Yemen’s Stolen Assets

In autumn 2019, CIFAR began looking once again into the issue of the assets alleged to have been stolen by the former President of Yemen – Ali Abdallah Saleh – and frozen under a 2014 UN Security Council Resolution. These assets were the subject of a former report by CiFAR, that attempted to learn whether any assets had been frozen in four European countries: Germany, Switzerland, Spain and the UK.

Our new report is much more focussed on Yemen and both provides a further investigation into the location of some of the funds and companies associated with the former president and his family and develops a roadmap into how Yemen could go about securing the recovery of any stolen assets.

The situation in Yemen and the capacity for the government to engage in asset recovery is dire. In the midst of a civil war, little has been done to engage with the UN freezing order and move it towards a process of criminal or civil investigation of corruption and recovery of stolen assets. This situation is compounded not only by the complexity of a case involving up to 20 different jurisdictions, but also the GCC Agreement that removed Saleh from power and granted him immunity from prosecution for acts done during his time as President.

Not engaging with this issue though risks not only any stolen money being lost, a particularly bad outcome when Yemen will need funds to rebuild after the civil war, but also sending a signal of tolerance to impunity that may affect not only how new actors behave once the war is over, but also may lay a blueprint for further demands for immunity for belligerents to the war who may currently be engaged in large-scale corruption.

As the largest legal barrier to recovery, in the report we lay out several steps that could be used by Yemeni authorities to advance the asset recovery process without having to overcome the GCC Agreement.  This includes using civil forfeiture laws that focus on any illegality of the assets themselves, rather than the actions of former regime members. It also includes actions that could be taken now in countries where the assets are hidden, either at the request of Yemeni authorities or under the initiatives of officials in those countries. This includes launching investigations into money laundering or the use of new tools, such as unexplained wealth orders.

Ultimately, this report shows that far from being a difficult case, there are many options that could be taken for Yemen to advance on asset recovery and begin to recover any illegally acquired assets hidden overseas. To do so will most likely though require action on the part of those countries where the assets are allegedly located.

Far from being a Yemeni problem alone, the international community should therefore see it as a common obligation and take action where they can to ensure that this money is not lost and can be used for the benefit of the Yemeni people.