StAR worked with the UK government to support the implementation of commitments made during the London Anti-Corruption Summit which resulted in the delivery of the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) hosted in Washington, DC in December 2017. The event was funded by the UK and US governments, which co-hosted the event with StAR. The UK government has continued to fund StAR’s support to work flowing from GFAR, building the capacity of institutions, practitioners and other stakeholders and strengthening international cooperation on asset recovery.
GFAR, and the follow-on activities and results it catalyzed, directly contribute to StAR outcomes including helping to make institutions more effective in investigating and recovering stolen assets. This is made possible through StAR’s three specific workstreams which focus on country engagement and international cooperation, producing knowledge products to fill existing gaps, and building partnerships through policy work by bringing institutions, governments, civil society organizations and media together.
The problem addressed through the implementation of GFAR was twofold: the lack of international cooperation between countries to assist in the facilitation of asset recovery, and the lack of knowledge and capacity related to anti-corruption legal and technical measures.
The UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) recognizes the cross-border nature of corruption and addresses the need for international collaboration and cooperation. StAR has been working to implement UNCAC in this area for over a decade. Through its engagement with active cases over this period, its provision of capacity building and technical assistance to countries, and its participation in global conferences related to asset recovery it has identified problems related not only to international cooperation, but also to a lack of state, practitioner and other stakeholder knowledge of best practice in this area.
Where government, law enforcement, and legal practitioners are not up to date on best practices related to asset recovery, progress on corruption cases concerning money laundering and deposit of illicit funds in international safe havens is hindered.
Building on its experience with successfully implementing regional forums, StAR played an integral role in conceptualizing and supporting the convening of the first ever Global Forum on Asset Recovery with four focus countries; Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Ukraine. The event brought together over 300 participants representing 26 jurisdictions as well as international organizations, civil society and media to recommit to the global asset recovery agenda outlined in UNCAC.
GFAR also provided the space for the sharing of best practices from around the world and the provision of technical training, by global experts, to asset recovery practitioners. Most importantly, given the difficulties of facilitating international cooperation and developing country engagements in corruption cases, GFAR provided the opportunity for over 100 bilateral and multi-jurisdictional meetings to make progress on asset recovery cases in the four focus countries.
The GFAR participating countries adopted a communique outlining the GFAR principles which include, but are not limited to, partnership, mutual cooperation, transparency and inclusion of non-governmental stakeholders. This communique was submitted as documentation to the UNCAC Asset Recovery Working Group (ARWG) held in June 2018 in Vienna and was welcomed by the delegates of the working group as reflecting relevant principles for asset recovery cases.
The four focus countries reported direct progress made in their asset recovery efforts as a result of GFAR; most importantly, having access to a forum at which introductions to relevant countries could be made in order to engage, and expedite, on matters related to investigations, prosecutions and concrete returns of stolen assets. For example, through the GFAR platform, new agreements were signed between countries, such as an MOU between Nigeria, Switzerland and the World Bank which sets out the return of $321m of recovered assets, and Sri Lanka was able to discuss 43 outstanding cases with several jurisdictions, and establish relevant points of contact.
StAR organized a side event with the co-hosts UK and US during the Asset Recovery Working Group on the Principles for Disposition and Transfer of Confiscated Stolen Assets in Corruption Cases adopted at GFAR by the co-hosts and the four GFAR focus countries. The remarks by GFAR focus countries at the ARWG panel highlighted a behavioral change in participants who publicly acknowledged the necessity of building trust and confidence, the importance of early dialogue, the inclusion of non-government stakeholders and the use of returned assets for sustainable development; all GFAR principles.
The GFAR technical sessions on best practice helped to address practitioner knowledge gaps. This work has been taken forward and consolidated by StAR through the development and finalizing of country specific asset recovery and beneficial ownership guides. The guides have been viewed several hundred times on the website. Additional guides will continue to be added and the current ones further disseminated, addressing the knowledge gaps identified before GFAR’s conception and implementation.
Lastly, the desire and commitment for continued development is evidenced in proposals for follow-up on progress on the achievement of the GFAR principles by focus countries, and participating countries’ maintaining open channels of communication beyond GFAR and its follow up events. Recent returns of stolen assets have referenced the importance of GFAR principles, as is evidenced in the case of over USD300 million being repatriated from the U.S. to Nigeria, further highlighting the significance of this event.
Given changing political climates and the sensitive nature of the anti-corruption field, GFAR’s main success lies in:
StAR’s ability to garner political will from participating countries,
intensive preparation and coordination with focus countries months prior to the event,
cooperation rendered by requested countries, and
adequate resources for support provided to StAR by donors and partner organizations.
This process was eased in part due to StAR’s unique leveraging power bestowed through the World Bank and UNODC and its technical expertise, which enabled it to broker between countries. StAR also played a key role in policy coordination with the G7 countries and focus countries in preparing the outputs of the forum (such as developing the concept note and agenda) and all documentation and coordination during and after the event (for example, collating information on meetings, drafting and publishing the GFAR report, principles and communique).