The Civil Society Principles for Accountable Asset Return have been developed through a consultative, year-long process involving civil society organizations from across the globe. They are minimum, framework standards and are designed to be supplemented by country and case specific detail by civil society. These principles should be applied to both international and domestic asset recovery.
Transparency and participation
Asset recovery cases should be conducted transparently from start to end, to the extent compatible with rules on confidentiality of investigation.
As far as possible, relevant authorities – both domestic and international – should publicly provide, from the earliest legally possible opportunity, the following information in an accessible manner to the public, including any identified victims of corruption:
- timely and accessible case information on the progress and status of asset recovery cases, including case names where possible;
- the nature/type of the assets under investigation and estimated amounts involved;
- the legal framework through which the asset recovery process is being undertaken;
- the amounts seized and timeline for return;
- the negotiating framework, modalities for asset return and disbursement, and the involvement of civil society;
- the disposition, administration and monitoring of returned assets. This can include independent tendering processes for third-party stakeholders involved in the disbursement of funds; due diligence on third-party/intermediary actors involved in the disbursement and monitoring of assets as well as independently audited reports on the disbursement of funds and progress of programs.
All recovered assets must be traceable by the general public at all stages of the process of asset recovery from confiscation to disbursement. This could include, amongst other methods, that recovered funds be separated from the general state budget and placed in a special account or another agreed independent mechanism until assets have been fully disbursed.
Civil society organizations, including victims’ groups/representatives, should be able and enabled to participate in the asset recovery process. This includes:
- identifying the mechanisms and processes that allowed for initial harm to occur;
- identifying how harm can be remedied including proposals for preventing recurrence;
- contributing to decisions on the return and disposition of assets including social programs dedicated to victims of corruption issues;
- fostering transparency and accountability in the transfer, administration, disposition and monitoring of recovered assets; and,
- as far as allowed by confidentiality rules, fostering transparency and accountability in the investigation (see Principle 1).
Multilateral, bilateral and case-specific agreements or arrangements should be made public in a timely fashion, including when recovery is part of reconciliation arrangements, and should involve civil society representatives.
These agreements should be concluded to ensure the transparent and effective use, administration and monitoring of the returned proceeds of corruption in line with the principles set out here.
In no cases should the disposition of the recovered assets benefit directly or indirectly natural or legal persons involved in the commission of the original or on-going offence(s).
A process should be in place to monitor the disbursement of funds as well as a complaints mechanism.
Any suspicion of irregularities concerning the management of recovered assets should lead to the opening of an investigation by independent authorities. Where the return is international, investigations should be opened by both the origin and returning jurisdictions and transfers should be suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.
When countries are not compliant with UNCAC Articles 9, 10 and 13 (transparency and accountability in public financial management; public reporting and participation of society), monitoring for irregularities in international returns should be particularly stringent.
Anti-corruption, rule of law and accountability mechanisms should be in place to provide oversight of recovered assets. As a minimum, this should include:
- Transparent and accountable public procurement and tendering processes that meet international standards;
- Transparent and publicly available registers of companies, with information on their beneficial owners;
- Establishment of regulations on conflict of interest;
- Independence of the judiciary and access to a fair trial;
- Freedom of association and freedom of the press (without which any meaningful monitoring by the civil society would be impossible).
When these are not in place, alternative arrangements should be considered in consultation with a broad base of civil society organizations that are truly representative of citizens, including where possible victims’ groups/representatives, to ensure accountability of the recovered assets.
This does not affect the principle that the recovered assets remain the property of the people of the country from which they were stolen.
Victim restitution and other beneficiaries
Where victims of the abuse of power by public officials can be identified individually or as a group, they should receive restitution for the damage caused. This principle should not apply to those involved in the commission (directly or indirectly) or facilitation of the offence(s).
Without prejudice to the restitution of identified victims, recovered assets should be used to benefit the people of the country from which the assets were stolen.
‘Benefit the people’ in this context means improving the living standards of populations and/or strengthening the rule of law and prevention of corruption in line with international human rights obligations in the country or countries where the underlying offences occurred, and thus contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
A wide range of stakeholders, including a broad base of representative civil society organizations should be involved in determining how recovered assets should be used to best repair the harm caused and to benefit the people. Where possible and where victims’ groups do not exist, civil society should also be empowered to help identify, and potentially represent, victims.