Non-conviction-based asset recovery is a powerful tool for recovering illicit wealth, says the president of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offenses Commission (ICPC)said Bolaji Owasanoye.
Mr Owasanoye said it also helped deprive looters “of the fruits of wrongdoing”.
The approach is to recover the proceeds of crimes through court orders without necessarily securing the conviction or establishing the guilt of the looters or anyone associated with the crime in court.
He said this at the ongoing 12th Commonwealth Regional Conference for Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Africa, in Kigali, Rwanda.
The theme of the conference is “Combating Corruption for Good Governance and Sustainable Development in Africa,” according to a statement released Thursday by ICPC spokesperson Azuka Ogugwa.
According to the chairman of the ICPC, confiscating assets without conviction would deprive corrupt people of the use of anything they have stolen from public coffers.
In his presentation entitled “The Effects of Non-Conviction Asset Recovery in the Fight against Corruption”, M. indicated that civil forfeiture was a viable alternative to criminal forfeiture.
“Anti-Corruption Agencies (ACAs) need to improve their investigative capacity, particularly asset tracing, to ensure maximum impact from asset forfeiture without conviction.
“Serious efforts must be made to address the dysfunctional criminal justice system while better public education is needed on the usefulness of civil forfeiture for anti-corruption efforts,” said Professor Owasanoye, former Executive Secretary of the Presidential Advisory Committee. against corruption (PACAC).
He listed the benefits of non-conviction-based asset forfeiture, including the ability to conclude proceedings quickly, the liberty of the person in possession of the asset not being an issue as it does not violate fundamental rights or constitutional guarantees, and the procedure being against property rather than persons.
The ICPC Chairman further stated that stripping criminals of their ill-gotten wealth is adequate punishment to deter others, as recognized and encouraged by the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).
Despite its many benefits, Mr. Owasanoye acknowledged that asset recovery has limitations in the fight against corruption.
Nigeria is probably one of the most politically active states on the issue of asset recoveries, with the government able to confiscate, freeze and recover large amounts of assets over the past three years, with officials claiming to have recovered million.
Still, the success was better despite the lack of data transparency around recovered assets.
The ICPC and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have carried out significant recovery of looted assets through non-conviction proceedings, particularly since 2015.
But many observers have expressed concerns about the lack of data transparency around recovered assets.
The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, issued a regulation in 2019 giving his office the power to manage assets recovered by all relevant federal government agencies.
In November 2020, the federal government, also through the AGF office, established a 22-member committee to dispose of all assets forfeited to the federal government within six months.
These efforts were aimed at ensuring transparency and effective coordination in the management of the recovered assets, but have not achieved the intended goal, as the activities of the relevant committees and departments continue to be shrouded in secrecy.
Limitations on Non-Conviction Asset Recovery
Mr. Owasanoye, a professor and senior lawyer, also identified some limitations of non-conviction asset recovery as an anti-corruption measure.
One of them, he says, is the public perception that it is not a deterrent without imprisonment.
He said: “limit the usefulness of non-conviction asset recovery when the offender remains in public service to accumulate other illicit assets; withholding other assets undermines public confidence when not all illicit assets are found, and asset recovery without conviction and imprisonment is not perceived by the public as a complete deterrent to illicit behavior .
The anti-corruption boss also outlined three activities that member countries of the African Union should undertake in the fight against corruption and ensuring effective asset recovery.
Actions, according to him, include: “Enforcing the standards of the Common African Position on Asset Recovery (CAPAR), implementing the recommendations of the Thabo Mbeki report and lobbying for a model asset recovery model are part of the initiatives.
“The African Union Heads of Government should implement the low-hanging fruits of the Mbeki Group recommendations, namely: establish specialized units for confiscation/asset recovery at the local level and within the the AU; and comply with Article 4 (1) and Article 20 (1) of the AUCPCC, by providing the information required in accordance with the decision of the Executive Council of the AU by designating a national authority and criminalizing the corrupt acts.
“African Union Heads of Government should combine diplomatic, civil and criminal confiscation mechanisms for asset recovery and not just diplomatic measures, as well as establish transparent mechanisms for the management and use of returned assets .
“They should also demand transparent parameters and a timeline for the return of assets to Africa, including stolen items.
“It’s about eliminating ‘musical chairs’ in asset returns. In additionAU Heads of Government should advocate for the application of common governance standards on the use of returned assets.
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