Re­turn­ing stolen as­sets to the peo­ple

Em­pow­er­ing law­mak­ers to seek of­fend­ers is a start, Marc and Craig Kiel­burger write.

Ottawa Citizen - - YOU -

His fel­low cit­i­zens live in squalor. Mean­while, Equa­to­rial Guinea’s vice-pres­i­dent, Teodoro Nguema Obiang, has man­sions in Mal­ibu and Paris.

In Oc­to­ber, a French judge handed down a rul­ing that any­one with ac­cess to In­sta­gram could have seen com­ing: a guilty ver­dict in his cor­rup­tion case. The so­cial me­dia play­boy is fa­mous for posts of lux­ury cars, champagne-fu­elled trips to beaches in Cuba, and the pur­chase of Michael Jack­son’s crys­tal-stud­ded glove. #Lux­u­ryliv­ing.

The ver­dict may not have been a sur­prise. But the judge’s com­ments were.

Judge Bene­dicte de Perthuis called for the as­sets — in­clud­ing more than $45 mil­lion in fines and the $160-mil­lion Paris man­sion — to be re­turned to the peo­ple of Equa­to­rial Guinea, ide­ally in the form of aid, as op­posed to the French trea­sury.

It was only a rec­om­men­da­tion, lack­ing the le­gal frame­work to com­pel the as­sets be re­turned. To en­sure they are, Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional, a non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion (NGO) work­ing in more than 100 coun­tries to com­bat global cor­rup­tion, is lob­by­ing for a leg­isla­tive amend­ment for cases like Obiang ’s.

The case raises an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion: How do you re­turn money to a coun­try whose gov­ern­ment stole it? And how do we turn it into de­vel­op­ment fund­ing ? This so­lu­tion is no doubt com­plex, but it’s also a moral im­per­a­tive.

“It was an open se­cret,” says Lu­cas Olo Fer­nan­des, pro­gram co-or­di­na­tor at Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional, about the flow of cor­rupt money into France. “This is ob­vi­ously money from a coun­try that needs it.”

Equa­to­rial Guinea has the high­est per capita in­come in Africa — yet half the pop­u­la­tion doesn’t have ac­cess to clean drink­ing wa­ter and 40 per cent of chil­dren aren’t in school.

An es­ti­mated US$2 tril­lion is lost to cor­rup­tion glob­ally ev­ery year. Even a tiny por­tion of this trea­sure chest would rep­re­sent a new — and mas­sive — fund­ing stream to help im­ple­ment de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives like the United Na­tions Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals.

This is bold thinking — and it should be the new bench­mark.

Fer­nan­des says the first step is sup­port­ing demo­cratic re­form and find­ing civil so­ci­ety ac­tors — of which there are many in Equa­to­rial Guinea — on the ground. This would in­volve an in­clu­sive con­sul­ta­tion process and a trans­par­ent man­age­ment sys­tem work­ing with rec­og­nized NGOs.

This is not just an aca­demic pur­suit; cor­rupt money is a real prob­lem that af­fects many na­tions, in­clud­ing Canada.

With rum­blings of two im­pend­ing cases against lead­ers from Gabon and Congo (Braz­zav­ille), France is get­ting se­ri­ous about the vast sums of cor­rupt money flow­ing through its bor­ders. Bri­tain, too, has re­cently passed new leg­is­la­tion com­pelling those sus­pected of prof­it­ing from cor­rup­tion to ex­plain their wealth. Canada must fol­low suit. Our coun­try’s laws and in­sti­tu­tions should not of­fer safe haven for lead­ers who steal from their own peo­ple. Canada’s re­cently passed ver­sion of the U.S. Mag­nit­sky law (for­mally known as the Jus­tice for Vic­tims of Cor­rupt For­eign Of­fi­cials Act) is a good start, em­pow­er­ing leg­is­la­tors to go af­ter of­fend­ers. Craig and Marc Kiel­burger are the co-founders of the WE move­ment, which in­cludes WE Char­ity, ME to WE So­cial En­ter­prise and WE Day. For more dis­patches from WE, check out WE Sto­ries at We.org.

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