Commonwealth countries in Africa say they are working together to recover millions of dollars by seizing assets from criminals and corrupt officials.
They will highlight their successes at the 8th Commonwealth Conference of Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Africa when they meet in Abuja, Nigeria, between the 14 and 18 May.
The theme for this year’s conference is ‘Partnering towards assets recovery and its return’, and it will be officially opened by Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari.
Member states have set up anti-corruption agencies and among the assets being seized are yachts, property and land.
In Mauritius, for example, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and the Asset Recovery Investigation Division (ARID) have been working with the courts to try to get hold of assets they suspect belong to criminals.
ARID says, “In the month of April 2018, the ARID applied to the Supreme Court of Mauritius for a restriction order on several bank accounts of some global business companies. The reason behind that action was that the beneficial owner of those accounts is reasonably suspected to be involved in a huge fraud. The FIU (Financial Intelligence Unit) has recently referred an intelligence report to the ICAC to assist our investigation which is ongoing since late 2017. The sum of USD 488,222,588 is the subject matter of this restriction order.”
In Uganda, the Inspectorate of Government (IG) established its Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) in November 2016. It says it realised that criminals were not being punished enough if they kept assets obtained through corruption and criminal activities.
The IG says it is pursuing several cases, including officials who are suspected of siphoning USD 3,250,320 (UGX 12,086,792,670) from public office to other accounts.
Mauritius has praised the Commonwealth Secretariat for its role in helping the country fight corruption.
“Up to now, the Commonwealth Secretariat’s assistance to the ICAC in the fight against corruption has been invaluable,” it says. “It has consisted primarily in the capacity building of staff of the Commission in various areas covering investigation, prosecution, prevention and education. We would appreciate if more could be done to further enhance our competencies more especially in money laundering investigations having international ramifications. Put differently, we would welcome all assistance which would enhance our effectiveness in the fight against corruption and money laundering in Mauritius.”
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland will address the anti-corruption conference on its first morning. She said, “Corruption is poisonous, corrosive, vicious and an enemy of sustainable development. It destroys people’s confidence in their leaders, their politicians and their country. Countless times we have heard how people feel when a system is corrupt, and their rights can’t be protected because they’re not rich enough or don’t have the right connections. They feel the system has beaten them.
“That’s why we, in the Secretariat, work with governments to fight corruption. As well as setting up the Commonwealth Africa Anti-Corruption Centre in Botswana in 2013, we have established the Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform (OCCJR), which was welcomed by the heads of government at their biennial meeting last month, so member states can get assistance across the Commonwealth.”
The Secretariat has provided targeted assistance to Commonwealth nations. It has been active in practical training and development support for national anti-corruption agencies, focussing on Africa and the Caribbean, in accordance with the sustainable development goals.
The annual conferences act as a focal point for anti-corruption networks and provide a forum through which government representatives can peer-review a country’s anti-corruption efforts as well as share good practice and learning.