Asset recovery data availability – small steps forward

The United Nations World Data Forum which builds a pathway to better data for sustainable development, and which took place in Hangzhou at the end of April, offered a moment to reflect on data availability across the Sustainable Development Goals framework, including SDG 16.4.

As we have written before, there is currently no indicator that would measure progress in strengthening the recovery of stolen assets, as established in the SDG target 16.4. Unfortunately, a comprehensive global framework for collecting asset recovery data that would enable monitoring our gaps and progress across countries and across time is nowhere in sight. However, a couple of new cross-border initiatives as well as the actions of national governments are showing us a potential way forward and might offer a reason for optimism.

Global initiative – UNODC Statistical Framework to Measure Corruption

Earlier this year, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime published a draft of a Statistical Framework to Measure Corruption. The framework, whose creation was prompted by the 189 state parties to the U.N. Convention Against Corruption, provides a number of indicators, as well as guidance on how to collect data and how to analyse them, in order to help countries develop and monitor their anti-corruption policies.

While the framework and its aims are centered at measuring different forms of corruption, and there is no mention of the linkages to the recovery of stolen assets in its preamble, the list of indicators also includes asset recovery data for each corruption category. In other words, for each dimension/ type of corruption, such as bribery, the collection of data is foreseen not only on the number of convictions for this crime but also on the total amount of assets recovered from bribery convictions.

The framework is currently in its testing/pilot stage and will be finalised and presented during the Conference of State Parties to the U.N. Convention Against Corruption in December 2023. While the inclusion of asset recovery indicators is a welcome step, considerations should be made with regard to how it fits with other future indicators developed for the measurement of the SDG 16.4. or any other comprehensive asset recovery statistical framework that will be developed in the future. This would prevent duplication of work by national statistical offices and allow for the complementarity of various statistical frameworks. Such future indicators should, for example, also prompt the collection of data not only for assets recovered but also on assets frozen for these crimes, which is currently missing from the Statistical Framework to Measure Corruption.

Regional initiative – Common African Position on Asset Recovery (CAPAR)

Another initiative to watch closely with regard to new asset recovery commitments, including increased information sharing, is the Common African Position on Asset Recovery (CAPAR). Adopted in 2020, CAPAR constitutes a “framework for negotiating the return of Africa’s assets” and a commitment by African governments to promote effective and efficient asset recovery. There has been encouraging news of an upcoming monitoring framework developed by civil society organizations (CSOs).

Led by CiFAR, such a monitoring framework – the CAPAR assessment tool – will be designed to guide CSOs on how to monitor and report on the progress of the implementation of the CAPAR. The tool will provide relevant data sources, indicators, and data analysis methods that can be used to assess progress in each of the relevant pillars. Monitoring and tracking the implementation of the CAPAR will be critical to ensuring accountability and transparency in asset recovery processes across Africa.

Regional initiative – The Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on asset recovery and confiscation

While the European Union encourages the EU Member States to “collect a comparable minimum set of appropriate statistical data” in Article 11 of the EU Directive on the freezing and confiscation of proceeds of crime (2014/42/EU), this collection is not mandatory. A new Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on asset recovery and confiscation has been proposed and is being negotiated, which would go a step further and oblige EU countries to step up their data reporting efforts.

The negotiated directive proposes the creation of national centralised registers which would contain information on frozen and confiscated property and the proceeds of crime. These registers would be available to law enforcement agencies, such as national asset recovery offices. EU Member States would also be obliged to share the collected data with the Commission on an annual basis, in order to enable assessments of the effectiveness of the Directive across countries.

While the current proposal for the Directive does not mandate sharing this information with the public, it gives a mandate to the Commission to adopt further explanatory guidance and delegated acts describing in more detail what information should be collected and which methodology should be used. This could be leveraged in the future to create more streamlined and open data collection of asset recovery statistics in the EU.

Governments and institutions leading the way

In the absence of unified guidelines on collecting and reporting asset recovery data, the amount of information that is being collected and made available differs greatly across jurisdictions and also across institutions within countries.

In Kenya, for example, two institutions responsible for recovering stolen assets have adopted very different information sharing practices. While Kenya’s Assets Recovery Agency is mandated to identify, trace, freeze, and confiscate the proceeds of crime, it currently does not share any detailed information with the public about its activities on its website. On the other hand, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) overseeing economic crime and corruption provides lengthy yearly reports on pursued cases and assets recovered on its website, as well as social media updates.

Globally, the government of the United Kingdom is one of the leaders in providing regular and concise assert recovery data in its asset recovery statistical bulletin. For example, the bulletin provides data on frozen and recovered criminal assets disaggregated by the type of criminal offense, the value of compensation paid to victims, and also information on international asset recovery cases. The data is offered for the last financial year, as well as in a comparison form with the previous five years.

While it is encouraging to see institutions and governments come up with initiatives nationally and across borders to collect data and report on asset recovery, these cases are so far lone exceptions rather than the norm. In order to establish and normalise the creation of statistical data on asset recovery, we need far more coordinated action across regions and the world.