For Egyptians and Tunisians, witnessing their corrupt ex-leaders facing trial for money laundering and the embezzlement of public funds, while also being picked at by the world’s media, may be extremely gratifying.
But even though it is real, it still remains intangible. These politically transitional episodes have not been fully felt by the people of Egypt and Tunisia. They come down to a few headlines in a newspaper, accompanied by a couple of images of old and tired-looking men who used to be country leaders.
Yes, the deposed leaders and their associates have been shamed and named. Yes, it has affected Egypt and Tunisia by leading to a complete government shake up. Yes, it has revealed the financial corruption that took place during their reigns.
But where are the tangible results? I ask this particularly as we are repeatedly bombarded with news of the billions of dollars of embezzled funds belonging to the deposed pair, their family members and their associates. And so we repeatedly cry, “Where’s the money?” and wonder if it will ever come back.
In its plea for countries to work more closely together to recover the corrupt officials’ stolen assets, the World Bank has found that the processes of returning these funds are proving to be a majorly problematic.
“The lengthy process for asset recovery, the low level of activity and the difficulties reported by practitioners suggest that many barriers are still firmly in place,” the World Bank said, referring to countries that have cooperated to close in on the embezzled “Arab Spring assets,” let’s call it.
In its new study titled “Barriers to Asset Recovery,” the World Bank suggests that more resources should be devoted to asset recovery and to training more people to work on asset freezes and asset repatriation requests.
It also said countries should develop trusting relationships, ease banking secrecy laws and relax rules that require criminal convictions before assets can be sent back to countries of origin.
To me, this sounds ideal as many people have been blaming the banks instead. Indeed blaming them would be simpler as we have seen with the global economic meltdown (we could not get enough of bank-blaming then.)
Alas, a bank’s job in this particular situation is to hold money, not determine or question it. The real issue lies with the governments. We’ve seen the United Arab Emirates recently making an aggressive crackdown on illicit money and its sources. It has frozen accounts and funds of “suspicious” Libyans, Egyptians and Tunisians, while also implementing stricter money declaration rules.
Shockingly, the United Nations estimates that up to $40 billion could be lost to corruption in developing countries every year.
And so the hope, the World Bank says, is to identify the barriers to halting financial corruption transfers and make recommendations that would “lead to an increased number of successful asset recovery cases -- which is the ultimate acid test.”
This would help Egypt and Tunisia bring back the billions of dollars believed to be held by their ousted leaders. Then, the countries would feel a tangible difference, perhaps.
Nothing bears a certain concrete assurance like the inflow of money returning to where it rightfully belongs.
(Eman El-Shenawi, a writer at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)