Speaker: Ambassador Roberto Balzaretti
Ministers, Distinguished delegations,
Ladies and gentlemen,
To begin, let me thank the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the World Bank/UNODC Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) for the organization of this first edition of the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR). I would also like to thank the focal countries Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Tunisia and the Ukraine for their commitment to engage in this important event.
Switzerland is pleased to participate in the GFAR. This platform is essential to advance specific cases as much as to exchange information on asset recovery between policy makers, as well as legal and financial experts from requesting and requested states. We are convinced that our common efforts to maintain a strong political determination and ongoing consultation between the concerned countries will trigger a special dynamic and will produce tangible results during these next days.
WHY IS GFAR IMPORTANT FOR SWITZERLAND?
Switzerland has participated in all the Arab Fora as well as in the Ukrainian Forum on Asset Recovery. These fora not only incited political will on asset recovery but also prompted concrete action across multiple jurisdictions. Moreover, they have proven particularly helpful to bilateral and multi-jurisdictional discussions in order to progress in ongoing asset recovery cases. Now, we are looking forward to lifting these discussions to the global level with a particular focus on Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Tunisia and the Ukraine.
Currently there are funds frozen in Switzerland from former presidents Ben Ali (Tunisia), Mubarak (Egypt) and Yanukovych (Ukraine) as well as of politically exposed persons (PEP) of their entourages. By the end of this year, the Swiss Government will re-evaluate the situation in each of the three countries and will decide whether the freeze will be renewed on the basis of the progress made in the respective legal proceedings.
As for this GFAR, and as it was at the AFARs before, we look forward to keeping on working with these countries during the next few days. We are committed to do this based on dialogue and trust – and in a spirit of partnership.
SWISS ASSET RECOVERY POLITICS: HISTORY AND WHERE WE STAND NOW
Partnership is in fact key in order to make a real impact in asset recovery. And making a real impact is of core interest for Switzerland: 30 years of experience and more than 2 billion USD returned to countries of origin prove that this is not just an empty phrase.
All started in 1986 when Switzerland was confronted with the fall of the former president of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos.
The Swiss government was informed by banks that the Marcos entourage has hidden millions in Swiss bank accounts.
When this became public, there was a wave of outrage in Switzerland and abroad.
The Swiss government took the unprecedented decision to freeze the Marcos’ assets based on its constitutional mandate to safeguard the country’s interests (no specific legislation, no request for judicial assistance).
For the first time assets were preventively frozen before the country in question could file a request for their return.
Since then, Switzerland has continued to develop and to refine its practices when handling looted assets. Today, we proactively counter the abuse of our financial system by corrupt leaders. The strict provisions of the Swiss anti-money laundering legislation oblige all banks and financial service providers to identify not only their customers but also the economic beneficiaries, and demands for special due diligence in dealing with PEP. If stolen assets, however, slip through the tight net of precautionary measures, the funds are identified and returned to their rightful owners. Last year, Switzerland issued a new federal law which uniformly governs and consolidates practices in asset recovery from freezing to confiscation to restitution of illegally acquired assets. Finally, we ourselves have shown our commitment to the topic of asset recovery and its return: First, in the Lausanne process developing guidelines for asset recovery. And secondly with our initiative on good practices on asset return by co-hosting an international expert meeting together with the Government of Ethiopia in February of this year.
WHY DO WE DO SO AND WHAT HAVE WE ACHIEVED?
A part from evident ethical and moral reasons, two main reflections:
We have no interest in allowing the abuse of our financial system (one of the world’s leading financial centres). Reputation and integrity are key factors in global competition.
As a donor state, we promote transparency, good governance and anti-corruption measures in our international cooperation programs. We engage in strengthening the rule of law and in eradicating impunity.
As mentioned before, since 1986, Switzerland has returned more than 2 billion USD to countries of origin, which is more than any other financial centre in the world. I would like to highlight some examples:
2003 Philippines 684 million USD (Marcos)
2006 Nigeria I 700 million USD (Abacha I)
2007 Kazakhstan I 115 million USD
2017 Nigeria II 321 million USD (Abacha II)
What have we learnt from these cases? We have learnt that a successful restitution not only needs to meet national and international standards but also needs to be in line with the ideas put forward by the concerned governments. We also learnt that restitution of stolen assets is a complex and so often a long process since every case is different and has its own specific characteristics. Nevertheless, there are certain key elements that recur each and every time when working on a restitution case:
1. Partnership and shared interest / responsibility
Partnership is crucial and both countries need to work closely together based on dialogue and trust. It is in the shared interest and responsibility of both countries – requesting and requested - to make the restitution a success.
