Title

Shady Shipping

Friday, May 24, 2019
9:30am
Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2360
Washington, DC
United States
Understanding Trade-Based Money Laundering
Moderator(s): 
Name: 
Paul Massaro
Title Text: 
Policy Advisor
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Witnesses: 
Name: 
John Cassara
Title: 
Special Agent (retired)
Body: 
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Name: 
Lakshmi Kumar
Title: 
Policy Director
Body: 
Global Financial Integrity
Name: 
David Luna
Title: 
President and CEO
Body: 
Luna Global Networks

Trade-based money laundering (TBML) is the process of disguising the proceeds of crime and moving value through trade transactions in an attempt to legitimize their illicit origins. This highly sophisticated form of money laundering has become a favorite method for transnational criminals, dictators, and terrorists to move ill-gotten gains to new jurisdictions.

This event examined what TBML is, how it works, and why it has become such a ubiquitous method of laundering money. Panelists also discussed the broader interplay of illicit commerce, global corruption, and TBML. Finally, panelists recommended practical steps the United States and non-governmental organizations can take to counter TBML.

David Luna, President and CEO of Luna Global Networks, shared his insights on the dark side of globalization and how it fits into the TBML paradigm. Luna outlined the need to increase understanding of the networks between illicit commerce and money laundering across legal and illegal means through convergence crimes. He spoke to the methodologies of “cleaning dirty money” utilized by kleptocrats, criminal organizations, and terrorist groups, while expressing the importance of tracing money and the value of goods to expose illicit crimes. Luna cited a 2015 World Economic Forum report to support his points, which estimated the value of transnational criminal activities between 8-15 percent of Gross Domestic Product, even by conservative standards, totaling around 80 trillion in the US market.

John Cassara, retired Special Agent of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, spoke about the confusion surrounding TBML, both in understanding and enforcement. He explained that TBML is the largest method of money laundering because of excess ways to commit it: customs fraud, tax evasion, export incentive fraud, evading capitol controls, barter trade, and underground financial systems. Cassara explained how money is transferred under the noses of customs enforcement by undervaluing or overvaluing an invoice of an otherwise legal trade. Cassara asked, “If our highly trained police force can’t catch this, what about the rest of the world?”

Lakshmi Kumar, Policy Director at Global Financial Integrity, described the difficulty with tracking TBML, both domestically and internationally. She outlined how domestic policy and law complicates internal tracking, while the lack of consistent transnational collaboration and information sharing complicates international tracking. Kumar spoke to the components of the trade chain and how hard it is to watch all the mechanisms with due diligence. Explaining the role of banks, Kumar noted that 80 percent of all international trade occurs through open account trading, in which banks aren’t involved or able to offer oversight. This allows for trade profits to be separated into various accounts, tricking the customs and enforcement agencies to enforce a lower level of taxation on the profits and the freights and allowing for TBML.

In summary, even with world class law enforcement, the U.S. legal and financial frameworks needs to catch up in order to adequately combat TBML.

