The Home Secretary outlines how the UK and international community are mobilising to recover stolen assets for the people of Ukraine.
Good morning. I am very pleased to be here to open the Ukraine Forum on Asset Recovery. I would like to thank the United States Attorney General Eric Holder for proposing this event, and extend a warm welcome to Ukraine Prosecutor General Oleh Makhnitskyy, the Ukrainian delegation and Daria Kaleniuk, who is from the Anti-Corruption Action Centre and is representing civil society.
I would also like to thank the World Bank and UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative for their crucial support in making this event happen, and their continued leadership on this agenda.
The UK has taken a strong stance on the importance of returning stolen assets to the Ukrainian people. We have played a leading role in promoting the EU sanctions regime to freeze the assets of Ukrainians suspected of misappropriating state funds, allowing for proper investigations and judicial processes to take place.
Cracking down on corruption, and working to recover stolen assets, is an issue which has increasingly gained international importance and is one we must we continue to work hard on.
The events of the Arab Spring a few years ago led to a renewed focus on asset recovery, and under our G8 Presidency last year, the international community came together in Marrakech to show leadership and bolster our collective efforts to recover misappropriated funds.
But our endeavours to help the Arab Spring countries have also demonstrated just how challenging this work is.
Stolen assets are laundered around the world, through shell companies and complex corporate structures, and it can take years of intensive work to trace and identify those funds.
Many of you in this room know just how challenging that work is from first hand experience and I commend your dedication and expertise.
We must work together internationally
International cooperation is central and crucial to any successful asset recovery case. In our globalised economy, laundered money can move across borders in seconds. Investigators must follow that trail, which makes cross-border law enforcement cooperation critical.
That’s why events like this matter so much. I am particularly pleased to see representatives from financial centres and key jurisdictions around the world coming together to assist the Ukrainian authorities.
Collaboration requires political will, as well as technical knowledge of each other’s legal systems. But personal relationships which enable practitioners to pick up the phone and talk directly to a trusted contact when needed, are also vitally important.
So I would urge everyone here today to make the most of this opportunity to hold detailed, case-specific meetings with partners.
I would also urge you to make the most of the assistance offered by international organisations who are present here today.
The UK is taking a strong stance on corruption
Corruption has a deplorable effect on our societies – corroding justice, good governance and prosperity.
And it is an issue the UK is determined to tackle.
The UK is a global financial centre, open for business with the world. It is one of our country’s great strengths, but it brings with it responsibilities: to ensure that we take the appropriate steps to prevent money laundering; and that we act to stop the proceeds of overseas corruption from being hidden here.
During our G8 Presidency, we led international efforts to establish new standards on corporate transparency, and to stop shell companies being used to launder the proceeds of crime and evade taxes.
Recently the government set out how it intends to meet our commitments in practice, with a public register of company beneficial ownership.
And in October last year, we took two steps to transform the UK’s response to serious and organised crime.
First, we launched a new National Crime Agency which has stronger powers and a clear remit to lead and co-ordinate the fight against serious and organised crime, including corruption.
The National Crime Agency has coordinated our law enforcement response to the events in Ukraine, bringing together partners to provide support to the Ukrainian authorities, investigate cases, and build the intelligence picture.
Learning from our experiences on asset recovery during the Arab Spring, officers from the National Crime Agency and the Metropolitan Police, accompanied by Crown Prosecution Service prosecutors, went to the Ukraine to offer support soon after the fall of Yanukovych’s regime.
Secondly, alongside the launch of the National Crime Agency, we published a Serious and Organised Crime Strategy, which includes measures to crack down on those who facilitate serious and organised criminals in using, hiding and moving the proceeds of crime.
In addition, I intend to bring forward legislative measures on asset seizure as soon as Parliamentary time here in the UK allows.
So we know from experience that asset recovery is hard, complex work, which takes years not months to complete.
What you, as practitioners, do here over the next two days will define the future of our work to recover and return assets to the Ukrainian people.
This event, and our on-going work to recover Arab Spring stolen assets, are helping to set a new benchmark for the international community.
It is the tangible manifestation of our shared determination to end the culture of impunity, and prevent our open societies and open economies from being abused by corrupt individuals to launder and hide stolen funds.
I wish you all the best with the forum over the coming days.