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Switzerland Supports Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative

by Ulrika Lomas, for, Brussels

19 September 2007

The Swiss government has welcomed a new Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative launched on Monday by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Bank.

The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs stated on Tuesday that the new initiative corresponds with Switzerland's view that progress in the freezing, restitution and use of stolen or embezzled assets demands joint action at the international level.

"Switzerland is willing to contribute its experience in this area and to collaborate with the World Bank," the FDFA stated. "Switzerland has every interest in preventing the abuse of its financial centre as a result of the presence of assets of criminal origin. It has taken effective measures to prevent, uncover, freeze and return such assets. It takes the view that assets of criminal origin, especially those of politically exposed persons, should be restored to their country of origin whenever possible."

The Swiss government believes that it has taken a leading position on restitution in comparison with other financial centres, having returned a total of US$1.6 billion in the context of the Marcos, Montesinos, Abacha, Kazakhstan and other cases.

"Switzerland is committed to returning illegally acquired assets to their rightful owners in a transparent and logical process in order to prevent the funds from ending up back in criminal hands. Switzerland worked successfully with the World Bank to ensure this in the Abacha and Kasakhstan cases," the FDFA statement continued.

"Switzerland is of the view that national measures alone do not solve the problem of the existence of illicit funds of politically exposed persons. This is why it has always endorsed the international approach. The so-called Lausanne Process, initiated by Switzerland in 2001, aims to promote the search for specific approaches to solving this problem through dialogue between states. Switzerland regards the StAR initiative as an important enrichment to this essential international debate," the statement concluded.

The World Bank/UNODC initiative aims to assist developing countries in recovering assets stolen by corrupt leaders, help invest them in effective development programs, and combat safe havens for such funds internationally.

"This 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," announced the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, during the official launch of the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative.

"There should be no safe haven for those who steal from the poor," added World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick. "Helping developing countries recover the stolen money will be key to fund social programs and put corrupt leaders on notice that they will not escape the law."

The Executive Director of the UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa, described the launch of the StAR Initiative as a "turning point in the global fight against corruption". He said that "from now on it should be harder for kleptocrats to steal the public's money, and easier for the public to get its money back".

According to the document 'Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative: Challenges, Opportunities, and Action Plan' published this week, the cross-border flow of the global proceeds from criminal activities, corruption, and tax evasion is estimated at between $1 trillion and $1.6 trillion per year.

StAR has called for the ratification by all countries of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) - something that only half of the OECD and G-8 countries have so far done.

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