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WB, UN Join Drive To Recover Corrupt Leaders’ Spoils
UNITED NATIONS, Sept 19, 2007 - The World Bank and United Nations on Monday threw their backing behind developing nations seeking to recover assets pilfered by corrupt leaders, unveiling a scheme to lend muscle to their claims.
"There should be no safe haven for those who steal from the poor," World Bank chief Robert Zoellick said, adding the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) initiative was a warning to corrupt leaders "that they will not escape the law."
The World Bank estimates the global flow of illegal funds from crime, corruption and tax evasion at more than $1 trillion each year, with billions squirreled away in secret bank accounts.
"The initiative will foster much needed cooperation between developed and developing countries and between the public and private sectors to ensure that looted assets are returned to their rightful owners," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
World Bank officials estimate that 25 percent of the gross domestic product of African states is lost to corruption every year, counting for some $148 billion, while a further $20 to $40 billion is spent on bribes to public officials in the world's poorest countries.
"Each $100 million recovered would be sufficient to finance full immunizations for four million kids, provide water connections for 250,000 households or provide HIV/AIDS treatment to 600,000 people a year," World Bank vice president for poverty reduction and economic management, Daniel Leipziger, told a briefing before the launch.
Recovering assets is a time-consuming effort. It took the Philippines 18 years to recover some $624 million of money funneled away by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos into Swiss bank accounts.
But the StAR initiative shifts the recovery of looted assets from a bilateral effort between two countries to one with the muscle that comes from having the backing of international conventions and organizations.
Under the initiative, the World Bank would work with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to help developing countries set up institutions "to detect and deter the illegal flow of funds ... to make it less likely that these funds would be stolen," Leipziger said.
The Bank would also bring pressure on financial centers in developed nations to adopt "the highest standards of behavior in terms of money laundering," Leipziger said.
Former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who helped recover $500 million worth of assets looted by former military dictator Sani Abacha, said the StAR initiative marked a first step towards "rebalancing" responsibilities in the fight against corruption.
"There has to be a rebalancing on the issue of corruption," said Okonjo-Iweala, who was a key player in getting the initiative off the ground.
"Developing countries need to fight corruption and stem the flow of illicit funds, and developed countries must make sure there is no safe haven for those funds in their countries," she said.
"If the two sides cooperate, the people who are corrupt will know that any money that goes out will be sent back to the country from which it came."
Okonjo-Iweala called on all countries in the Group of Eight and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to ratify the UN anti-corruption convention, UNCAC, which came into force at the end of 2005.
UNCAC signatories are obliged to return money to the country from which it was looted. The World Bank and UN must push for full ratification of UNCAC, Okonjo-Iweala said.
"If they don't, it would send a message that they are not ready or willing to get this money back," she said.
Half the G8 countries have not ratified UNCAC: Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan.
Among OECD member states which are considered to be offshore banking centers, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg and Switzerland have not ratified the UN convention.
Source: Agence France-Presse