Leonard McCarthy, Integrity Vice President, The World Bank Group
Arab Forum on Asset Recovery
Your Excellencies, esteemed guests, and ladies and gentlemen:
On behalf of the Stolen Assets Recovery (StAR) initiative - and on behalf of the World Bank Group - it is a great pleasure to join in welcoming you to this important conference.
And it is an honor to salute the foundation of the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery.
It is significant that the word "justice" is central in the logo for this Forum - symbolizing the moral, legal and social imperatives that inspire this event.
Justice will not be complete until the funds looted by corrupted officials have been returned to the people to whom they rightfully belong.
The title of our gathering, the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery, has more than symbolic significance.
This must be an Arab Forum on the imperative of asset recovery. This is an opportunity for the countries of the Arab world to take ownership of this priority.
Restoration of the wealth they truly own is a vital factor in restoring social cohesion among the countries of the Arab Spring
In a strong signal of determination, the Arab world has committed itself to taking this mission forward. By following through, the Arab community will "raise the bar" for good governance in the countries where democracy is now taking root.
The return of these stolen assets is - obviously - not an Arab-only issue. This Forum is the place for partnership and collective action - bringing together the G8, the Deauville Partners, and officials from throughout this region to coordinate our action-steps.
This forum convenes at a critical moment: when public expectations are high, and when the thirst for justice is acute - but when the actual return of assets remains limited.
Although we have made progress, the public has elevated expectations for quick and decisive action. The same social media that helped propel the Arab Spring are now monitoring the actions of the region's new governments - and are watching what we do here this week. Some of today's public expectations for speed may be hard to meet - yet the demand for accountability is surely legitimate.
For countries in transition, managing public expectations will be difficult. No one knows better than they do that their public legitimacy is at stake as they seek to rectify historical abuses.
Achieving results can be accomplished, because the legal and institutional frameworks that now exist are adequate to the task - even if they can be further strengthened. The key factor that is missing, however, is the technical capacity to use those frameworks as effectively as possible.
In this context, the StAR initiative is honored to be one of the co-convenors of this conference.
As a joint initiative of two global bodies - the World Bank and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime - we can deliver knowledge and guidance about worldwide best practices, uniting expertise in law enforcement, legal processes and judicial procedures.
As you may know, StAR's work is built atop three pillars:
partnerships to foster collective responsibility and promote action; and
technical support, to create channels for information-sharing, and to build capacity on asset recovery.
StAR is ready to help you in the development of a coordinated strategy and operational steps - including improving domestic coordination; integrating and improving mutual legal assistance approaches; and providing training programs for practitioners. We can serve as a facilitator for governments, in all aspects of asset recovery.
Through an active "quiet diplomacy," StAR has been engaged with Arab countries in transition - including Egypt, Tunisia and Libya - in seeking the return of assets from various jurisdictions, most represented here today.
What the Forum can ultimately deliver belongs first and foremost to all of you.
Both the Deauville process and other international fora - not least the Conference of State Parties of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, convened in Marrakesh last year - have already provided clear roadmaps. Vital and necessary steps have already been taken.
Still, we need to collectively change gears and to make concrete progress on international cooperation in pursuing ongoing cases.
From the StAR perspective, allow me to add some ideas about the way forward.
This Forum must be an opportunity to "raise the bar," operationally. We need to ensure that - there will be the appropriate depth of dialogue among policymakers, criminal-justice practitioners and public advocates.
The test will be the actual return of stolen assets. We hear assertions that the legal frameworks are now in place and that practitioners are actively mobilized. Results, however, are still limited.
Western and regional financial centers should take a more pro-active approach. Taking a "wait and see" attitude is too passive, especially for countries that have adopted stronger anti-money-laundering laws. Take action on your own; open your own proceedings; pro-actively reach out to transition countries. Make sure that all the needed resources are mobilized to conduct your own investigations and to reply swiftly to requests for assistance.
Of course, financial centers can only conduct successful proceedings if they receive evidence of the illegal origin of the assets.
The transition countries requesting asset-tracing, seizure and recovery must be more pro-active in bringing evidence, seeking requests and closing the gap - linking specific assets to specific criminal behaviors.
We often hear that mutual legal assistance processes are broken. This is an exaggeration. Due process is, of course, critical. But once the legal process has run its course, with all its safeguards met, stolen assets must be returned.
Our experience is this: What is too often described as excessive bureaucratic delay is actually a reflection of a lack of mutual understanding - and a lack of effort by practitioners (on both sides) to engage their counterparts before filing requests for assistance. Such a full engagement will only happen if practitioners are strongly supported and encouraged in "going the extra mile".
We have a unique opportunity here this week. Policymakers and international institutions can reinvigorate the political will to achieve results. We can identify remaining barriers and begin to remove them. We can build trust and improved understanding among practitioners managing the cases.
In practical terms:
We can examine where we all stand in using the international cooperation and confiscation frameworks - and we can be creative in how we use and improve them.
We can make sure that domestic coordination and exchange of information is effective - and we can identify the remaining gaps.
We can identify technical-assistance needs and address them in a coordinated fashion.
And we can discuss, bilaterally, actual international cooperation cases, to agree on priorities and action plans.
Success in resolving cases and returning assets will define our success.
As you prepare to take advantage of the resources that this conference brings together, StAR will mobilize all its expertise to support you, helping build trust among practitioners through quiet diplomacy.
I am confident that this conference will honor the aspirations of the people who have fought so hard to win their freedom. . .
and that the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery will fulfill the hopes of people everywhere who yearn to see that justice will be done.
Thank you very much.