During the protests in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, which led to the removal of longtime dictators Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, the Council of the European Union did something remarkable and, at the time, relatively unprecedented – it issued a regulation to its member states which pre-emptively froze the assets held by the deposed dictators and their immediate collaborators and families across the European Union. In the intervening years, the Council has annually extended this freeze to give the Tunisian and Egyptian authorities more time to work on the recovery of those assets.
What is the current situation?
In regards of Tunisia, on 27 January 2017, the Council extended until 31 January 2018 a freeze on the assets of 48 persons deemed to be responsible for the misappropriation of state funds in Tunisia and those persons and entities associated with them. This decision was adopted without debate by the Council of Ministers, meeting in the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN). The sanctions were initially introduced on 31 January 2011, targeting former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, his wife and 46 other persons. The Council considered that the misappropriation of state funds is depriving the Tunisian people of the benefits of the sustainable development of their economy and society and undermining the development of democracy in the country.
Before March 22, the Council of the European Union has to decide whether to extend or end the current sanctions on assets belonging to former President Hosni Mubarak and 18 others. The EU freeze began in 2011, after Mubarak stepped down following the January 25 Revolution and in response to requests by the Egyptian side; the sanctions have been annually extended since then. The EU decision consists the freezing of funds and economic resources of Mubarak and his family members, including both his sons Gamal and Alaa and his wife Suzanne, as well as other former figures of his regime.
Why are they important?
- It shows that there are consequences to corruption and that corrupt officials cannot escape by hiding money abroad.
- Asset recovery and repatriation can provide justice for victims and be part of the reconciliation process.
- Recovered stolen assets could provide essential resources for the financing of public services and investments in infrastructure and other programmes aimed at enhancing social and economic development.
The theft of public assets by state officials is a crime. The European Council has a duty to the citizens of Egypt as well as citizens of each European country, to punish corrupt officials and their networks.