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Helping Other Nations Recover Stolen Assets


FBI Building, Washington, D.C.

Official corruption knows no borders, afflicting nations large and small. It lines the pockets of unscrupulous government leaders and their cronies with ill-gotten gains while depriving citizens of vital resources.

Official corruption knows no borders, afflicting nations large and small. It lines the pockets of unscrupulous government leaders and their cronies with ill-gotten gains while depriving citizens of vital resources. When officials break their oath of office to convert public wealth for private gain, it undermines the fundamental promise of democracy and the rule of law.

Asked by the new government in Ukraine to help recover suspected millions of dollars looted by former President Victor Yanukovych, the United States has launched an initiative to aid that and other fledgling democracies to locate and secure stolen public assets.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking at a conference in London on April 29, announced formation of a team of special agents within the Federal Bureau of Investigation to help nations that request our aid to speed up probes into the financial dealings of former leaders who have been removed from office and are suspected of absconding with monies and other assets they diverted to their control while in power.

Speed is important because funds can move quickly through the international banking system and the money trail grow cold. Banking records and other evidence of where the assets originated, such as diverted foreign aid, and where they went can easily be destroyed. In the case of Ukraine, the U.S. sent a team of FBI agents and prosecutors there within days of Yanukovych's departure. About ten team members are still there, sorting through records, tracing bank accounts and advising Ukrainian law-enforcement officials on how to do the same.

Ukraine is not alone. Following a popular uprising in January 2011, Zine El Abdine Ben Ali was forced to step down and flee Tunisia amid a trail of corruption charges. The Tunisian government and Interpol are still investigating, but estimates of his plundering reach billions of euros. His assets held in foreign banks have been frozen and an international warrant issued for his arrest.

The suspected looting is even wider in Cote d'Ivoire, where deposed President Laurent Gbagbo, 90 members of his government and 13 companies associated with them face corruption charges. Worldwide, the looting and diversion of public assets by corrupt officials is part of cross-border financial movements totaling an estimated $1.6 trillion a year.

Our nation's interest in helping other nation's in this way is two-fold. Nations ruled by corrupt leaders can be breeding grounds for other types of crime, including terrorism, and they threaten U.S. and other international interests. But just as important, it will help ensure the welfare and well-being of the citizens of the nations to which the monies they rightfully belong.
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