The EU can do more to return the stolen assets which are stashed in its member states following the Arab Spring. This was the subject of a European Parliament seminar organised by the S&D group yesterday morning, which brought together experts and included participation by TI France and TI EU. This blog post follows on from a previous post on the event which discussed how to prevent illicit capital entering the EU in the first place.
When corrupt dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were toppled, the EU took steps to facilitate asset recovery and return this stolen wealth to their country of origin. But processes have been complex and long, and results have been pretty dismal so far.
In my view, two messages from this event were important to take home:
1. The division of competencies between EU Member States and EU institutions should not be an excuse for failing to tackle the issue head-on. While stolen assets are a very political issue – as an expression of a new era in post-revolutionary countries, as well as in terms of the answers of the EU – a lot more needs to be done. This was the view of EU Special Representative for the Southern Mediterranean Bernardino Leon, and an encouraging sign of political will.
That being said, the representative of the EEAS issued a disclaimer during the discussion that “in principle, asset recovery is not a competence of the EU…” Lets see which view prevails!
2. Civil society needs to be a part of the equation in addressing stolen assets. While lawyers, prosecutors and politicians play an important role, civil society has expertise and dedication which can only serve to enrich the process. The TI National Chapter in France has been campaigning for the return of stolen assets held in France for several years, including cases relating to three African heads of state, and illegal wealth associated with the former regimes of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. This example shows how civil society can advance cases of stolen assets in a way that other actors can’t.
To give an idea of the scope of the problem, it is estimated that the wealth accumulated by former leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya amounts to some $190 billion. We welcome the fact that the European Parliament is taking on this issue and hope that political will translates into action.