|The bigger picture|
Our quarterly newsletters are always full of information about our work – from workshops for financial investigators to legislative assistance on the legal framework for asset declarations and consultations on non-conviction based forfeiture laws. That’s because we want to use this platform to give you a little insight into what we do.
But how do all these activities fit into StAR’s wider remit? How do they contribute to StAR’s overarching goal? One of our supporters recently asked us this – and it’s a fair question. We live and breathe this topic, and as a result we’ve focused more on describing what we do than explaining why we do it and how all the smaller pieces contribute to our mandate. So here goes.
StAR’s overarching goal is to ensure that chapter V of the UN Convention Against Corruption is realized, and that funds find their way back to the people they were originally intended to benefit, or that victims of corruption are compensated. Asset recovery is hard work and requires action on all fronts. So what are those fronts?
First of all, we work to increase the capacity of practitioners so that they can be more successful in their efforts – by imparting skills and know-how on how to conduct an investigation or obtain relevant information from another jurisdiction. This is the main aim of our country work, the first part of the newsletter, and it’s where StAR currently puts most of its efforts in terms of time and funds. This typically focuses on countries directly harmed by corruption.
But it takes two to tango. We also need to make sure that the other side, the financial centers, feels the pressure to act, and that asset recovery stays high up on the international policy agenda. This is reflected in our goal to support efforts to end safe havens for corrupt funds, and it’s the main aim of our policy work with other international bodies whose objectives partly overlap with ours (think: FATF, UNODC CoSP, Egmont, CARIN). This is covered in the second part of the newsletter, on Policy and Partnerships, where we describe our work to ensure that asset recovery is on the agenda and concrete actions are taken.
As this field evolves, patterns of corruption change, practitioners use new tools to recover assets, and new practical challenges emerge. It is important that we keep abreast of these developments to inform both our policy work and interactions with international partners, as well as our interactions with countries – this part of our work falls under Knowledge and Innovation, the third part of the newsletter. Sometimes simply putting the facts on asset recovery cases out there can in itself build pressure to act: the Asset Recovery Watch, our database on known asset recovery cases, which shows the relatively low number of successful corruption-related international asset recovery cases, is a great example of that. A new data collection effort to improve available, and internationally comparable information on the actual figures of returned assets and provide a better evidence base for policy making is currently underway.
Finally, for our “Spotlight” piece in this newsletter, we feature an excerpt from a report by Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), a Nigerian civil society organization, that describes an impressive civil society effort to monitor the “Abacha II” funds returned from Switzerland to Nigeria in December 2017.
We hope that this goes some way towards explaining why we do what we do.
Emile van der Does de Willebois
Coordinator StAR Initiative
|The GFAR Principles in Action: the MANTRA Project’s Monitoring of the Disbursement of Abacha II funds in Nigeria (see the Spotlight below) |
“Our main priority is that the returned money actually makes it to the end beneficiary. For us, returning the money directly to poor people in Nigeria via cash transfers represents a fundamental shift compared to what happened in Abacha I where the money was used for building roads and schools, and in some cases these roads and schools were not actually built. But in this instance now, the money is getting directly to the poorest who are the victims of grand corruption. And they understand the significance of this. Across Nigeria, we’ve asked recipients: Do you know where this money comes from? And they said: “Yes, this is money that was stolen by our former president.”
David Ugolor, Executive Director, Africa Network for Environment & Economic Justice (ANEEJ), Nigeria