New York’s Initiative, Jakarta’s Commitment

THE Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative was a hot story in the Indonesian media last week. An initiative of the World Bank together with the United Nations Office of Drugs & Crime (UNODC), this program was launched on September 17 at the UN headquarters in New York. Its objective is to assist developing countries to recover assets stolen by corrupt leaders, and to help invest them in effective development programs and thwart safe havens internationally.

The message of this initiative is clear. “There should be no safe haven for those who steal from the poor…and put corrupt leaders on notice that they will not escape the law,” said World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick. Executive Director of the UNODC Antonio Maria Costa added: “From now on it should be harder for kleptocrats to steal the public’s money.”

There is a good reason for forming this initiative. According to World Bank chief governance advisor Joel Hellman in Jakarta, this initiative is a follow-up effort of the UN Convention regarding anticorruption in 2003. This convention contains a declaration of war against corruption, to which 140 countries are signatories, 98 of which have already ratified it. Indonesia did so on September 19, 2006 through Law No. 7/2006.

It is estimated that the amount of money moved internationally as a result of crime, corruption, and tax evasion is between US$1 trillion (Rp9,000 trillion) to US$1.6 trillion (Rp14,400 trillion) annually. This initiative is also inspired by the success of the Philippines, Nigeria, and Peru to recover wealth which was taken out of the country by their former leaders.

The Philippines, after 18 years, was able to recover US$624 million (about Rp5.6 trillion) from former President Ferdinand Marcos from Swiss bank accounts. Peru was able to discover more than US$180 million (about Rp1.62 trillion) which was stolen by former chief of police intelligence Vladimiro Montesinos and deposited in banks in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, and the US. Nigeria was able to find assets of US$505 million (about Rp4.5 trillion) in Switzerland from former President General Sani Abacha.

The success stories in the report do not automatically make this initiative a cure-all for every nation, Indonesia included. One condition of this program is the political will of the country in question. Hellman said that they launched this initiative to see if any countries were interested to work with the UN and the World Bank to recover state assets stolen by corruptors.

If the government wants to recover corrupted money, said Hellman, Indonesia needs to submit a request. Based on this request, the initiative will send a team to meet with representatives from Indonesia to find out what preparations they have made and what expertise they have in hunting down illicit funds.

Later, the two representatives will also discuss a suitable pattern for tracking down assets, including formulating the necessary legal cooperation. This initiative will also design specific training. In other words, it is not the initiative side which hunts down the wealth of corrupt leaders.

Hellman confirmed that the initiative being undertaken by his organization cannot serve as an investigator or prosecutor. Hellman said that, in the end, “Indonesia itself will be able to take back those stolen assets located in other countries such as Singapore or Switzerland.”

Abdul Manan, Hermien Y. Kleden, Budi Riza

Tempo Magazine, No. 04/VIII/Sept 25 - Oct 01, 2007
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