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February 26, 2021

Countries that recovered their stolen wealth

National

February 26, 2021

LAHORE: While Pakistan still continues to urge the world to control the flow of ill-gotten wealth, a few developing and under-developed countries have practically gone a long way during the last two decades to recover their stolen wealth parked and stashed in off-shore tax havens.

For the second time during the last five months on Thursday, Prime Minister Imran Khan was again seen and heard talking about this grave issue. Addressing a United Nations-led virtual moot in New York, the prime minister urged upon the international community to take steps to counter illicit flows of money, but as stated in the introductory paragraph of this story, there are a few much poorer and less resourceful governments than Pakistan, which have succeeded in recovering their looted money against all odds.

According to the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative, a joint project of the World Bank Group and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Philippines has recovered more than US$1 billion of money, mostly from Switzerland, stolen by one of its leaders, Ferdinand Marcos. In the case of the Philippines, this is an on-going process for the last 21 years, and all successive regimes after the ouster of Marcos, have diligently stuck to this task with a lot of determination having fought long and expensive legal battles abroad with exemplary grit, resilience and perseverance.

By 2007, Peru, had recovered over $174 million, from jurisdictions such as Switzerland, Cayman Islands and the United States, reportedly stolen by Vladimiro Montesinos, former long-standing head of country's intelligence service under President Alberto Fujimori. In Nigeria’s case, stolen wealth to the tune of $700 million, which was frozen and forfeited by the Swiss authorities, has been returned to the country after a lengthy litigation. A former Nigerian leader, Sani Abacha, was accused by his political adversaries of hoodwinking the national coffers and robbing his compatriots.

In 2006 and 2007, the British and South African authorities had also helped Nigeria recover US$17.7 million of the illicit gains obtained by the governor of its oil-rich Bayelsa state. A Dec 17, 2019, report of “Al-Jazeera” had mentioned how Angola had recovered more than $5 billion in stolen assets. In Pakistan's case, Premier Imran Khan has literally been pleading on global platforms like the United Nations-led high-level panel on “International Financial Accountability, Transparency, and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Development Agenda” that stolen assets of developing countries, which have been deposited with safe offshore tax havens particularly, must be returned to the poorer nations that have been robbed with impunity by their rulers and other powerful men. He has been insisting since Sept 24, 2020, that a staggering amount of at least one trillion dollars is being taken out annually by white-collar criminals, adding that an amount between US$20 billion and $40 billion is in the form of bribes and kickbacks received by the corrupt elements at the helm of affairs.

The Pakistani head of government has repeatedly stated in the past that while $7 trillion in stolen assets was parked in these safe tax haven destinations, a sum of $500 billion to 600 billion was lost each year in tax avoidance by multinational companies. On Sept 24, 2020, Imran had urged the world by saying: "This bleeding of the poor and developing countries must stop. The international community must adopt decisive actions.” A month later, on Oct 24, 2020, Pakistan had again urged the international community to ensure that the stolen assets of developing countries were returned to them.

In a statement before the Sixth Committee, a primary legal forum of the UN General Assembly, Pakistan, had demanded mandatory frameworks to counter ill-practices, such as profit shifting to avoid taxation. The Pakistan’s representative attending this moot had opined: “The figures of stolen wealth from corrupt practices, including bribery, tax evasion and money laundering, are staggering — about $2.6 trillion annually.”

Just days earlier, a United Nations panel had reported: “Governments forfeit up to $600 billion in yearly tax revenue to offshore profit-shifting by multinational companies, on top of illicit monetary flows that ravage the economies of developing countries.”