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He described the findings of a recent public opinion poll that paint a very bleak picture of how Slovakians see the current state of democracy in their country. He argued that a main reason for people’s dissatisfaction with democracy has been the perception that politicians do not work in the public’s interest, but in the interest of the oligarchs. He projected that current political trends will lead to the continued slow deterioration of Slovak democracy. To stop this deterioration, Goliaš proposed several short- and long-term measures that he believes would strengthen the rule of law and civil society in Slovakia. András Lőke cited the reports of several influential NGOs to describe the current state of Hungarian democracy. While both Freedom House and Transparency International still give moderate scores to Hungary on the level of freedom and corruption, Hungary is trending downward on every indicator that were examined. Lőke argued that the most telling figures were found in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, which ranked Hungary very poorly based on an assessment of the rule of law and the level of corruption. After identifying the challenges facing Hungary today, Lőke outlined a list of solutions to these problems that would ultimately enable civil society to reassert its role in maintaining transparency and accountability in governance, and generally increase the crucial engagement of civil society in public affairs. Marek Tatała assessed the state of democracy in Poland, arguing that while the country remains a democracy, its current political leadership is weakening rather than strengthening its democratic development. Tatała observed that laws on the constitutional tribunal and on the organization of courts, and the rapid nature of the legislative process, have been harmful to the rule of law in Poland. He underlined the need for a higher level of engagement of the business community in public affairs, and a better quality of education that is more focused on civic engagement and economic literacy. Following up on the three country case studies, Jan Surotchak presented the findings of a recent poll conducted as part of IRI’s Beacon Project. The findings revealed a number of disturbing trends in Central and Eastern Europe, including waning support for core transatlantic institutions; tensions over the nature of European identity; and a deep discontent with socioeconomic challenges in the region. Most importantly, the study confirmed that there is a strong correlation between socioeconomic disparities in these countries and their vulnerabilities to Russian influence. Finally, Jonathan Katz emphasized the need to increase the United States’ bilateral and joint diplomatic engagement and development assistance efforts in the region to support continued democratic and economic transition. More specifically, Katz presented four core strategies that he argues are needed, which included the establishment of joint US-EU mechanisms to strengthen development cooperation and coordination in the entire OSCE region. The panelists agreed that any external development assistance should primarily support the work of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe, with a special focus on communication campaigns. Particular emphasis should be given to the improvement of the education system with a focus on promoting discussions with students. Marek Tatała also argued that given the fairly strong ties of these countries’ leaders with the United States, a stronger voice from the current US Administration regarding negative developments in Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland would be also welcome and effective. With regard to action from Congress, panelists argued that resources for development assistance could come in the form of a congressional authorization bill. Panelists also noted that to be effective, any external development fund that targets NGOs or the civil society must be monitored by donors to avoid corruption. Panelists observed that the Congress could play a particularly important role in providing oversight of such assistance programs and making sure that their spending follow very strict guidelines.

  • Kleptocrats of the Kremlin: Ties Between Business and Power in Russia

    On July 20, 2017, the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe held a staff-led briefing on Russian kleptocracy. Panelists included Brian Whitmore, Author of the Power Vertical Blog and Senior Russia Analyst at Radio Free Europe; Ilya Zaslavskiy, Research Expert at the Free Russia Foundation and Academy Associate with Chatham House; Dr. Anders Aslund, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and Professor at Georgetown University; Marius Laurinavicius, Senior Analyst at the Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis and a former Fellow with the Hudson Institute; and Ambassador Daniel Fried, Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council and former Coordinator on Sanctions Policy at the US Department of State. The discussion, which was covered by C-SPAN 1, was moderated by Paul Massaro, Helsinki Commission Policy Advisor on Economic and Environmental Issues. Whitmore provided an insightful overview, explaining how kleptocracy ensures the control of loyal elites while simultaneously providing the Kremlin with a tool of statecraft internationally. In a compelling argument, he compared corruption with communism, as the Kremlin's use of kleptocracy is reminiscent of the use of communism as a tool for international influence during Soviet times.  Zaslavskiy spoke about how the current regime took the worst but most practical lessons from the Communist party, the KGB, and organized crime, and amalgamated these practices into the corrupt system that exists today. Therefore, he rejected the term “oligarch,” deeming it irrelevant. This notion would assume that businesses act independently, when in reality, their operations depend on the Kremlin's approval. Dr. Aslund, in agreement with Zaslavskiy, concluded that oligarchy is over, as it has been assimilated by the state. He broke down the Kremlin's system of kleptocracy into four different aspects: firstly, the state institutions, the security agencies, and the judiciary; secondly, the state corporations; thirdly, President Putin's circle of loyal cronies who benefit from asset stripping and procurement contracts from the state; and lastly, the West. Western complicity is an essential aspect of Russian kleptocracy, as cronies take advantage of rule of law in the West to secure assets from the East. Dr. Aslund called for tougher measures to ensure transparency and beneficial ownership.  Laurinavicius then joined in to provide a Baltic perspective, arguing that lessons can be learned from the three Baltic States, the front line in the fight against Russian kleptocracy. Laurinavicius argued that Putin's regime uses kleptocratic cronies to achieve goals that the state cannot achieve itself. He emphasized how the Baltic region has been a target of these kleptocratic tactics as early as 1991 in the immediate aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Lastly, Ambassador Fried expanded on tools to combat kleptocracy. He cited journalistic exposure and governmental pressure as two critical aspects of a comprehensive strategy. Naming the Global Magnitsky Act as a legislative vehicle that allows lawmakers to go after Russian human rights abusers, Ambassador Fried called for additional legislation to target individuals complicit in Kremlin's system of kleptocracy. Ambassador Fried ended the panelists' testimonies on a hopeful note: "I do not believe that Russia is doomed to live forever its worst history. I don’t accept the notion of a civilizational divide. In Russian history, Russia does, when it fails at external aggression, turn to internal reform, and has sometimes been successful. And the period of Russian history we think of as the most successful, the period that gave us world-class literature and art and music, and a rapidly developing economy, and the beginning of a more modern economic system, came as a result of its – the failure of its aggression and failure in various wars – Crimean War, Russo-Japanese War. I mention this because it is important to remember what it is we are trying to achieve. We are not trying to achieve a weakening of Russia. We are trying to achieve a defeat of Putinist Russia, the better to have a better relationship with that better Russia."

