Seizing and Returning the Proceeds of Corruption

As the world marks International Anticorruption Day, many of us are turning our focus to one of the most critical elements of effective anti-corruption: asset recovery. Successful asset recovery means international cooperation to trace, confiscate, and return proceeds of corruption stashed abroad. It also combats impunity, which can serve as a deterrent to high-level graft, and provides invaluable resources to benefit the people harmed by the abuse of public office.‎ Successful asset recovery is a key component of the UN Convention Against Corruption and holds great interest for countries trying to recover millions or billions of dollars stolen from them by corrupt leaders as well as for the partner countries, like the United States, trying to help them.

Today, I have the honor to mark International Anticorruption Day on the outskirts of Tunis, the cradle of the Arab Spring. Representatives of more than 30 countries -- from throughout region, financial centers, and other partner countries -- are meeting for the fourth time under the banner of the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery (AFAR). The United States and its partners launched AFAR during the United States’ 2012 presidency of the G-8, as part of the Deauville Partnership with Arab Countries in Transition initiative. 

One of the ‎key messages at AFAR is a somber one: asset recovery is hard. For the countries requesting help, years of neglect or interference in law enforcement institutions, coupled with ever more sophisticated money laundering techniques, can make trying to trace the money and link it to a crime frustratingly difficult. For financial centers or countries providing assistance, a proactive approach to case assistance must become the norm. On both sides, cooperation is hindered when countries have little knowledge of each others’ laws and lack connections to specific counterparts with which they can collaborate. But even in the absence of those challenges and in the presence of high political will on all sides, asset recovery can fail at first or can take years.

Despite roadblocks and lengthy processes in asset recovery cases, I inevitably come away heartened by these meetings, which emblemize our shared commitment to work through these challenges. Investigator and prosecutor expert delegates at AFAR will have dozens of confidential side discussions designed to move cases forward. Countries including Switzerland, Lebanon, and the United States have produced guides providing insight into their respective procedures and requirements as well as translated the guides into the languages of the requesting countries to assist them in their asset recovery cases. 

There is a spirit in the room of commitment to make the process work and to share and learn from both successes and obstacles. These lessons are portable, informing how practitioners approach the response to requests for help from Ukraine, Sri Lanka, and other countries around the world. Countries are presenting creative approaches and innovative new laws, and demonstrating political will for serious cooperation.

Its clear to me, the message of International Anticorruption Day is twofold: a reminder of the urgency of combating corruption, and a call to rededicate ourselves to turning that sense of urgency into concrete action. That action must include establishing strong laws backed by independent law enforcement, judicial, and other oversight institutions, as well as forging a stronger architecture for international cooperation, such as what we see with AFAR. It is exciting to be part of the United States' efforts to support this crucial process.

About the Author: Robert Leventhal serves as the Director of the Anti-Crimes Division in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.



Donald D.
California, USA
December 10, 2015
Please continue going after all of the Marcos family in the Philippines.
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