Yemen is in the midst of an ongoing civil war, that began in 2015. It ranks 177/198 on Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, indicating that corruption is perceived to be a major challenge in the country.1 It similarly ranks near the top of the Basel Institute’s Anti Money Laundering Index 2020, indicating a high risk of money laundering and terrorist financing.2
Much of Yemen’s recent history has been bound up with former President Ali Abdallah Saleh, in power for 33 years until 2011. The transition and hand over of power did not go smoothly, with the new government facing internal criticism that manifested in an uprising. Former President Saleh ultimately joined forces with this uprising and participated as a belligerent in the civil war. Saleh was killed in December 2017.3
Due to the instability in Yemen before the conflict, the terms of the transition agreement and the ongoing war since, initial efforts to begin asset recovery relating to the former regime and to put the institutions in place to prevent the theft of stolen assets have stalled.4
Asset recovery in Yemen
During his time in power, Saleh is alleged to have amassed a fortune of between US$32 and $60 billion, transferred abroad through false names and in the form of property, cash, shares, gold and other commodities. However, as part of the deal made for Saleh to give up power, the Yemen authorities agreed to provide him with immunity from prosecution, making the recovery of any ill-gotten wealth very challenging.5
In February 2014 the UN Security Council issued a resolution46 against named people believed to be belligerents in the civil war. This resolution required UN Member States to take a number of steps, including:
- Asset freezes, meaning that all UN Member states should freeze “all funds, other financial assets and economic resources that are owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by the individuals or entities” listed, or “by individuals or entities acting on their behalf or at their direction, or by entities owned or controlled by them”. It also requires UN Member States to ensure that “no funds, financial assets or economic resources be made available to or for the benefit of such individuals or entities”;
- Travel bans, prohibiting the “entry into or transit through States’ territories of individuals” on the list; and
- Arms embargoes, prohibiting the sale or transfer of arms to persons and entities on the list, as well as providing support for their military actions.
Despite his death, these sanctions remain in force with respect to Saleh. However any wealth or property inherited by persons not on the sanctions list will not be under freezing requirements and will ultimately be useable by them.
Since 2014 the UN has been tracking the assets allegedly linked to persons on the sanctions list. According to their reports and additional research by CiFAR, money and companies relating to Saleh exist in up to 20 jurisdictions across the world, including the the UAE, Netherlands, France, the UK, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Switzerland.7
International Institutional Engagement
Yemen is a member of the regional FATF network MENAFATF.8 However it does not appear to be part of a regional asset recovery network, nor to have engaged with World Bank/UNODC Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative.
No regional or global asset recovery forums have focussed specifically on Yemen, however it did participate in the Arab Forum for Asset Recovery series.9
- Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2019, https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi# [accessed 22 October 2020].
- Basel Institute, Anti-Money Laundering Index 2020, https://baselgovernance.org/basel-aml-index [accessed 22 October 2020].
- UNSC Resolution 2140