Locating and recovering money stolen and laundered internationally by corrupt public officials offers many challenges. An interesting and important policy paper has been published by the Center for Global Development summarising some of those challenges and considering how corruption investigations and asset recovery can be tackled in new ways and by new participants.

The paper notes that there have been great advances in international efforts to recover assets from corrupt politicians over the last two decades. But there is obviously much to do, as the paper demonstrates in an interesting overview of the barriers to successful asset recovery cases: the lack of political will for pursuing corrupt but influential politicians and public officials; the actual or perceived lack in many victim states of the capacity, expertise and resources to pursue criminal or civil cases to prosecute offenders and recover assets; the various legal and procedural difficulties and misunderstandings that can plague co-operation between states and cross-border investigations and civil and criminal cases; and the existence of a global financial system that offers tremendous opportunities to corrupt officials to conceal and rapidly move illicit funds, aided by skilled advisors.

The recommendations made in the paper are centred on four core themes:

  • Building on new approaches to recovering stolen funds and assets.
  • Fixing the problems with global financial intelligence.
  • Getting tougher with corrupt politicians and countries that will not co-operate.
  • Building global support for recovering the proceedings of corruption.

The oxygen of asset recovery cases, whether criminal or civil, is information and evidence. Traditionally that has been gathered and used by law enforcement agencies. Criminal investigations and prosecutions will, of course, always be a central pillar of anti-corruption and asset recovery efforts, and it is critical to find ways to allow and enhance co-operation between states and to remove unnecessary impediments to convicting offenders and confiscating corrupt assets.

Ensuring that intelligence about politically exposed persons (“PEPs”) makes its way to law enforcement is vital, as is ensuring that information is then used. The paper makes, for example, a number of recommendations designed to ensure that information and evidence about PEPs and their activities and assets is identified, shared and available for use in recovery efforts. Foremost among these is the need to make it much harder to conceal the beneficial ownership of companies, trusts and assets.

But of particular interest is the suggestion, a theme throughout the paper, that there is considerable scope for increasingly active and capable NGOs, the media and victim groups to be encouraged, trained and funded to obtain and publicise evidence of corruption, to carry out investigations, to apply pressure to states to prosecute offenders or recover assets, and even to bring their own cases against corrupt officials.

The papers also suggests that asset recovery efforts can also be supplemented and improved by investigators, accountants, lawyers and others in the private sector. There are a number of successful examples of states employing lawyers to bring civil proceedings to recover the proceeds of corruption.

There is much to fix and learn. But perhaps the largest barrier to asset recovery is political will. Many of the actual and perceived obstacles to asset recovery cases can be addressed and mitigated where there is genuine desire at the highest level of a state to address corruption, to conduct meaningful investigations, and to pursue criminal and civil cases against the corrupt. External specialist expertise, from other states, from international organisations and from the private sector, is available to assess and implement asset recovery strategies. Funding is, and will be, increasingly available.

The paper, authored by Andrew Marshall and entitled “What’s Yours is Mine, New Actors and New Approaches to Asset Recovery in Global Corruption Cases”, and published by the Center for Global Development in April 2013 is available here.