Washington, DC, 6 December 2017
In a statement delivered at the closing plenary of the first ever Global Forum on Asset Recovery that ends today, a coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) welcomed the political will generated by the Forum to improve asset recovery efforts but called for governments to do more and be more transparent.
Approximately 30 CSO representatives participated in the Global Forum on Asset Recovery, most of them from the four focus countries – Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Ukraine – as well as a few representatives of international civil society groups.
CSOS attending the forum applauded the breakthrough in Switzerland’s return of assets to Nigeria with the landmark proposal for civil society involvement in monitoring the funds returned.
“The MOU between Switzerland and Nigeria recognizes the key role of civil society organisations and is a distinctive departure from the past practice of government-to-government agreements which resulted in re-looting of recovered funds,” said Olanrewaju Suraju, of HEDA Resource Centre in Nigeria.
According to the coalition, the Global Forum was useful for encouraging discussions between law enforcement agencies on concrete cases.
However, in its statement the coalition criticized governments for the serious lack of information on how many stolen assets have been identified and seized.
“While conscious of the sensitivity of investigations, the lack of even basic information about asset recovery activities from governments is a serious failure of accountability which prevents the monitoring of effectiveness and crucially impairs trust,” said Asoka Obeyesekere from Transparency International Sri Lanka.
In eight country studies, CSOs found that relevant information was unavailable. In some countries, such as Ukraine, court decisions on confiscation of proceeds of corruption have been classified as state secrets. The coalition called for transparency commitments by all countries present at the GFAR, and urged them to set up databases with comprehensive asset recovery data.
The coalition faulted financial centres – including the forum’s co-hosts US and UK – for not going far enough to clamp down on those who help launder funds out of the developing world, such as financial institutions, property managers and lawyers. The coalition urged countries that have not yet done so to introduce public registers of beneficial ownership and to take action against those who help the corrupt hide away their stolen wealth.
“Currently laundering funds out of our countries is far too easy; recovering the assets far too difficult” said Daria Kaleniuk of Anti-Corruption Centre in Ukraine.
CSOs from the four focus countries made specific recommendations to individual governments in country assessment reports prepared especially for GFAR. They called for:
- national law enforcement agencies engaged in asset recovery to be properly resourced and coordinated;
- for the Prosecutor General Office to stop harassing new anti-corruption investigative bodies (Ukraine);
- for anti-corruption agencies to end restrictive information-sharing provisions between the anti-corruption agencies (Sri Lanka);
- for the creation of a new commission to work on asset recovery in Tunisia, where the former commission ran out of mandate in 2015; and
- for adoption of comprehensive asset recovery legislation (Sri Lanka, Tunisia and Nigeria).
“This forum is a major opportunity to generate political will to push for greater asset recovery for countries like ours. We hope our governments do not squander it,” said Youssef Belgacem from Iwatch in Tunisia.
The Global Forum on Asset Recovery, being held in Washington, DC from 4–6th of December 2017, seeks to provide international assistance on stolen asset recovery to four countries: Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Ukraine, and Nigeria. The CSO statement in the closing session can be found below.
This press statement builds on the work of the UNCAC Coalition Working Group on Asset Recovery. The CSOs involved include:
- African Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), Nigeria
- Human and Environmental Development Agency (HEDA), Nigeria
- African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development, (Centre LSD), Nigeria
- Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), NIgeria
- Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Nigeria
- Nigerian Network on Stolen Asset (NNSA), Nigeria
- Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Nigeria,
- Policy Alert, Nigeria
- Transparency International-Ukraine,
- Anti-Corruption Centre (ANTAC), Ukraine
- White Collar Hundred, Ukraine
- IWatch, Tunisia
- Transparency Sri Lanka,
- Campaign For Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE), Sri Lanka
- Civil Society Forum on Asset Recovery (CIFAR), EU
- UNCAC Coalition
- International State Crime Initiative