Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative - a World Bank & UN Office of Drugs and Crime Initiative
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Established in 2007, the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) works to end safe havens for corrupt funds. StAR is a partnership between the World Bank and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

StAR provides developing country governments with advice, knowledge and technical assistance on how to effectively recover stolen assets. On the policy front, StAR works with regulatory agencies, governments, global forums and other partners towards building stronger international standards against corruption and collective responsibility and action to detect, prevent and recover stolen assets.

StAR assists countries around the world and is working in Haiti, Indonesia, Senegal and Tunisia, to name a few.

StAR empowers countries to recover stolen assets

StAR helps developing countries establish institutions, use the appropriate legal tools and channels for recovering stolen assets, and build the skills and knowledge of practitioners involved in the asset recovery process. International asset recovery is undertaken by states using legal procedures, which means that StAR does not investigate cases, prosecute cases or request mutual legal assistance.

StAR assists Client countries with every stage of the asset recovery process, which is especially complex and challenging for developing countries with no prior experience in stolen asset recovery. StAR helps countries launch asset recovery cases, by guiding them through the first steps that are required to initiate legal proceedings and by advising them on how to overcome legal and operational barriers so that they can better collaborate with countries where the assets are located. StAR also plays an active facilitator role to help countries quickly engage with financial centers where assets may be hidden. Drawing on its vast international network of contacts, StAR connects officials in complainant countries with practitioners, law enforcement officials and prosecutors in financial centers. StAR also builds institutional capacity by helping countries develop legislation to strengthen their legal and regulatory environments for recovering stolen assets and combating corruption. Through training workshops and seminars, StAR equips law enforcement and financial intelligence practitioners, as well as investigative judges and prosecutors, with skills and knowledge on topics such as asset tracing and international legal cooperation.

StAR shares knowledge to build asset recovery expertise

StAR provides practitioners and policymakers with a growing library of expert knowledge on the legal, technical and policy aspects of asset recovery. Through policy papers, expert guides and databases of asset recovery cases, developing country practitioners have access to cutting-edge knowledge, updated information and global best practices that they can apply to their work. StAR’s publications include:

StAR advances the global anti-corruption agenda

StAR convenes governments, regulatory authorities, donor agencies, financial institutions and civil society organizations in both financial centers and developing countries around the stolen asset recovery agenda. Working with partners, StAR advocates for global commitments to action, universal standards and the implementation of those standards in countries and financial centers.

The Role of StAR in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

StAR is engaged with Arab countries in transition, assisting Egypt, Libya and Tunisia as they seek the return of assets from several foreign jurisdictions, including G8 members.

StAR’s support to MENA client countries centers on the need for early action and strategic planning of asset recovery efforts.

In MENA, StAR has:

  • helped establish new institutions to conduct international investigations and coordinate asset recovery efforts. StAR has assisted in the creation of dedicated inter-agency cooperation mechanisms, and the design of a strategic approach to asset recovery that includes criminal and civil proceedings.
  • provided training and the latest in best practices to financial intelligence practitioners, law-enforcement agencies, investigators and investigative magistrates and prosecutors.
  • facilitated formal and informal contacts between local officials and their international counterparts in order to build trust and accelerate international cooperation. Through bilateral and multilateral workshops and discussions such as the Arab Asset Recovery Forum, StAR brings practitioners together to exchange ideas and best practices.

Key Partners:

StAR does not work alone in supporting the prevention, detection and return of stolen assets. Many other organizations around the world are undertaking work either directly or indirectly related to this subject. Some key organizations working in this area, many of whom StAR works with on projects or through shared global advocacy efforts, are:

Frequently Asked Questions

How much money has StAR recovered?  International asset recovery is undertaken by states using legal procedures.  This usually entails legal cooperation between two national authorities. StAR is not a party to this process. StAR cannot investigate cases, prosecute cases or request mutual legal assistance. However, StAR can facilitate the work of national authorities by providing technical assistance, advisory services, training and acting as an honest broker.  None of the countries that StAR is working with have been able to recover assets through their collaboration with StAR.  This is not surprising, since asset recovery is a lengthy process.  Still, some of the countries that StAR is working with have made significant progress. 23 countries have requested assistance, of which StAR works with about 10 on a regular basis, 6 countries have assets frozen, 5 are working on legal assistance in on-going cases and a further 2 have asked StAR to act as an honest broker.  One case that is in the public domain is Haiti’s efforts to recover assets held by Jean-Claude Duvalier and associates in Switzerland. Here StAR has helped with mutual legal assistance and work with both the Haitian and Swiss authorities.

