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Sherpa Position Paper on the draft law “programming on solidarity development and the fight against global inequalities

Restitution of assets resulting from corruption to affected countries

For the past 15 years, Sherpa points out the importance of adopting a law on the restitution of assets for our country, which hosts a part of these illegal assets. Today, it is essential that France adopts a clear mechanism for the restitution of the proceeds of corruption in the countries that are its victims, especially since the latter are almost exclusively developing countries.

Sherpa, an association committed to the fight against economic and financial crimes, is at the forefront of the fight against ill-gotten gains, i.e. all the assets resulting from the proceeds of criminal activities illegally taken from the patrimony of the home country, which allow leaders to enrich themselves illegally. These cases, known as “ill-gotten gains”, concern suspicions of embezzlement of public funds by the clan of Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso in Gabon, Ali Bongo in Congo and the Obiang family in Equatorial Guinea.

The importance of a law on asset recovery in France : Beyond the seizure of assets, the issue of their restitution to the State of origin is of crucial importance and constitutes a major pillar in the fight against illicit funds. Indeed, the management of the restitution of confiscated or seized assets is a much debated issue at international level. Some countries that have restituted assets have in the past requested or conditioned the restitution of the proceeds of corruption and other criminal acts to be spent on projects or areas mutually determined by both countries. The argument is to avoid the returned assets are again redirected out of the country through corruption or other criminal acts. Many affected countries have, in turn, argued that this conditioning is a potential violation of their sovereign right to decide how to spend or invest the recovered money.

The draft law currently being debated in France must first consider the need to establish a strong partnership with civil society in the states involved in the restitution when governance conditions make it impossible for the states of origin to ensure that these funds do not fall back into the corruption circuit, so as to guarantee the effective restitution of these assets. The solution must meet both national and international expectations and the aspirations of the governments concerned. In addition, the seized funds should be used to finance projects in the areas of health, education and the strengthening of their governance systems to identify and reduce corruption. The choice of projects should also take into account suggestions from civil society in the home state. Experience indicates that each case requires a redefinition of the restitution mechanism and civil society organisations should be asked to cooperate with state actors[1] in order to ensure the proper administration of restitution.

It is therefore important that representatives support this bill to initiate a reflection on the concrete modalities of restitution.

Sherpa’s actions in the field of ill-gotten gains:

Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo: Sherpa was behind the first complaints filed in 2007 in the so-called ill-gotten gains cases, which concern suspicions of concealment of embezzlement of public funds by members of the ruling families of Gabon, Congo and Equatorial Guinea, which were closed before being relaunched by Transparency International France. At the end of a long judicial saga, one of these cases resulted in an unprecedented decision; the conviction of Teodorin OBIANG, son of the President of Equatorial Guinea, by a judgment issued on 27 October 2017, which he is appealing. Furthermore, developments are expected in the investigations initiated against the clan of Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso and that of Ali Bongo, the heir of Omar Bongo.

Read our article – Harsher sentence in appeal for Teodoro Obiang Jr

Syria: A judicial investigation was opened in 2015 at the initiative of Sherpa against Rifaat Al Assad, uncle of Bashar Al Assad, who was indicted in June 2016. Following this complaint, his assets in France were seized for a total of 90 million Euros. A conviction, under appeal, was finally handed down in June 2020, ordering the confiscation of the seized assets and sentencing Rifaat Al Assad to four years in prison for money laundering and embezzlement.

→  Read our article – Ill-gotten gains: Rifaat Al Assad, uncle of the Syrian president, convicted in France for laundering to the detriment of the Syrian people

→  Read our article – The Rifaat Al Assad case: interview with Laura Rousseau

Uzbekistan: In June 2014, Sherpa filed a complaint against Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan. In 2009 and 2010, she set up companies in Paris through which she acquired properties in France for around 50 million euros. These properties were allegedly purchased with the proceeds of corruption. In September 2014, these properties were seized. On 26 June 2019, after seven years of proceedings, the Uzbek case of the “ill-gotten gains” was closed by a guilty plea decided between the parties. This guilty plea provides for the restitution of these illicitly acquired properties – worth tens of millions of euros – to Uzbekistan.

Read our article A missed opportunity : France’s return of Gulnara Karimova’s illegally acquired assets

Canada: On 1 March 2018, Sherpa asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to open an investigation on the conditions under which African dignitaries from the Republic of Congo, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Chad and Senegal acquired a considerable amount of real estate on Canadian territory. Sherpa and the « Coalition BMA Canada » filed an additional complaint on 7 June 2018 against about twenty leaders from seven African countries for laundering the proceeds of criminal offences, embezzlement of public funds, misappropriation of corporate assets, corruption and breach of trust.

Read our article – Ill Gotten Gains: complaint in Canada against twenty officials and their relatives from seven African countries

Djibouti: Sherpa and the European Collective of the Djiboutian Diaspora filed a complaint on 16 October 2018 for misappropriation of corporate assets, embezzlement of public funds, breach of trust and corruption of foreign public officials against members inner circle of the President of Djibouti, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, who has been in power for nineteen years.

Read our article – Ill-gotten gains: complaint against the entourage of the President of Djibouti (FR)

[1] This hypothesis would then be in line with the provisions of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC, or Merida Convention adopted by the UN General Assembly on 31 October 2003), which provides that it is the responsibility of States to take action on the return of assets, and also encourages the active participation of civil society.

Last modified: 2 December 2021