U.N. Treaty Aims to Return Stolen Funds
Dec. 08, 2003
MERIDA, Mexico (AP) _ The first international anti-corruption treaty will try to create a world where dirty money can't hide, requiring both rich and poor nations to return embezzled or stolen funds.
The U.N. Convention Against Corruption, to be signed here Tuesday, was promoted by developing countries like Nigeria and Mexico, who hope to recoup billions of dollars stashed in foreign bank accounts. It is also the first anti-corruption pact to cover Asia and Africa.
``I think that with this convention, we have laid to rest the old idea that we, developing countries, are corrupt, and that the developed countries are the good guys,'' said Patricia Olamendi, a Mexican undersecretary of foreign relations who was involved in negotiating the treaty. ``We are creating an equal system, a just system, in which those who receive the money are just as corrupt as the country it was taken from.''
The United States has committed to signing the pact, along with more than 100 other nations, including most of Europe, Russia, China and Japan.
The pact requires signatory governments to enact minimum legal standards against corruption, protect whistleblowers and assist other countries in detecting the flow of illicit funds. It will take effect once ratified by the congresses of at least 30 signatory countries.
While it doesn't require countries to repeal banking secrecy laws or the immunity from prosecution granted to some politicians as part of their tenure in office, it does require safeguards so that politicians can be held accountable for their acts and banking records can be examined.
But it all comes back to repatriation, which is a fundamental principal of the treaty.
The stakes are high. Mexico says it is pressing for the return of more than $600 million taken out of the country by corrupt political figures like Raul Salinas de Gortari, the imprisoned brother of former President Carlos Salinas.
Swiss banking regulators have concluded that several banks there were remiss in failing to identify millions of dollars linked to late Nigerian dictator Gen. Sani Abacha. But Nigeria is still wrestling with Swiss officials to speed the return of more than $640 million in assets linked to Abacha. Those funds were frozen four years ago.
Abacha is believed to have looted more than $2.2 billion from Nigeria's state coffers in the 1990s. British authorities found traces of some $1.3 billion allegedly handled by British banks on behalf of Abacha's family and friends. Money also was discovered in Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and the British offshore banking center of Jersey.
New York-based Citibank came under congressional scrutiny for handling millions of dollars in deposits by officials accused of corruption in Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and Gabon. Citibank officials later acknowledged that the bank's oversight was lax.
Miguel Angel Gonzalez, who heads up international affairs for the Mexican Attorney General's office, said it is often difficult or even impossible to recoup money from foreign accounts.
After six years of haggling over $9 million in bribes deposited by a former Mexican prosecutor in a U.S. bank, he said, the United States turned over less than one-tenth of that amount to Mexico.
Had the U.N. anti-corruption convention been in effect when those funds were seized in 1997, Gonzalez said, ``it would have been a whole different story.''
``This is important for countries that have been bled dry by corruption because that kind of money doesn't get taken to some Asian country or to Nigeria,'' Gonzalez said. ``It usually winds up in some European country, or the United States.''
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