As we covered in our April newsletter, StAR has been following the development of new legislation in France on the return of proceeds of corruption. The cover memo to the draft law identifies transparency, accountability, efficiency, solidarity and integrity as principles that should govern the return of assets. The GFAR principles that were adopted by the cohosts and four focus countries in December 2017 focus on return and disposition and contain a number of overlapping principles that the drafters of the French law were thus inspired by.
The draft has since been adopted by the Senate and a “mission parlementaire” of two members was set up to make further proposals on operationalizing its different measures pending its discussion by the National Assembly. The draft law seeks to determine what to do with confiscated assets in the (admittedly rare) case where there is no request from the country of origin for their return as the French government is facing with the Obiang case. However, its emphasis on victim populations and sustainable development could apply more broadly.
Also at GFAR, Nigeria, Switzerland and the World Bank entered into a tripartite agreement for the return of the ‘Abacha II’ funds. Its implementation through the World Bank with a monitoring mechanism involving civil society is yielding information and experience on the nuts and bolts of carrying out a return that have rarely been captured until now. US$37 million of the US$321 million returned have already been disbursed in the framework of the National Social Safety Net project that is the vehicle for the return.

 The Addis II meeting mentioned above in this newsletter drilled down on the different challenges and good practices in return and disposal both in general but also according to the specific mechanisms foreseen under UNCAC. Article 53 requires States to allow their courts to decide on returns or damages sought by other States. Article 57.3 outlines the return of assets when certain conditions are met (e.g. final judgement of confiscation) and Article 57.5 offers the possibility of concluding case by case agreements. Building on the outcome of Addis I, discussions focused on case examples, end use and disposal of assets, monitoring mechanisms and the role of civil society. Given that most examples were of ad hoc concluded agreements under Article 57.5, the participants noted in particular that more information on such agreements was needed to draw concrete lessons.
Indeed, as a sign of the good news that there are a growing number of examples of asset returns in the past couple of years, attention has turned to this stage of the asset recovery process. One aspect of this is asset management at the domestic level, that UNODC and StAR have been working to strengthen in several countries. Another aspect is the issue of compensation for social damages, which is the topic of an upcoming StAR report.
It is through experience and practice that countries will organize themselves to be able to carry out returns (see France), prepare to receive large amounts of assets (see domestic asset management capacity), and discuss end use and disposal (see the Addis process and policy development). Looking ahead to COSP in December and hopefully more big returns to be announced, overall we are seeing encouraging steps towards the promise of Chapter V being fulfilled and more guidance and examples for countries navigating their way through returns will surely be welcome.