World Bank guide to help re­cover stolen money

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The World Bank, un­der its stolen as­set re­cov­ery ini­tia­tive, has pub­lished an As­set Re­cov­ery Hand­book as a guide for prac­ti­tion­ers pur­su­ing loot­ers of na­tional as­sets, ad­vis­ing them to seek waiver if pos­si­ble for persons en­joy­ing im­mu­nity from per­se­cu­tion.

The hand­book reveals de­vel­op­ing coun­tries lose an es­ti­mated $20-40 bil­lion each year through bribery, mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of funds and other cor­rupt prac­tices. Much of the pro­ceeds of this cor­rup­tion find “safe havens” in the world’s fi­nan­cial cen­tres. These crim­i­nal flows are a drain on so­cial ser­vices and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes, con­tribut­ing to the im­pov­er­ish­ment of the world’s poor­est coun­tries.

Many de­vel­op­ing coun­tries have al­ready sought to re­cover stolen as­sets. A num­ber of suc­cess­ful high­pro­file cases with cre­ative in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion have demon­strated that as­set re­cov­ery is pos­si­ble. How­ever, it is highly com­plex, in­volv­ing co­or­di­na­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion with do­mes­tic agen­cies and min­istries in mul­ti­ple ju­ris­dic­tions, as well as the ca­pac­ity to trace and se­cure as­sets and pur­sue var­i­ous le­gal op­tions—whether crim­i­nal con­fis­ca­tion, non-con­vic­tion based con­fis­ca­tion, civil ac­tions, or other al­ter­na­tives.

This process can be over­whelm­ing for even the most ex­pe­ri­enced prac­ti­tion­ers. It is ex­cep­tion­ally dif­fi­cult for those work­ing in the con­text of failed states, wide­spread cor­rup­tion, or lim­ited re­sources. With this in mind, the Stolen As­set Re­cov­ery Ini­tia­tive (SARI) has de­vel­oped the As­set Re­cov­ery Hand­book.

The hand­book states that im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion en­ables some pub­lic of­fi­cials to avoid pros­e­cu­tion for crim­i­nal of­fenses. In most ju­ris­dic­tions, im­mu­ni­ties in­cor­po­rated into do­mes­tic laws or con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sions are re­ferred to as “na­tional im­mu­ni­ties.” In ad­di­tion, there are “in­ter­na­tional im­mu­ni­ties” that ap­ply in all ju­ris­dic­tions un­der cus­tom­ary in­ter­na­tional law and treaties, in­clud­ing func­tional and per­sonal im­mu­nity.

It fur­ther states that func­tional im­mu­nity is granted to for­eign of­fi­cials per­form­ing acts of state (for ex­am­ple, a head of state or head of govern­ment, a se­nior cab­i­net mem­ber, a for­eign min­is­ter, and a min­is­ter of de­fence); per­sonal im­mu­nity shields some for­eign of­fi­cials (par­tic­u­larly heads of state and diplo­matic and con­sular agents) from ar­rest and crim­i­nal, civil, or ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­ceed­ings (typ­i­cally, while in of­fice).

The hand­book states that if the as­set re­cov­ery ac­tion con­cerns a head of state, a mem­ber of par­lia­ment, a judge, or other high­rank­ing au­thor­ity, prac­ti­tion­ers must con­sider the im­mu­ni­ties en­joyed by these of­fi­cials. In par­tic­u­lar, prac­ti­tion­ers should con­firm the ex­tent of the im­mu­nity (for ex­am­ple, whether it is na­tional or in­ter­na­tional, func­tional or per­sonal; and whether it shields the of­fi­cial from crim­i­nal, civil, or ad­min­is­tra­tive li­a­bil­ity); the pos­si­bil­ity that the im­mu­nity can be waived and, if nec­es­sary, the op­por­tu­nity to lodge charges against other in­di­vid­u­als im­pli­cated in the crimes, in­clud­ing fam­ily mem­bers, ac­com­plices and those peo­ple in­volved in the laun­der­ing of funds.

It also points out that some ju­ris­dic­tions (coun­tries) have changed im­mu­nity laws to al­low pros­e­cu­tion, but not ac­tual in­car­cer­a­tion of an of­fi­cial. In some cases, a ju­ris­dic­tion may not recog­nise the na­tional im­mu­ni­ties of an­other ju­ris­dic­tion and it may pro­ceed with a pros­e­cu­tion for money laun­der­ing or for­eign bribery.

Even in­ter­na­tional im­mu­ni­ties have been set aside in cases in­volv­ing the re­straint and seizure of as­sets held in for­eign fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions. If the suc­cess of crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings ap­pear to be doubt­ful, but civil li­a­bil­ity can be es­tab­lished, av­enues in­clud­ing NCB con­fis­ca­tion and civil pro­ceed­ings should be ex­plored.

The re­cov­ery hand­book is a guide for prac­ti­tion­ers to as­sist those grap­pling with the strate­gic, or­gan­i­sa­tional, in­ves­tiga­tive and le­gal chal­lenges of re­cov­er­ing stolen as­sets.

A prac­ti­tioner-led project, the hand­book pro­vides com­mon ap­proaches to re­cov­er­ing stolen as­sets lo­cated in for­eign ju­ris­dic­tions, iden­ti­fies the chal­lenges that prac­ti­tion­ers are likely to en­counter and in­tro­duces good prac­tices. In­cluded are ex­am­ples of tools that can be used by prac­ti­tion­ers, such as sam­ple in­tel­li­gence re­ports, ap­pli­ca­tions for court or­ders and mu­tual le­gal as­sis­tance re­quests.

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