According to the World Bank and the UN, approximately $20 to $40 billion worth of government assets are stolen each year from developing countries. Fortunately, there’s a group of crime busters who are confiscating the properties of corrupt officials who treat government treasuries like their own personal bank accounts.
Last weekend, the second Arab Forum on Asset Recovery (AFAR II) met in Morocco to discuss international collaboration to hold leaders accountable for stealing state assets. Seizing stolen assets provides crucial funds to governments trying to rebuild their countries after years of government-sponsored theft. Furthermore, publicly exposing corrupt leaders and reclaiming the fruits of their dishonest labor will help deter other government officials from stealing public money.
The “5 Fishes” yacht which used to belong to Belhassen Trabelsi, the brother-in-law of ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, is docked at the port of La Goulette in Tunis on May 24, 2013. (AFP/Fethi Belaid)
AFAR II was held in association with Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR), an initiative of the World Bank and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, to help recover stolen assets from the Arab Spring countries. During the Arab Spring uprisings, citizen outrage over corruption and mismanagement of government resources led to an ousting of several corrupt leaders, providing a fresh start for new democratic governments.
Due to the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery’s collaborative efforts, since 2011 around $100 million in money and property has been returned to governments or frozen. This includes a mansion outside of London owned by Muammar Gadaffi’s son, and a yacht purchased by controversial ruler Ben Ali that Italy returned to Tunisia. As a result of the conference, the Forum announced that it will prosecute former heads of state that they believe have stolen state assets.
Stolen assets are often hidden in secret accounts established abroad. Purchases include properties in popular foreign destinations. As a result, recovering stolen assets requires collaboration beyond the Middle East and North African region.
For that reason, it was good to see political leaders from over 40 countries in attendance at last weekend’s Forum, including US Attorney General Eric Holder and UK Attorney General Dominic Grieve.
“Over the years, we’ve learned that asset recovery cannot be successful unless we tear down old walls and build new bridges – working across borders and jurisdictions to approach our shared duties with a new level of commitment and understanding,” said Attorney General Holder during his speech at the Forum.
To support this collaborative commitment, the UK has developed an Asset Recovery Task Force, which works jointly with counterparts in Egypt to seek out and return stolen resources. These collaborations will ultimately result in greater financial independence for the newly formed democracies in North Africa and the Middle East.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron explained in his video message to the forum, “No one in the future should think they will get away with plundering their country’s assets.”
We think the same.