exploit this frustration for their own purposes,” he said.
He noted that the US continues to support global anti-corruption efforts, and strives to be a leader in the fight against that both at home and abroad.
“We strongly support the UN Convention Against Corruption and other similar treaties. Our Department of Justice, which is our national prosecutorial body, has repatriated or is repatriating over $150 million in proceeds of corruption to requesting countries. And has frozen $3.5 billion in assets linked to foreign corruption. And since fiscal year 2016, the State Department and our US Agency for International Development have dedicated more than $115 million each year to a wide range of foreign assistance efforts to build other countries’ capacity to counter corruption. Our Anti-Corruption Foreign Assistance Programs include capacity-building for governments to create stronger laws and more effective institutions to investigate, prosecute and secure convictions and to put in place measures to prevent corruption, foster oversight and promote government integrity and transparency,” he said.
Kellen McClure, Anti-Corruption Advisor in the Office of Anti-Crime Programmes in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs at the Department of State, in response to questions from journalists said that almost every country in Africa is a state party to the UN Convention Against Corruption, and one of the obligations that a country takes on as a party to the UNCAC as it’s called, is to do a peer review or be subjected to a peer review where other countries will come in and see how that country is complying with the different provisions of the UNCAC.
“And what’s helpful is that countries are then required to post at least the executive summary of these reports on the UN ODC, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime website and often countries will publish the full report. And this is a very helpful resource for anyone who’s interested in seeing how a specific country is complying with these different provisions. Right now countries are in the second cycle of this review and they’re being reviewed upon their compliance with the prevention provisions of the Convention as well as their asset recovery compliance.
So again, I would encourage anyone who’s interested to go onto the UN ODC website and see their country’s report and see what type of information is provided there. It’s a very useful resource,” he said.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
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