The World Bank estimates African countries are losing between US$20 to US$40 billion every year through the exploitation of resources by multinational corporations, mismanagement of development aid, double-dealing, fraud, and embezzlement.
Over the years, developed nations have been condemned for doing very little to repatriate assets stolen from developing countries. Today, the recovery and return of misappropriated assets have been recognized as a priority in the Addis Agenda and an indispensable element towards the financing of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Under Chapter V of the Accord, the return of assets is acknowledged as a fundamental principle making it the framework for global asset recovery efforts.
“Liberia’s Solicitor General, Counsellor Cephus will receive enormous support from the U.S. Government, the World Bank, Interpol and the United Nations in his country’s effort to recover stolen assets from around the world” says John Mitchel, an attorney at Global Asset Recovery Services, an international recovery law firm based in Washington, D.C.
Despite the criticisms and commentaries we hear from his people, we believe once he begins to recover between $100 to $300 million from various accounts in the U.S. and Europe, like Nigeria and other African countries, it will silence the critics and put the country on a new development roadmap.
In many instances, stolen funds are returned without anyone being prosecuted or the need for a lengthy trial. Most countries simply want their wealth or part of it returned to the country to help its citizens.
On June 21, 2019, the Business Times reported the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission stated it won’t press charges against those who returned stolen assets voluntarily.
Earlier this year, U.S. and Malaysian investigators teamed-up to recover nearly $5 billion worth of foreign assets linked to state fund 1MDB which was created in 2009. In May 2019, the U.S. began returning some $200 million recovered back to Malaysia from the sale of seized assets linked to theft from the fund.
Liberia is strapped for cash, and in a time when the country is experiencing a significant decline in foreign aid due to donor-drain, the asset recovery strategy offers a tremendous opportunity to get development aid directly into the hands of Liberian citizens using the World Bank cash transfer practice.
The World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) is a partnership between the Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime that aid developing countries and financial centers in repatriating funds in a timely manner.
Mr. Mitchel went on to say “Liberia shouldn’t focus solely on individuals – the country needs to investigate multinational corporations, especially banks. Some U.S. banks may be sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars left in their accounts by previous governments during and after the country’s civil war.”
A financially challenged country like Liberia needs to find as many sources of funds as possible to help its citizens. And, repatriation of stolen assets is a great start.
In August 2019, Malaysia filed charges against top executives at Goldman Sachs, a large investment bank based in New York City, in an effort to intensify pressure on Wall Street banks for their involvement in the misuse of billions of dollars in government funds.
The Malaysian finance minister stated the Malaysian government would seek $7.5 billion in compensation from Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs, for its part, has pinned the blame on a few rogue bankers.
An investigation by Globe Afrique showed that between 2000 to 2003, former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, whose salary was a little over $20,000 at the time, moved over $24million in and out of his account at the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment in Monrovia.
The funds eventually passed through Citibank in New York City which served as a counterparty in several transactions. Most of the money Citibank received and transferred to Taylor came from the Taiwanese government.
What happened to the money in the accounts is still unclear. Citibank has remained mute about the account. Other large financial institutions in New York may be sitting on millions of dollars of Liberia’s wealth.
In 2014, over $480 million was found in bank accounts around the world owned by former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and his co-conspirators. The money was found by the U.S. Department of Justice investigators through efforts initiated by the Nigerian government.
On May 31, 2019, Jersey’s Civil Asset Recovery fund confirmed a deposit of over US$267 million which was frozen by a federal court in Washington, D.C. at the request of the U.S. Government. The money was found in an account in the Channel Island held by a shell company called Doraville properties Corporation.
According to Jersey’s Civil Asset Recovery Fund, the money recovered comes from confiscated assets belonging to Mohammed Abacha, the son of the late dictator, Sani Abacha.
The proceeds will be shared between the Nigerian government, Jersey and the US government. Sani Abacha came into power in 1993 and ruled Nigeria with an iron fist until his death in 1998.
“To assist countries like Liberia and show U.S. commitment to recover assets for developing countries, on March 2, 2019, the U.S. House Financial Services Committee released three bills, one of which authorizes a whistleblower program for individuals providing information leading to the seizure, forfeiture, and/or repatriation of foreign stolen assets” says Steve Smith of Global Asset Recovery Services.
The Law was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and is expected to pass the Senate and be signed into law by President Trump. “This law will lead to more people coming forward and assisting their country in recovering funds from previous regimes.”
In 2017, 20 Nigerians received $1.2 million for offering information leading to the recovery of over $36.8 million.
Asset recovery is never popular especially with previous administrations. Nigeria has been very successful in recovering over US$1.2 billion from Switzerland through cooperation from Nigerians around the world.
Consequently, Nigeria became the first country to repatriate funds from Switzerland using a World Bank-supported project that makes cash transfers directly to poor and vulnerable Nigerians.
In May 2010, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a vehement critic of Charles Taylor who once hired multiple lawyers in the U.S. to investigate Taylor said, “Mr. Taylor ran this country like it was his personal fiefdom, resources were given to people in a manner that pleased him, and there were no systems or institutions.”
With an estimated US$7 billion supposedly squandered or misappropriated by previous Liberia governments, especially that of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia has a tremendous opportunity to recover between $1 to $2 billion that could be used in its development efforts.
“To make the case for Liberia, Counsellor Cephus will need to visit the U.S., like so many countries looking to recover stolen assets and meet with lawmakers, the U.S. Justice Department, lobbyists, business executives, and law firms who may have an eye on assisting Liberia through the new Whistleblower Bill before the U.S. Senate. By building a consortium of interested parties, Liberia’s Solicitor General should expect a tremendous level of support that will lead to successes like those in Nigeria and Malaysia” says John Mitchel.