WACAP and ARINWA cooperate against crime and terrorism in West Africa

West Africa is prone to various forms of transnational organized crime, fueled by corruption and money laundering, terrorism, and its financing. The growing sophistication of criminal and terrorist networks, in contrast with insufficient resources and expertise of law enforcement and judicial authorities, are some of the many obstacles to effective prevention and repression of criminal and terrorist acts by national authorities.

To overcome these, the Regional Office for West and Central Africa supported the seventh plenary meeting of the West African Network of Central Authorities and Prosecutors (WACAP) and the fourth plenary meeting of the Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network for West Africa (ARINWA), organized jointly on 24-26 October 2017 in Saly, Senegal. This joint initiative sought to create synergies between the two platforms and incentivize participants to exchange experiences on extradition, seizing, confiscating and freezing of criminal assets, among other topics related to money laundering.

Information sharing and dissemination in asset recovery procedures has always been known to be problematic due to its confidential nature. However, the use of the regional informal networks such as ARINWA and WACAP has proved to be very efficient and effective in the improving of information gathering and mutual legal assistance.

In total, 45 participants (among them 10 women) from ARINWA and WACAP Member States, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice and Commission, the Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network of Southern African (ARINSA) and the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) attended the 3-day meeting. Some delegates shared updated statistics on extradition, criminal assets investigation, confiscation, seizure and freezing. They reported on their latest cases of freezing of assets, shared challenges faced as well as practical solutions.

A case study developed by UNODC staff required focal points to apply their knowledge of judicial cooperation and information gathering. The UNODC Request Writer Tool was disseminated to all participants to draft a mutual legal assistance request in English, French and Portuguese. It was agreed that UNODC was going to make further use of case studies to help practitioners analyze how to further investigate leads and seek information and evidence they might need, including through informal means and through MLA channels.

At the end of the 3-day meeting, the two networks issued a joint declaration on key actions and recommendations to improve judicial cooperation in all types of organized crime between networks and within the region. The main outcomes of this declaration include strengthening the links between the two networks related to tracing, freezing, seizing and confiscating of criminal assets. Participants emphasized the importance of ECOWAS's support and underlined the efforts to be undertaken on translation of requests into the official languages of requesting countries, awareness raising of the role of the networks and to address long-standing obstacles (e.g. double nationality, lack of resources of institutions).

The representative of the ECOWAS Court of Justice reminded the audience the fundamental principles of the rule of law and fair trial guarantees. The institution encouraged participants to ensure that fundamental and constitutional rights are preserved throughout the investigation and prosecution of criminals; in the event of violation of these principles, courts can annul or invalidate proceedings.

The process of asset recovery is complex, time consuming and often frustrating. As stolen assets are often concealed in foreign jurisdictions, there is a clear need for concerted action on a global level. Against this backdrop, focal points welcomed the initiative to hold a joint plenary meeting, as it created synergies between initiatives and links with national practitioners.

Established in May 2013, the WACAP is a network of focal points of the 15 countries of ECOWAS (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo), plus Mauritania. The network promotes mutual legal assistance mechanisms among prosecutors in different countries and encourages member states to develop a regional strategy to facilitate prosecution of persons involved in transnational organized crime. WACAP is strengthening capacity and operational cooperation among authorities responsible for international cooperation in criminal matters. As such, it supports justice officials to combat all forms of organized and serious crimes, including terrorism, and to recover the proceeds of such crimes more effectively.

ARINWA, created in 2014, is an informal multi-agency network for ECOWAS countries and Sao Tome & Principe. This platform enables participating members to exchange information, model legislation and country laws in asset forfeiture, confiscation and money laundering. The network, based on the Camden Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network (CARIN) model in Europe, focuses on the proceeds generated by illicit activities through active cooperation between law enforcement and the judiciary.

For more information:

West African Central Authorities and Prosecutors against Organized Crime (WACAP)

WACAP Website

WACAP Newsletter (Jan-April 2017)

Follow WACAP on  Facebook and  Twitter