As the first global anti-corruption instrument with a dedicated chapter on asset recovery, the United Nations Convention against Corruption sets the bar high when it comes to ensuring that stolen assets are being returned.
Invited by the Governments of Ethiopia and Switzerland, experts from all over the world gathered in Addis Ababa from 7 to 9 May 2019 to learn from cases in which assets were returned to the States that they had been stolen from. In his opening remarks, Wedo Atto, Deputy Commissioner of the Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission of Ethiopia, highlighted the importance of cooperation: "Asset recovery is difficult and demanding, and international cooperation is essential for succeeding in recovering assets stolen through corruption. Meetings such as the present one take us one step forward to ensuring that there are no safe havens for unlawful wealth."
Panellists shared their experience in recovering and returning hundreds of millions of US dollars of stolen assets and discussed the challenges and good practices discovered through these returns. The cases from which lessons were drawn included the Lava Jato case in Brazil, the return of assets stolen by former President Sani Abacha to Nigeria, the return of stolen assets to Kazakhstan, and the return of assets to Kenya through a multi-party framework for the return of assets from Crime and Corruption in Kenya (FRACCK).
Drawing on lessons learned from these and other cases, the experts highlighted good practices in asset return such as having early and open communication between the requesting and requested States, building trust among the partners and understanding the differences in legal systems and domestic requirements when it comes to asset recovery and asset return. The experts also underscored the need to provide technical assistance and training to enable countries to fully use all available options for asset recovery and asset return. Shervin Majlessi, Deputy Coordinator of the joint World Bank/UNODC Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative, highlighted how these good practices complemented the Lausanne guidelines for the efficient recovery of stolen assets, which provide a step-by-step guide for a collaborative process of asset recovery.
As part of their conclusions, the experts also found that more discussion on the matter during the sessions of the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on Asset Recovery would be helpful. In closing, Walter Reithebuch, Senior Policy Advisor – Anti-Corruption and Asset Recovery at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, noted: "As co-organizer of the International Expert Meeting on the Return of Stolen Assets in Addis Ababa, Switzerland was pleased to welcome experts from over 30 different countries for constructive discussions and exchanges on best practices on asset return. Switzerland is committed to enhancing international cooperation in asset return and to sharing and further developing these best practices."
In order to link the two agendas and constituencies, the meeting brought together asset recovery experts and development practitioners from around the world to explore the different approaches which have been applied by countries in the management of recovered assets and to examine how returned assets could be utilized to achieve the SDGs and the Addis Agenda.