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New global plan to recover stolen assets

Do Not UseDo Not Use 12/05/2016
David Cameron © Getty Images David Cameron

A global plan to help recover stolen assets has been announced.

Anti-corruption conference © Getty Images Anti-corruption conference

The Global Forum for Asset Recovery will bring together governments and law enforcement agencies to discuss returning assets to Nigeria, Ukraine, Sri Lanka and Tunisia.

The meeting will be held in the US next year, co-hosted with the UK, and supported by the UN and the World Bank.

David Cameron made the announcement at a global anti-corruption summit in London on Thursday.

It was being hailed as the first of its kind, bringing together governments, business and other organisations.

However, it was overshadowed by controversy after it emerged that Mr Cameron had described Nigeria and Afghanistan as "fantastically corrupt", while meeting the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury while telling them of the summit.

Nigeria's President Buhari made no reference to the comments while sitting next to Mr Cameron at the opening of the conference.

The Nigerian leader said the international community must come up with ways of getting rid of safe havens and ensuring a better return of assets.

"When it comes to tackling corruption the international community has looked the other way for far too long," he said.

Property crackdown

There has been concern recently that the UK, particularly London, had become a place where rich foreigners could buy properties but hide their true ownership.

Mr Cameron said that to stop that happening, foreign firms which own property in the UK must declare their assets in a public register.

Downing Street said Mr Cameron's plans would include those who already owned UK property as well as those seeking to buy it.

It said the register would mean "corrupt individuals and countries will no longer be able to move, launder and hide illicit funds through London's property market, and will not benefit from our public funds".

It said foreign companies owned about 100,000 properties in England and Wales and that more than 44,000 of these were in London.

Five other countries including France, Kenya, the Netherlands, Nigeria and Afghanistan have also pledged to launch public registers of true company ownership. Australia, New Zealand, Jordan, Indonesia, Ireland and Georgia announced initial steps towards similar arrangements.

Organisations such as the World Bank, OECD and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also attended the summit.

But critics say the UK's overseas territories and Crown dependencies also need to be more transparent.

Tax havens

Tax havens with UK links, including Bermuda and the Cayman Islands were represented, but the British Virgin Islands was not at the summit. Neither was FIFA, football's governing body, which is at the centre of a large bribery scandal.

The British Virgin Islands has not yet signed up to the automatic sharing of it register, but the Prime Minister defended Britain's overseas territories saying they had come a long way.

Jersey, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Anguilla and the Isle of Man have agreed to join a group of several dozen nations that share their registers with one another.

Alan Bell, the chief minister of the Isle of Man, which is a Crown dependency, said progress could not be made unless the US did more and tackled its own tax havens such as the state of Delaware.

Mr Kerry said this month President Obama's administration had announced a set of financial regulations designed to force companies to disclose more information about their owners.

Analysis: Abdullahi Kaura Abubakar, BBC Africa, Abuja

Rampant and widespread corruption has denied the majority of Nigerians the basic things of life, even though the country is Africa's biggest oil producer.

Many cannot afford three square meals a day, let alone send their children to school. This has put them in such a desperate situation that they are easily lured into violence for the promise of a few dollars.

Many Nigerians suffering from extreme poverty find solace in religion and are at the mercy of religious leaders or teachers who manipulate them for selfish reasons.

In the case of Islamist militant group Boko Haram, their leaders are quite knowledgeable and relatively wealthy but the followers are very poor and at the mercy of such leaders.

Furthermore, the fight against Boko Haram was hampered in recent years when $15bn meant for the purchase of arms to fight the insurgents was allegedly stolen by corrupt officials.

There are also plans for a new anti-corruption co-ordination centre in London and a wider corporate offence for executives who fail to prevent fraud or money laundering inside their companies.

Mr Cameron said they were looking for greater transparency and were introducing a code of conduct for professionals such as accountants, solicitors and estate agents who enabled corruption, either knowingly or unknowingly.

He wanted to see how assets could be recovered, with legislation being introduced in 21 additional countries.

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