Since its establishment in 2007, the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative – a partnership between the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) – has made an influential contribution to the asset recovery capacities of beneficiary countries. It has facilitated cooperation among states and other actors, contributed to knowledge generation in the field, and made progress in raising awareness on the topic at global fora.
Despite the challenges that come with working in the anti-corruption arena and in regions where political changes can impede progress in asset recovery cases, StAR has spent the past fifteen years establishing a reputation as a respected and trusted broker between jurisdictions involved in the recovery of assets and offering innovative and timely input through knowledge products and contributions to policy discussions on asset recovery and anti-corruption.
During this period, StAR has assisted over 40 countries in drafting legal frameworks and setting up institutional structures and trained over 5000 people to build the skills necessary for tracing and recovery of stolen assets. In addition, StAR support through its country engagement has also facilitated the recovery, seizure, or confiscation of approximately US$ 1.9 billion stolen assets in a number of cases by various requesting jurisdictions.1
StAR’s country work has spanned from light-touch engagement to multi-year involvement across multiple facets relating to asset recovery. StAR’s country work have focused on general capacity building, case-related technical assistance (primarily international cooperation), input on legislative frameworks and facilitation with the development of domestic coordination mechanisms. This has included series of virtual and in-person trainings for law enforcement agencies in Moldova, Ecuador and Uzbekistan on topics ranging from asset and income disclosure and management of seized assets as well as capacity building on financial investigations and international cooperation for agencies in Mongolia, Ethiopia and India. In addition, StAR has provided feedback on draft bills for non-conviction based asset forfeiture in Dominican Republic, AML/CFT legislation in South Africa, to name a few.
StAR knowledge products have been an essential and valuable element of the StAR Initiative work program. Not only do they fill a global knowledge gap, but they are also innovative in their use of different formats (i.e. databases, toolkits, guides, etc.). Over the years these products pursued two different objectives; some publications were aimed at influencing the policy agenda while others were developed to support practitioners. These knowledge products have been important tools and played an integral role in StAR’s work in both the international policy arena and in country engagements. Over the years, StAR knowledge products have been well by a very large audience and have positioned StAR as a thought leader and global expert in asset recovery. In the past 15 years, StAR produced 26 publications.
Some of its most sought-after publications include the Asset Recovery Handbook: A Guide for Practitioners; a . The original guide was launched in 2011 and was updated in 2020 and The Puppet Masters: How the Corrupt Use Legal Structures to Hide Stolen Assets and What to Do About It; a study that provides policy makers with practical recommendations on how to step up ongoing international efforts to uncover flows of criminal funds and prevent criminals from misusing shell companies and other legal entities.
Political commitment to asset recovery is a pre-condition for any lasting and sustainable progress on asset recovery at the global, regional and country level. Over the years, StAR played an important role in informing policy work through its own organization, and by working closely with international standard setting agencies to promote the cause of anti-corruption and asset recovery internationally. StAR has worked with partners around the world including the Conference of States parties to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (CoSP), the G7, the G20, and the Financial Action Task Force, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Egmont Group and the Camden Asset Recovery Interagency Network (CARIN), the recently developed Global Operational Network of Anti-Corruption Law Enforcement Authorities (GlobE Network), the International Bar Association and relevant civil society organizations such as Transparency International (TI).
Panelists during StAR Day at CoSP8 in Abu Dhabi, December 2019
Through its policy work StAR has focused on providing the ‘hard facts’ on actual progress on asset recovery at the global level to assist in the monitoring and development of relevant international standards to address the known and emerging gaps related to asset recovery. and anti-corruption receive their due attention at relevant international fora.
An external evaluation in 2019 endorsed a 10-year extension of the StAR Initiative highlighting the continued strategic relevance of the program’s mission to “end safe havens for corrupt funds, bolster international efforts to confiscate and recover assets taken by corrupt officials, and to secure the return of stolen assets to their legitimate owners.” The StAR Initiative continues its work on encouraging and facilitating more systematic and timely return of assets stolen by politically exposed persons through acts of corruption and working toward the World Bank’s twin goals of eliminating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.
1 StAR Initiative cannot claim exact amounts or direct attribution in all cases. In some cases, StAR support was explicitly acknowledged by countries and in others, StAR’s role was limited to providing the platform through which an agreement was reached with requested jurisdictions.