Uprisings in the Arab world: time to address illicit wealth

8 March 2011, by Maud Perdriel-Vaissiere.

Corrupt money associated with bribes received by public officials from developing and transition countries is estimated at US$ 20-40 billion per year. Without a doubt, the repatriation of illicit assets could provide much needed funds for development, particularly in the many countries where large numbers of people live in poverty.SafeHowever, according to the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) of the hundreds of billions of dollars stolen over the last fifteen years, no more than US$5 billion has been recovered to date. When one thinks that this single figure is equivalent to the reportedly personal fortune amassed by Mobutu Sese Seko, one of Africa’s most corrupt rulers, you can see a lot remains to do to recover stolen assets that can help developing countries achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

The recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and now in Libya might change the rules of the game. As a matter of fact, they offer a unique opportunity for governments to translate into actions Article 51 of the UNCAC, which makes returning stolen assets a fundamental principle for all states parties. In France, the UK and Switzerland, governments heeded calls to freeze and investigate the assets of ex-president of Tunisia Ben Ali and ex-president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak, their family members and close associates. Similar measures are currently being taken with respect to the assets belonging to Gaddafi and his cronies.

Let’s hope that this reaction to the “Arab revolutions” announces a real shift in the policy framework of receiving countries, so that they take all required measures to enable prompt recovery of stolen assets.

On 7 March 2011, SHERPA and R’NAC (Réseau National Anti-Corruption) announced the lodging of a request to the Anti-Money Laundering and Suspicious Cases Unit of the Central Bank of the UAE to request the immediate tracing, identification and freezing of any funds and/or other assets belonging and/or related to Mr Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Mrs Leila Trabelsi, Mr Mohamed Sakhr El Materi and other members and close associates of Ben Ali’s family.