By Isaac Aregbesola
Abuja – The U.S. says it is committed and will continue to work closely with Nigeria on recovery and repatriation of stolen assets to the country.
Heather Merritt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law (INL) Enforcement Affairs, said this in a telephonic news conference on Fighting Crime and Corruption in Africa.
The Deputy Assistant Secretary was responding to a question on efforts on the ground by the U.S. to repatriate stolen funds to Africa and specifically to Nigeria.
Merritt said that U.S was not only committed to recovery and repatriation of public assets stolen by corrupt officials but will prevent future corruption from happening in the first place.
“One example of our work together was that we worked together at the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) which the U.S. co-hosted along with the U.K. in December 2017
“This forum sought to strengthen international cooperation on four focused countries where we thought there was an opportunity to make significant progress on asset recovery efforts.
“Nigeria was one of those four focused countries along with Sri Lanka, Tunisia and Ukraine.
“So at this event, which was known as GFAR, we convened law enforcement and asset recovery practitioners from 26 different jurisdictions around the world to consult with one another on specific cases,” she said.
According to Merritt, these meetings allowed investigators and prosecutors working on these types of cases to exchange information, discuss hurdles to the ongoing cases and determine a way forward to address those challenges.
“GFAR ultimately helped to advance several ongoing asset recovery cases including some big ones that affected Nigeria. I also wanted to note, I had a note of how much has actually been,” she said.
She, however, did not mention how much of stolen assets that U.S. has helped to recover for Nigeria.
“It’s a great question and we are certainly working together, but it does take time and we recognise that.
“I want to just add on the broader question of illicit financial flows and asset recovery the U.S. is working.
“We are really committed to recovering public assets stolen by corrupt officials that were stashed abroad and we are proud to be a global leader on this issue,” she said.
According to her, in the past 10 years, the U.S. Department of Justice has restrained more than 3.2 billion dollars in assets that are linked to corruption.
“And more importantly we have returned to their appropriate jurisdictions over 500 million dollars since 2007 and over 200 million dollars of those returns was this year alone.
“What we have learned over the years is that criminals are getting better and better at hiding their assets and hiding their crimes,” she said.
According to her, so these cases are very time consuming and they take a lot of coordination across jurisdictions.
“The State Department’s role in this along with our law enforcement counterparts and partners is that we really facilitate the cooperation amongst the foreign partners.
“And, INL helps to support the asset recovery efforts through capacity building for partner nations like Nigeria, like Kenya, like the countries on the line,” she said.
She said that U.S. was providing capacity building not only critical to recovering stolen assets but to help prevent future corruption from happening in the first place.
“This is by strengthening those institutions that we talked about and we are trying to ensure that the assets being returned are done in a safe and secure way.
“So that they are used appropriately by the government to benefit the people of your country and not vulnerable to falling into the wrong hands a second time,” she said.(NAN)