What is Asset Recovery?

Asset recovery, technically, is the return of money stolen through corruption from one country and hidden in another. At CiFAR we take a more holistic approach. For us, asset recovery encompasses not only the return of that money, but also ensuring that the process itself contributes to preventing corruption, tackling the structures that allow for illicit financial flows, and building open and accountable governance systems.

On this page, you can find more detailed information on the technicalities of asset recovery in the video below, plus definitions of some of the most important terms and a further video considering the issue of asset freezes.

How do people steal public money and how does asset recovery work?

Terminology guide

Asset theft

Asset theft is the illicit removal of public assets by a public or private official outside of the jurisdiction of that state to a third or third states. Asset theft may involve shell companies, money laundering, tax havens and the complicity of officials and financial and legal professionals.

Asset recovery

Asset recovery is the process of identifying, freezing and returning stolen assets to the country of origin. This should always be carried out with transparency and the involvement of citizens and civil society.

Civil society

Civil society has an extensive role to play in asset recovery; from helping to identify cases where public assets have been stolen, to campaigning against legal loopholes that allow for illicit financial flows, to monitoring the use of returned assets.

Beneficial ownership secrecy

A beneficial owner is a person who profits from or controls part of a company, without being listed as a legal owner. While on paper the legal owner could be a person, law firm or another company, the person profiting from the company is not listed. This is an entirely legal process in many countries. Beneficial ownership secrecy can be used by individuals to hide the true owner of a company  and is used by not only corrupt public officials, but also organised crime.

Read more: Global Witness

Money Laundering

Money laundering is used by corrupt officials and other criminals to try to make ill-gotten money look like legitimate income. Usually this involves three steps: placement, where the money is introduced into the financial system: Layering, where money is moved around, often between several countries and several accounts; integration, where the ill-gotten or dirty money is brought back into the system, appearing as if it is clean, legitimate money.

Read more: Global Witness, Transparency International



Tax Havens (sometimes called tax shelters, secrecy jurisdictions, international financial centres, or simply offshore) are jurisdictions that offer very low or zero taxes to non-residents who park their money there. Additionally, they offer secrecy, in various forms, combined with varying degrees of refusal to co-operate with other jurisdictions in exchanging information. Tax havens come in all shapes and sizes, from small, tropical Caribbean islands to old, aristocratic European principalities. They can even be cities or designated areas within countries.

Read more: Tax Justice Network

Asset freezes