The UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) was adopted in December 2003. The adoption of the convention, which declared return of proceeds of corruption to be a ‘fundamental principle’, placed anti-corruption squarely on the global agenda. In addition to chapters on preventive measures, criminalization and law enforcement, international cooperation and asset recovery, the Convention also envisaged mechanisms for implementation, and established a ‘Conference of the States Parties to the Convention’ (CoSP), “to improve the capacity of and cooperation between States Parties, to achieve the objectives set forth in [the] Convention and to promote and review its implementation.”
Over time, the biennial meetings of CoSP have become the largest gatherings of anti-corruption practitioners from governmental and non-governmental sectors. The 8th CoSP took place December 16-20 in Abu Dhabi, hosted by the Government of the United Arab Emirates. The event set records in many ways: more than 1500 participants registered for the event, and over a dozen resolutions were adopted. As usual, asset recovery was a major theme throughout the proceedings, in the spotlight not only in the plenary room, but also in special events and bilateral meeting.
Asset Recovery at COSP
Weeks before CoSP, consultations around the proposed adoption of various asset recovery resolutions began in Vienna. Representatives from Ukraine, Nigeria, Kenya, and Palestine took the lead in tabling resolutions on asset management and asset recovery respectively. Nigeria has been a longstanding driver of asset recovery resolutions, but Ukraine’s first sponsorship highlighted the emerging importance of the topic in that country, and the work it has been doing to strengthen its own framework, with StAR support. The resolution proposed by Ukraine, Strengthening of international cooperation on asset recovery and of administration of frozen, seized and confiscated assets, urges countries to ensure that their own domestic systems are able to secure assets and preserve their value. The resolution also outlines possible models for disposal and administration of confiscated proceeds and encourages countries to build human and institutional capacity and improve interagency coordination.
The other asset recovery related resolution, proposed by Kenya, Nigeria, and the State of Palestine, Strengthening asset recovery to support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, provided for the update of mandates to the Asset Recovery Working Group and the Secretariat, encouraging countries to cooperate strongly with StAR in its efforts to collect data on international asset recovery cases, and to update the Asset Recovery Watch database.
StAR Day has become a traditional component of CoSP. It is a full day of sessions and dialogue, coordinated by our team and partner organizations, focusing on all things asset recovery. Importantly, StAR Day provides a platform for practitioners and other stakeholders to engage on any issue related to asset recovery, to present relevant new tools, studies and solutions, and to collaborate on future challenges and goals.
We opened the day with the High-level Conversation on Asset Recovery: Achievements, Challenges and the Road Ahead for Effective Cooperation, in which high-level officials parsed out the contemporary asset recovery landscape, including the Armenian Minister of Justice, the head of the French magistrate for financial crimes. the Director General of the National Centre for Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption as well as the Chief Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Malaysia, the Investigating Director on Corruption from South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority, and the Anti-Corruption Department Director in the Office of the Attorney General of Brazil. The importance of judicial diplomacy and civil action were highlighted, as were practical challenges in investigations and the inadequacy of classic tools for international cooperation.
The second panel, Perspectives on Asset Return: Mechanisms and Monitoring, reflected on the specific mechanisms and modalities that have been used for returns, and highlighted the experiences of Kenya and Switzerland. It also analyzed the experiences of civil society in Nigeria monitoring returns, and the development of a tool to assess implementation of the GFAR principles in Sri Lanka.
The Getting Serious About Beneficial Ownership Transparency panel highlighted the use of shell companies as the cross-border getaway vehicle for corruption, and presented the perspectives of stakeholders from Slovakia, Indonesia and Uruguay. The panelists showcased the growing momentum towards public registers, touching on how to set them up and how to address their shortcomings.
During the knowledge development portion of events, the most recent StAR publication (Going for Broke, see above) was presented, along with our upcoming data collection project. StAR’s new research project aims to collect data on global efforts to recover and return proceeds of corruption in a systematic and internationally comparable way.
Country Engagement on the Sidelines
The StAR team, in coordination with authorities from client countries, organized 20 bilateral case-related meetings between representatives of different States Parties to UNCAC on the margin of CoSP. The goal was to establish contacts between authorities from “requesting” and “requested” countries, to help them better understand the requirements for assistance from requested countries, and to empower them to address specific requests which have been pending.
COSP also served as a practical venue for our own follow up with client countries, and for meetings with interested authorities to discuss new or potential country engagements. We were also grateful for the opportunity to organize donor briefings on the sidelines, to update our supporters on StAR activities and future plans.