Five ways to make measurable progress in returning stolen assets in the MENA region

Flickr Rusty Clark Hammanet Tunisia 7051617759_3716b6f56b_z_620

Governments and civil society are meeting in the Tunisian resort of Hammamet (pictured) to discuss how to speed up the slow process of returning stolen assets

Representatives of Transparency International from seven chapters and partner organisations from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and the Secretariat have been invited by the Tunisian government to take part in the fourth Arab Forum on Asset Recovery (AFAR4) taking place in Hammamet, Tunisia this week.  This is an important opportunity for us to engage with governments and explain the progress that can be made when civil society is part of the process of recovering stolen assets.

We strongly believe that with a plan in place for effective engagement between governments and civil society we can achieve measurable results. In the past four years no assets of great value have been returned to the MENA countries from abroad, except for a small amount to Tunisia.

The road to asset recovery is long and difficult. However, if the governments of the MENA region have concrete and transparent plans with clear priorities, then they have already reached half way. Transparency International can help strengthen the cause and increase legitimacy. Civil society can complement governments’ efforts and mobilise the public behind a transparent nationally owned asset recovery process

Cobus de Swardt, Managing Director of Transparency International

MENA region civil society organisations are more aware than ever what civil society needs in concrete terms to be able to contribute. During the past four years, since the beginning of the Arab Spring, Transparency International partner organisations have received technical support from international organisations including International Center for Asset Recovery,  the Basel Institute on Governance, UNODC, and the STAR Initiative (Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative). They engaged in a process of  knowledge accumulation and knowledge sharing to build their capacities.

“During the last four years we have studied our national mechanisms for asset declarations and conflict of interest; we have worked with investigative journalists; we have learned about the international standards for whistleblower protection laws; we have participated in the yearly AFARs so that we can be part of the ongoing dialogue; and we have engaged in awareness-raising activities for the public on asset recovery,” said Mouheb Garoui, Executive Director of I – Watch, Transparency International’s national contact group in Tunisia who will be part of the delegation.

“We deserve a fair opportunity to put this knowledge into practice and to fully participate with our governments in the asset recovery portfolio in an institutionalized manner,’ he added.

Transparency International and its chapters and partners are proposing a road map towards better cooperation for measurable results. To this end we are asking the MENA Governments to:

  1. Develop national asset recovery strategies with clear priorities and time-bound measurable results
  1. Establish a mechanism for civil society organisations (CSOs) and governments to share information including asset recovery guides for the CSOs and the public
  1. Start multi-stakeholders’ consultations that include civil society, on accountable and transparent mechanisms to manage returned assets so that people are part of the decision making process
  1. Close loopholes in asset declaration, beneficial ownership, illicit enrichment and conflict of interest, and find legal solutions to ensure that statutes of limitation do not run out before cases are concluded
  1. In cases where settlements on stolen assets are pursued, the process, the terms and the justifications must be made public to avoid impunity for corruption crimes or interference with the judiciary for the sake of economic benefits

Transparency International will continue building legal capacities and strengthening relationships with other national, regional and international organisations working on asset recovery. However, we strongly believe that the MENA region governments need to establish a concrete cooperation mechanism that includes civil society in a transparent and inclusive asset recovery process.


Correction: due to a formatting problem, a previous version of this blog misplaced a quote. It has been amended.

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