Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


The fight against international corruption from Palermo to Merida: Challenges deriving from cryptocurrencies and new pathways to asset recovery

  13 December 2021


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to join you at this side event on key emergent challenges facing justice and law enforcement authorities today, namely: the criminal exploitation of technology, and recovering the “crypto” proceeds of such crimes.

I am very grateful to the Permanent Mission of Italy and the Vittorio Occorsio Foundation for hosting this important discussion with UNODC.

Digital extortion, crypto-enabled fraud, ransomware, and cryptocurrency money laundering are the new faces of an old enemy.

In May, the US Department of Justice seized bitcoins valued at over two million dollars in a high-profile ransomware case.

Announcing the seizure, the FBI officials said they “followed the money”, calling this one of the “most basic, yet powerful tools” at the disposal of law enforcement.

In fact, “follow the money” was an insight from the late judge Giovanni Falcone, whose cross-border alliance with the FBI showed the world how transnational organized crime can be defeated.

The life’s work of Judge Falcone inspired the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, as well as the UN Convention against Corruption, and it continues to inform all we do at UNODC today.

Now we need to take forward this inspiration in the virtual world, by harnessing the frameworks and tools provided by the landmark Palermo and Merida Conventions, to strengthen international cooperation; harmonize legislation and regulation; and enable intelligence sharing and joint investigation.

 The Conference of the States Parties to UNCAC has long kept the use of information and communication technologies in anti-corruption on the global policy agenda, including through resolutions 6/7 and 6/8 from the 6th session in St. Petersburg.

At CoSP 9 here in Sharm El-Sheikh, a draft resolution to follow up on the Abu Dhabi Declaration, from the previous session, also calls for enhancing the use of information technologies to more effectively prevent and fight corruption.

Moreover, under the Abu Dhabi Declaration Programme, launched in May with the support of UAE, UNODC is helping to develop guidelines to enhance cooperation between supreme audit institutions and specialized anti-corruption bodies, with a particular focus on technology.

UNODC is also providing technical assistance to States Parties to better harness digitization and advanced tech to counter corruption. We have supported a regional study and training in South-East Asia, using AI and big data to prevent and identify fraud and corruption in public procurement.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, UNODC is supporting a working group of the regional Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions to develop a tool, drawing upon State databases to detect and red flag corruption risks.

To effectively take forward this fight and recover the proceeds of organized crime and corruption, we need Member States to step up support for specialized capacity building, especially to developing countries, in a spirit of shared responsibility. 

Indeed, under the second cycle of the UNCAC Implementation Review Mechanism, development or use of technological tools was a cross-cutting priority identified by 65 percent of all States expressing the need for technical assistance.

At the same time, we also need to expand cooperation with the private sector, tech companies, security experts, civil society, academia, and all actors with expertise and experience to contribute to address these fast-evolving challenges.

In this regard, I very much welcome the Memorandum of Understanding I signed with Mr. Salvi in April.

The envisaged cooperation between UNODC and the Vittorio Occorsio Foundation has a special focus on promoting greater use of technology in the fight against transnational organized crime, in line with UNODC’s innovation strategy.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Transnational organized crime and corruption know no borders, and any vulnerabilities and gaps in responses, anywhere in the world, will be exploited.  

This is truer than ever in the digital realm.

Greater cooperation and coordination are needed, building on tried-and-true frameworks like UNTOC and UNCAC, with an eye to innovating responses and leveraging advanced technologies to stay ahead of criminal and corrupt networks.

UNODC looks forward to deepening our partnership with you, and forging new solutions to effectively tackle today’s crime challenges.

Thank you.