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Pre-Investigation
Open source databases Intelligent gathering Whistle-blower report FIU to FIU cooperation STR & wealth declaration
Investigation
Witness interviews Forensic accounting Identify and locate assets Mutual legal assistance request Evidence gathering Analyze financial transactions Provisional freezing of assets / seizure
Prosecution
International cooperation Asset freezing / confiscation
Repatriation
Victim compensation Asset sharing Monitoring

What is Asset Recovery?

With the entry into force of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2005, the international community signalled a consensus that "asset recovery" is to play a key role in the global fight against corruption. In Chapter V, UNCAC prescribes minimum international standards for asset recovery. These range from prevention, international cooperation to enforcement.

But what is "asset recovery" in practical terms?

The notion of asset recovery in the international context is often understood, at least from a layman perspective, as the return of illicitly obtained public funds deposited in foreign jurisdictions to their country of origin. However, asset recovery is a far more complex process. It involves various legal and procedural steps in multiple jurisdictions and international cooperation plays a key role. The actual return of assets stands only at the very end of these preceding steps, all of which, including repatriation, require high levels of technical knowledge and capacity.

Asset recovery is commonly divided into four phases:

  1. Pre-investigation: intelligence gathering and tracing embezzled assets
  2. Investigation: identifying and freezing proceeds of crime; collecting and establishing evidence of ownership as well as respective links to illegal acts to support eventual confiscation
  3. Prosecution/Judicial: building and referring case for trial and issuing judgment to obtain a confiscation order
  4. Repatriation: returning property to the requesting state and ensuring that assets are distributed in such a manner that they are not re-corrupted

Challenges in practice

A number of international efforts to recover and repatriate stolen assets are underway in different jurisdictions. Only few, to date, have resulted in the actual return of assets to a requesting state and usually only after lengthy legal proceedings and political interventions.

The challenges are multiple and lie in the nature and complexity of the actual process. Since public assets of one country have been diverted into another country, the process will almost always involve, at least, two if not more jurisdictions. This requires that states cooperate and trust each other to achieve any inroads and that legal systems are sufficiently compatible. Furthermore, the act of tracing assets requires one set of technical skills, while the act of building a legal case of international dimensions requires an entirely different skill set. In addition, the process depends on mature and functioning domestic legal structures to support international recovery efforts. Simultaneously the affected governments must demonstrate political will to apply these structures. The necessary requirements for a successful asset recovery are thus multiple.

The return of assets […] is a fundamental principle of this Convention, and States Parties shall afford one another the widest measure of cooperation and assistance in this regard.
United Nations Convention against Corruption, Chapter V, Article 51

Responses

Responses to the challenges in asset recovery vary and occur on the domestic and international level. On the national level, states that recognise their technical and legal deficiencies in asset recovery are increasingly seeking assistance. They call upon expert institutions, both international as well as non-for-profit and development organisations, to improve their technical skills for recovering assets, to assist them in case work through legal advice and guidance, or to support them in evaluating their domestic legal and judicial infrastructures in line with international standards and best practises. Some states may seek representation from law firms. Financial centres that are affected by stolen assets deposited in their financial institutions have more recently also enhanced legislation to facilitate asset recovery, and boosted resources in their domestic law enforcement agencies to support international asset recovery efforts.

On the international level, most often in the context of conferences, expert workshops or other types of debate and policy forums, a mix of actors, including governments, international organisations, development partners, advocacy groups, non-governmental entities, technical and academic institutions regularly convene to discuss and share their respective expertise and experience in asset recovery. Through such forums the discourse on asset recovery continuously expands and evolves, and can lead to the development and implementation of new policies, international standards and frameworks to advance the asset recovery process. This has also enabled an improved international coordination among relevant stakeholders for example in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

Regardless of these enhanced efforts domestically and internationally, success in recovering stolen assets remains limited. This is concerning, as the recovery of stolen assets plays a critical role in fighting corruption, ending impunity and supporting economic and social development.

Cases

  • Sani Abacha

    * 20.09.1943 - † 08.06.199

    President of Nigeria from 1993 to 1998

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  • Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier

    * 03.07.1951 - † 4.10.2014

    President of Haiti from 1971 to 1986

  • Vladimiro Lenin Montesinos Torres

    * 20.05.1946 - imprisoned since June 2001

    Head of Peruvian Secret Service from 1990 to 2000

  • Ferdinand Marcos

    * 11.09.1917 - † 28.09.1989

    President of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986