The asset recovery process is cumbersome, long and expensive. In fact, the average asset recovery process lasts over six years. However, there are cases that last much longer. Successful cross-border asset tracing and recovery requires the following steps:
– Tracing and identifying the assets. It is necessary not just to locate the assets and funds (“follow the money”) but also to prove that the assets are linked to the crime or to the offender, or both, since funds and assets are often held by third parties.
– Freezing and confiscating the stolen assets. Once the first step has shown positive results, we can proceed to take legal actions to prevent assets and funds from being moved or spent. This move is critical to prevent the further dispersion of such resources, but it is temporary and must be complemented by criminal justice actions to secure the recovery.
– Returning the assets to their rightful owners. It is essential that the country receiving those assets back has accountable and transparent mechanisms in place to manage the returned assets so that civil society is a part of the decision making process.
Nevertheless, asset recovery is happening and there are many countries that have managed to bring their money back. Here are four success stories that will help you restore faith in asset recovery:
- Peru – The country has gone through several asset recovery processes regarding the assets stolen by former President Alberto Fujimori and his long-standing head of Peru´s intelligence service, Vladimiro Montesinos. So far, assets worth174 million dollars have been repatriated from Switzerland, the United States and the Cayman Islands, while accounts worth 47 million dollars remain frozen in Switzerland, Mexico, Luxembourg and Panama.
- Philippines – In 2004, Switzerland released 683 million dollars to the Philippine Treasury following a July 2003 Philippine Supreme Court decision ordering forfeiture of the former President and First Lady Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos’ Swiss deposits.
- Kazakhstan – The BOTA Foundation in Kazakhstan was established following a 2006 trilateral agreement between the governments of Kazakhstan, Switzerland and the United States of America to repatriate 115 million dollars in assets uncovered under a US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigation involving alleged unlawful payments on behalf of US oil companies in Kazakhstan.
- Nigeria – 160 million dollars of embezzled money from the people of Nigeria and channeled through Jersey by the late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and his henchmen Abukakar Bagudu were returned to the citizens of Nigeria. Additionally, between 2004 and 2006, Switzerland seized 505.5 million dollars from former president Abacha and repatriated the money to the Nigerian government to be spent on Millennium Development Goal projects.
These cases highlight not just the huge impact that asset recovery has in a country but also how important civil society organizations are in getting that money back and returning it to the rightful owners.