Let’s cut to the chase: how many stolen assets are actually returned internationally by States parties under the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC)?

Facts on recoveries and returns of proceeds of corruption are difficult to verify as the information is scattered, lacks a common format and terminology, and is often not publicly available at all.

To answer this question, StAR has been engaged in a major effort over the past 5 years to collect new data from country authorities on global progress in international efforts to recover and return proceeds of corruption. We developed a comprehensive questionnaire that was first distributed to all UNCAC States Parties in 2020 in order to systematically collect new data on cases in relation to offences established in accordance with the Convention, including on volumes of assets frozen, seized, confiscated and returned. Subsequently, two follow-up surveys were sent out by UNODC in 2022 and in 2023 based on a mandate for StAR to collect this information in resolutions 8/9 and 9/2 of the Conference.

Last year, our team worked hard on the re-launch of the StAR Asset Recovery Watch database. We reviewed and manually entered over 550 cases into the database which document over US$10 billion in assets that have been returned to another country between 1997 and 2023. Finally, the database was launched during StAR Day at the tenth session of the Conference of the States Parties to the Convention and is now publicly available online.

In the StAR database, you can search cases by the jurisdictions involved, by year of return/confiscation/freeze, by asset amount and many other filter options. We also published a guide to the database with more information on the objective, sources, methodology, and updating mechanism.

A few interesting takeaways from this new dataset:

  1. Wide geographic variety in countries involved in international asset recovery cases: in total, the database includes case information on 141 jurisdictions involved  – as the jurisdiction of origin of the public officials  or as the jurisdictions of asset location. That’s not just a few large financial centers – our map shows that countries across the globe were or are involved in recovery efforts of corruption proceeds.
  2. Diversification of international destination countries for stolen assets by corrupt public officials: the countries of asset location are not just limited to financial centers such as the United States or Panama, but could also be South Africa, Pakistan, Portugal or Paraguay.
  3. Significant increase in value of corruption-related assets returned since 2019, driven partly by large asset returns to Malaysia related to the 1MDB investigation (e.g. see 1MDB cases here).
  4. A positive trend towards transparency norms: increasingly countries are publishing information on asset returns and agreements over the use of returned assets in press releases or MOUs over corruption-related asset returns. Examples include:  
  • UK’s return of £4.2 million to Nigeria in 2021 related to former Governor of Delta State James Ibori and his associates (ARW-616)
  • UK’s return of around £450,000 to Moldova that were forfeited from the son of Moldova’s former prime minister, Vladimir Filat, also in 2021 (ARW-622);
  • The trilateral asset sharing agreement between the United States, Jersey, and Nigeria over the return of $311 million of funds traced back to former president Sani Abacha in 2020 ( ARW-563) .

Where we could track down the agreement, MOU or press release, we included it in the database under “Sources” of the relevant case.

It is important to note that the cases recorded in the StAR database do not represent a fully comprehensive accounting of all relevant freezes, confiscations, and returns related to corruption offenses globally. However, it is the most complete dataset available. Despite our best efforts, StAR cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in the database: information reported by States Parties via questionnaires is assumed to be accurate and information based on official press releases and other public sources may not be fully up-to-date.

If you have information on asset recoveries in corruption-related cases that is missing from our database or that needs to be updated, please let us know! StAR and UNODC will continue to collect information from UNCAC States Parties via annual surveys, but we also invite others – observers, practitioners, academics, civil society – to send us information to help us build a more comprehensive dataset of cases. You can find the case reporting form here.

It all comes down to actions – and our new database is an effort to track global progress in the practice of international recoveries and returns of stolen assets.