Political and policy considerations are at play on both sides: PEP who abuse their power and enrich themselves at the expense of their people must be held accountable. Therefore, prevention of corruption, strengthening the rule of law and the fight against impunity is a crucial part of this shared responsibility.
2. Case-by-case solutions and the inclusion of the civil society
Every case is different and must be dealt with specifically. One needs to be creative and pragmatic at the same time. Case-specific solutions can be found with the partner state through close cooperation and a constructive dialogue.
Consequently, case-specific agreements can be concluded as foreseen in article 57 paragraph 5 of the UN Convention against Corruption, the global legal framework on asset recovery. Such agreements help to ensure the transparent and effective use, administration and monitoring of the returned proceeds.
The restitution mechanisms should use existing political and institutional frameworks and be in line with the development strategy of the countries concerned in order to ensure coherence, avoid duplication and optimize efficiency.
Finally, the civil society can play an important role in finding the right mechanism for the restitution, or afterwards in monitoring the appropriate use of the funds.
3. Monitoring, transparency and accountability
The transparent and accountable use of the funds helps to build confidence and public trust; it enhances the credibility of a country’s governance and anti-corruption strategy.
Transparency of beneficiaries is also important: Our common goal is to return the stolen assets to those from whom they were taken, the rightful owners and victims of corruption.
Because the return of stolen assets has a high symbolic value to the population, it must be ensured that those who suffered from the misappropriation of public funds by their leaders be recognized as such and be compensated.
After having pointed out these key elements, let me highlight the most recent return: the Abacha II case is a successful return case – jointly achieved by all involved parties: Nigeria, the World Bank and Switzerland. And it is fair to say that we have been successful precisely because we have taken into consideration the before-mentioned key elements, or in other words: it is thanks to a solid partnership, trust and dialogue among the parties, but also because we were innovative and pragmatic in including civil society organizations into this process so that the most vulnerable of society can now benefit from this restitution. Let me highlight the most important aspects in this regard:
In the sense of partnership, the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Swiss Federal Council and the World Bank have entered into a legally binding MoU providing for the return of approx. 321 Million USD of funds illicitly acquired by the late General Sani Abacha and his family, initially deposited in Luxembourg and confiscated by Switzerland.
The funds will be used to support a program of Targeted Cash Transfers under the National Social Safety Net Project.
The World Bank will monitor the use of the restituted funds (following its applicable policies, procedures and practices). Measures in case of abuse and corruption are explicitly regulated in the MoU.
The civil society is involved in the monitoring process.
The use of the funds for the poorest members of society is in line with the sustainable development goals in the context of the Agenda 2030.
The nature of this restitution mechanism is pioneering. It may become a best practice model internationally and be used for other restitution cases. Therefore, I am honored to have signed this MoU today, together with the Nigerian Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, and the World Bank Country Director for Nigeria, Mr. Rachid Benmessaoud.
The Abacha II case is not a stand-alone incident. Identifying key criteria for a transparent and efficient restitution in the spirit of partnership reflects an emerging trend and an increasing interest on the global level. This was also echoed in the latest resolution on mutual legal assistance and asset recovery introduced by Nigeria at the Conference of States Parties to the UNCAC in November this year. Also the fact that there will be a side-event on this very same issue within the margins of the GFAR proves that the international community puts more and more emphasis on considering good practices on asset return.
With regard to potential future restitutions of stolen assets, Switzerland will continue to strive for win-win-situations. In the spirit of the UNCAC, we will put all efforts into finding mutually acceptable arrangements for the return of stolen assets that benefit the population.
Because each case has its unique characteristics we need to remain open to new ideas to make the restitution of stolen assets a success. Looking around, I have to say: it is a privilege to have such a great number of experts and people interested in improving the asset recovery agenda gathered here for the GFAR. Let us use this unique opportunity to share best practices, to provide assistance and support to one another, be trustworthy and determined so that we can make a real impact in asset recovery and restitution.
Thank you for your attention.
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