Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. I am very pleased to welcome you here today at Lancaster House.
I thank our co-host United States Attorney General Eric Holder for being with us today at this event and his commitment to this vital initiative, the World Bank for their important technical support and Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General Oleh Makhnitsky and Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko who are here with us for their valued presence at this immensely difficult time for their country.
I am also grateful to Interior Minister Arsen Avakov who I understand has had to return to Ukraine to help manage the very serious situation there. He has our very strong support. I am looking forward to visiting Ukraine next week.
This Forum on Asset Recovery provides a vital opportunity to forge connections between law enforcement agencies, to share expertise and to agree practical steps to track down assets that were criminally looted from the Ukrainian state by former President Yanukovych and his associates.
Twenty two individuals suspected of embezzlement have already had their assets frozen in the EU, as you know. But we know from our experience of asset recovery after the Arab Spring that moving from freezes to actually returning stolen funds requires rapid, coordinated and widespread international action, so I am very glad to see so many countries represented here today.
The task ahead of us is complex and challenging, but it is essential for three reasons.
First, as a matter of principle, we have a duty to do everything we can to return to the Ukrainian state the huge quantities of funds that Yanukovych and his cronies are thought to have embezzled. These assets should be working to the benefit of the people of Ukraine, not lining the pockets of corrupt former officials.
Second, we must show there is no safe haven for the proceeds of corruption in order to deter those who might be tempted to steal from the public purse in any country in the future.
The people of Ukraine rose up against Yanukovych in large part because corruption and theft of state assets had reached such an appalling level under his leadership. I pay tribute to the many civil society activists, journalists and parliamentarians who worked so hard to bring these abuses to light.
The Ukrainian people deserve our strong support in tackling corruption, strengthening the rule of law and building a more prosperous future for their country. That is why the United Kingdom is supporting projects in Ukraine to improve governance and public financial management, and recovering stolen assets will also make an important contribution to that effort.
And the third reason - we must support the interim Government in Ukraine in its efforts to restore stability, begin the process of reform and prepare for elections on 25 May in the face of enormous pressures and unacceptable actions by the Russian Government even after agreement was reached at Geneva on 17 April to reduce tensions.
The Government of Ukraine has made some determined efforts to implement that agreement. It has collected illegal weapons, removed roadblocks, initiated an amnesty law for protesters and taken an inclusive approach to constitutional reform.
But Russia for its part has done nothing to implement the agreement. On the contrary it has continually called it into question, while mounting huge military exercises on Ukraine’s eastern border and unleashing a continual barrage of propaganda and aggressive rhetoric that can only increase tensions.
And that is why the EU is pressing ahead with additional sanctions and I welcome the new US measures announced yesterday.
It is why the international community must be united in condemning Russia’s illegal violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and why we must be committed in our support for the right of the Ukrainian people to chart their own course in the future.
So, I hope that your combined expertise and resources allow us to make practical progress during this Forum to support the Ukrainian Government in identifying and recovering the assets that rightfully belong to it.
If we are successful in this task, we will be making an important contribution to tackling corruption and to supporting the Ukrainian people in their desire to build a better, more prosperous and stable future. Thank you very much indeed for everything you do.
Find out more about the Ukraine Forum on Asset Recovery
Read the Home Secretary’s speech made at the Forum on Asset Recovery
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