Regional Conference on Strengthening Regional Cooperation in the Area of Asset Recovery by Creating a Regional Network of Practitioners and Building a Platform for Exchange of Information, Experience and Good Practices in Sofia, Bulgaria

2 - 4 December 2009


1. Conference Objective

The conference, hosted by Bulgaria, was organized by the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR), a joint project of UNDOC and the World Bank. The conference focused on the benefits of using the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) for recovering assets stolen by corrupt political leaders or senior civil servants who hide their illicit proceeds abroad. In addition, it was to serve as a forum for participants to exchange experiences and address how to improve the coordination of policies and methods of cooperation, in particular in the area of international cooperation in asset seizure and confiscation, as well as methods aimed at enhancing channels for communication.

2. Conference Participants

A total of 54 participants attended the conference. 23 representatives from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, FYR of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Kosovo under UNSCR 1244 participated during the three-day event. In addition, representatives from Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Moldova, the Netherlands, Romania, Switzerland, as well as experts from the World Bank, OLAF, RAI, RCC, and UNODC were also present.

3. Conference Activities

The conference was opened by Dr. Stuart Gilman, Deputy Director of the StAR Initiative, who focused on the cost of corruption and the importance of ending impunity by corrupt politicians who believe they will escape justice. In addition to Dr. Gilman's presentation, reports on their experiences and activities in this area were presented by the participating countries and institutions.

During the conference discussion focused on the lessons learned from cases in the region, possible measures needed in order to make legislation on asset recovery more efficient, experience acquired in the region with regard to Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) requests, and policy priorities for the lowering of barriers to asset recovery. In addition, the participants discussed the possible creation of a regional practitioner's network for the recovery of proceeds of corruption in the region, with the support of UNODC and the World Bank through StAR, and with the assistance of the Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative (RAI) for South Eastern Europe. The network would provide an opportunity for practitioners from law enforcement and the judiciary to informally exchange information on asset recovery, thus contributing to the establishment of trust and confidence among practitioners throughout the region.

4. Conference Outcomes and Recommendations

During the course of the conference, the following findings and conclusions were put forth: The legislative framework for recovering assets in South Eastern Europe is generally sufficient, with either current legislation in place or draft legislation being in the process of being adopted. However, many countries do not have an agency for managing seized assets, which impedes their ability to effectively implement their asset recovery operations.

Additionally, the participants of some countries underlined the need to have adequate legal and practical measures for evidence gathering in identifying and tracing crime proceeds. In particular, attention was paid to the importance of the recognition of evidence by another country. MLA treaties ratified in South Eastern Europe are by and large sufficient for engaging in international asset recovery operations and corruption cases. However, where such treaties or agreements are insufficient, the UNCAC can and should be used as a mutual legal assistance treaty to effectuate international asset recovery operations. A primary obstacle in corruption is the lack of implementation of asset recovery laws on both the domestic and international level that comply with UNCAC.

Informal cooperation between agencies involved in anti-corruption efforts in South Eastern Europe is crucial to effective implementation of asset recovery efforts. MLA requests involving asset recovery matters should always be informally coordinated in advance, before the submission of the formal MLA request. MLAs and laws shall have provisions regarding repatriation of proceeds of crime to the requesting state, and the requested state may also deduct expenses incurred by it during the recovery process. Given the differences in legal systems between countries in South Eastern Europe, informal contacts are valuable to ensure that MLA requests involving asset recovery operations are properly formulated both for the laws of the requesting country as well as the requested country.

The disparity of legal systems in the different countries, lack of technical know-how and expertise, insufficient financial resources, etc. have been underlined as some of the impediments to obtaining international cooperation for asset recovery. Some countries also need to implement proper legal frameworks in order to enhance international cooperation (e.g. some countries in the region prohibit the extradition of nationals - double nationalities). This could be followed by maximizing MLA supplemented by informal contacts and by providing technical and financial assistance as envisaged in the UNCAC for effective asset recovery. Where available, existing asset recovery networks such as CARIN should be considered and utilized.

Based on the experience of UNODC and the World Bank in the area of asset recovery, the following recommendations for follow-up action through the StAR Initiative were made:

  • In order to enhance the implementation of the existing asset recovery legislative framework, training should be conducted for investigators, prosecutors, and judges at both the national and regional level in the area of asset recovery. In addition, it would be beneficial to produce a written compendium and/or an on-line database on asset recovery operations in South Eastern Europe that would include required procedures in each country, including mutual legal assistance procedures. Such a compendium or database would help to enhance regional cooperation in the area of asset recovery. Furthermore, in order to enhance the implementation of asset recovery operations in South Eastern Europe, support should be provided to establish Joint Investigation Teams (JITs), as authorized by Article 49 of the UNCAC and other relevant provisions of international laws.
  • Given that some South Eastern European countries or territories are not members of other asset recovery networks, it may be useful to develop an informal asset recovery network in South Eastern Europe. Further consultations on this issue with CARIN and the national governments of the region would be necessary in order to finalize any steps in towards the creation of such a network. In that regard, CARIN has formally invited RAI to make a presentation at their next meeting, and the national delegations agreed that a follow-up workshop on asset recovery should be held in the region that addresses the issues discussed in these conclusions.
  • It was also recommended that in the interim, the participants of this workshop could serve as the initial informal contact points for such informal regional cooperation, pending further consultations.