What is the total amount of stolen assets that is still recoverable, and how much has been recovered to date? It is impossible to say precisely how much money has been stolen through corruption or estimate how much money is still recoverable. There is considerable variation in the estimates that have been made to date. One of the more conservative estimates comes from Raymond Barker, President of Global Financial Integrity, who suggested in his book Capitalism’s Achilles Heel that the amount of money lost to developing countries from corruption amounts to between US$20 and US$40 billion. The amount recovered to date can be estimated with much greater precision by adding up the amount of recoveries ordered through court judgments. Using this method, StAR estimates that US$5 billion has been recovered in the period 1995 to 2010.

Which countries is StAR working with? StAR’s current policy is not to publicize the names of countries that have requested assistance or the countries that StAR is working with. StAR must respect that countries seeking assistance in asset recovery may be dealing with confidential investigations and legal matters, and that publicity may have adverse consequences. A few countries have made public the fact that they have requested StAR assistance, these include Indonesia and Paraguay.

Does StAR have methods for identifying when asset recovery cases are being brought for political reasons? Much of StAR’s assistance is geared to the development of national authorities’ capability to pursue asset recovery cases in general, and so is not tied to specific cases. However, StAR recognizes that the criminal justice system of any country can be abused for political purposes, and also that those accused of corruption often claim that their accusers are politically motivated. In order to mitigate these risks, StAR undertakes a baseline assessment in all of the countries where StAR provides assistance. StAR will review the institutional, legal and policy context for asset recovery. StAR is not a party to individual cases, and therefore is precluded from assessing whether specific corruption and asset recovery cases are politically motivated, but it does assess whether the issue of corruption is politically charged in a country. This is taken into account when determining the scope and nature of StAR’s assistance.

Does StAR become involved in cases against sitting politicians? StAR supports national authorities in the implementation of their asset recovery programs. The decision as to whether to prosecute elected officials and seek to recover the proceeds of this corruption lies with the national authorities. Prosecution of elected officials may present challenges where these officials enjoy immunity. However, immunity can be waived, allowing prosecution either at home or abroad. Furthermore, immunity will often not extend to property registered in the names of third parties. In some jurisdictions it may be possible to pursue asset recovery without a parallel prosecution or conviction of the official.

Is StAR taking action against off-shore centers and other tax havens? StAR’s overall goal to is to end safe havens for corrupt funds, and to this end StAR works with developing countries and financial centers to prevent the laundering of the proceeds of corruption and to facilitate asset recovery. Much of StAR’s work is relevant to and directly involves financial centers, including so-called “off-shore centers” and “tax havens”. StAR has prepared guidance on how to improve monitoring of the financial transactions of politically exposed persons –senior government officials, their family members, and close associates—and how make it more difficult for the corrupt to use corporate vehicles - companies, foundations etc - to hide the proceeds of corruption. StAR has worked with fifteen financial centers to identify the barriers to asset recovery and measures that can be taken to overcome them. StAR is working with the Financial Action Task Force and other forums to strengthen international anti-money laundering standards so they are more effective tools for detecting, deterring and recovering the proceeds of corruption. StAR also works with financial centers to help resolve difficulties that developing countries encounter in resolving specific cases.

