International expert meeting on the return of illicitly acquired assets

Bern, 23.02.2016 - Experts from some 30 countries and international organisations met in Lausanne from 21 to 23 February 2016 for the ‘Lausanne IX’ seminar on the restitution of potentates’ assets. Participants included specialists in international mutual legal assistance, financial intelligence gathering, and asset recovery. The focus of the meeting was on the establishment of procedures for international cooperation in this area under the mandate of the UN. For Switzerland, preserving its integrity as a financial centre is a matter of high priority, and conscientious efforts to ensure the return of illicitly acquired assets are a crucial element in the fight against international financial crime.

When assets illicitly acquired by former rulers are frozen by the authorities of the country where they were deposited, the country of origin of the assets can submit a request for mutual legal assistance in order to identify and return them to their rightful owners, providing the assets do not find their way back into the circuit of corruption but are used for the benefit of the people of the country.

The 2003 UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) was the first international treaty to directly address the issue of the return of stolen assets. The cases involving assets confiscated from the former presidents of Egypt and Tunisia during the Arab uprisings and, more recently, from the former ruler of Ukraine, have again called attention to the need for strengthening legal cooperation in asset recovery procedures.

It was with this in mind that the international community decided in 2013, at the UN General Assembly in New York and at the Conference of the States Parties to the Convention against Corruption (COSP), to establish guidelines for improving cooperation between authorities in handling requests for the restitution of assets. In 2014, the experts gathered for the ‘Lausanne VIII’ seminar focused on that mandate and concluded their efforts with the formulation of a list of asset recovery guidelines. Support for the Lausanne process was reaffirmed at the 2015 COSP in Saint Petersburg.

The 9th edition of the Lausanne Seminars builds on that process. This year, the attending experts prepared the first part of a practical guide for the implementation of the guidelines. At Lausanne X, which will be held in 2017, the list of good practices and concrete steps to be followed in the procedure for freezing and returning potentates’ assets will be completed.

The Lausanne Seminars were first launched in 2001 by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and are organised in close collaboration with the International Centre for Asset Recovery (ICAR) of the Basel Institute on Governance and with the support of the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) of the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The purpose of the Lausanne Seminars is to foster dialogue and the exchange of expertise on cases involving the recovery of stolen assets.

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Federal Department of Foreign Affairs