How long does it usually take to resolve asset recovery cases? Asset recovery is a legal process that typically takes three to six years from the launch of investigations to the judgment confiscating and returning the stolen assets. However, there are cases that last much longer. As of December 2010, proceedings were still underway to recover the assets stolen by Sani Abacha (President of Nigeria 1993-98) and Jean-Claude Duvalier (President of Haiti 1951-1986). There are several factors that can accelerate the return of stolen assets. Effective cooperation between national authorities in the victim country and financial centers is critical. This can help identify the location of assets and execute freezing orders so that they are not dispersed. Recognition of court orders from victim countries - or another friendly jurisdiction - for the confiscation of assets avoids the duplication of time-consuming legal proceedings. Use of non-conviction based forfeiture procedures allows authorities to confiscate assets without having to secure a conviction. This can save time, particularly where the corrupt person has fled or it proves difficult to gather sufficient evidence to link the corrupt individual to a specific act of corruption. Lastly, restrictions on the number and grounds for appeal can significantly shorten the time between the launch of proceedings and a final, definitive judgment. In all cases, however, it is important to balance the desire to accelerate the return of stolen assets against the imperative to ensure that asset recovery follows legal due process and protects the fundamental rights of the defendant as well as the victims of corruption.

Why does StAR focus on asset recovery, which is so complicated, rather than prevention of the original corrupt acts, such as bribery, embezzlement, or misuse of funds? StAR was established to focus specifically on asset recovery and the international dimensions of corruption, issues which had not been a significant focus in the field of international development. Both the World Bank Group and UNODC are involved in a much broader range of anti-corruption activities at the global and the country level which seek to help partners prevent corruption through effective governance. These include activities aimed at promoting transparency and accountability in government, programs strengthening the judiciary and law enforcement anti-corruption efforts, and work with civil society and private sector initiatives. StAR is part of the broader UNODC and World Bank Group anti-corruption and governance strategies.

What is being done to ensure that recovered assets are not just siphoned off again through corrupt acts? Asset return is a fundamental principle of the United Nations Convention against Corruption. Following this principle, the use of returned assets is the sovereign decision of the country that recovers its stolen property. Countries that have embraced a policy of openness and transparency in the design of the arrangements for the management of returned assets have benefited from this approach. Countries that have put in place specific mechanisms for the management of returned assets include Philippines, Peru and Nigeria. StAR and the World Bank Group advise on and assist national authorities, where requested by them, with the management of returned assets.

How does StAR define "corruption"? StAR does not define corruption. Instead, StAR follows the approach adopted in the United Nations Convention gainst Corruption which defines corrupt conduct in Articles 15 to 22 of the Convention: bribery of national public officials; bribery of foreign public officials and officials of public international organizations; embezzlement, misappropriation or other diversion of property by a public official; trading in influence; abuse of functions; illicit enrichment; and bribery in the public sector. In addition, UNCAC Articles 23 through 25 identify the following ancillary crimes: laundering the proceeds of crime; concealment (of property which is the product of a crime); and obstruction of justice.

Stolen Assets are the proceeds of corruption:  money, properties, or other assets, amassed through corrupt acts. These include bribery, embezzlement, misappropriation of property or funds, trading in influence, and abuse of functions in the public sector.

Asset Recovery is the process by which the proceeds of corruption are recovered and returned to the country of origin.

Financial Centers are jurisdictions (typically countries or territories) that offer a wide range of financial services, particularly to international and non-resident clients.

Empowerment, Partnerships, Innovation, & Advocacy

Since its inception in 2007, StAR has made significant progress in its four key work areas. It has provided training to over 500 officials in forty countries, and is providing ongoing individual assistance to countries undertaking asset return cases. StAR has facilitated partnerships across government organizations and, at the global level, has helped bring together governments, donors agencies, financial institutions, and civil society organizations from both financial centers and developing countries, fostering collective action for the deterrence, detection, and recovery of stolen assets, StAR has helped create and support networks of practitioners that can facilitate international and regional cooperation in asset recovery. It has also consolidated and disseminated international good practice on cutting edge issues related to preventing the laundering of the proceeds of corruption and facilitating more systematic and timely return of stolen assets. Star has also been instrumental in helping to push asset recovery to the top of the international policy agenda.

For more details on StAR's results to date, see the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative Update.

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