  • A Hazy Crisis: Illicit Cigarette Smuggling in the OSCE Region

    On Wednesday, July 19, 2017, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a hearing on illicit cigarette smuggling in the OSCE region. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) presided over the hearing. Witnesses included Dr. Louise Shelley, Director of the Terrorism, Crime, and Corruption Center and George Mason University; Professor David Sweanor, adjunct professor of law at the University of Ottawa; and Mr. Marc Firestone, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Phillip Morris International (PMI). In his opening statement, Chairman Wicker outlined the significant threat to global security and economic prosperity the illicit cigarette trade poses. “Ongoing illicit [cigarette] trade helps fund terrorist activities, it fosters corruption, and it undermines the rule of law,” Chairman Wicker said. He continued his remarks by discussing how the illicit cigarette trade affects both hard security and economic issues in the OSCE region: two of the Helsinki Final Act’s three principal dimensions. Dr. Shelley, the first of the witnesses to testify, reiterated the Chairman’s assertion that the illicit cigarette trade represented a serious national security threat, and highlighted the impunity of cigarette smugglers as a core concern. “There has been a problem of a culture of impunity ... It’s not just criminals, it’s not just terrorists, but it’s high-level officials that are not just in policing or in the borders, but at the heads of national governments that are involved in this,” she said. She also lamented the lack of an organized legal response to these crimes and argued that there must be more cooperation between private companies and national governments to curb this illicit trade. Professor Sweanor focused on the economic aspects of illicit cigarette smuggling. He argued that governments should venture to undercut the economic viability of the illicit cigarette trade, by targeting demand for cigarettes. “Give people alternatives to the sorts of illicit products that they’re buying now,” he said, “if you don’t give people alternatives to cigarettes as a product, the alternative they’re going to find is illicit cigarettes.” The third witness, Mr. Firestone, echoed Dr. Shelley’s recommendation for greater public-private collaboration and reaffirmed Phillip Morris International’s commitment to combat illicit cigarette smuggling. “PMI doesn’t make or enforce anti-smuggling laws. We don’t police borders. We can’t tell other companies what to do…There has to be an integrated, cooperative, comprehensive approach,” he said. Answering a question about the role of new media companies in the illicit cigarette trade, Dr. Shelley argued for greater cooperation between U.S. government agencies and these new media firms in order to curb the illicit trade of cigarettes. Chairman Wicker and the witnesses also discussed the process of buying illicit cigarettes and what strategies EU and OSCE national governments can follow to further stem this market.

  • Democracy in Central & Eastern Europe Focus of Upcoming Helsinki Commission Briefing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: DEMOCRACY IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE: RENEWING THE PROMISE OF DEMOCRATIC TRANSITIONS Wednesday, July 26, 2017 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM Capitol Visitors Center Room SVC-215 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission In 1990, at a moment of historic transition, the countries of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe adopted a watershed agreement recognizing the relationship between political pluralism and market economies. To advance both, they committed to fundamental principles regarding democracy, free elections, and the rule of law.  In recent years, however, concerns have emerged about the health of the democratic transition in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in the face of ongoing governance challenges and persistent corruption. At this briefing, speakers will examine the current state of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe and analyze efforts to address the region’s challenges.  They will also discuss the declaration adopted on June 1 by civil society representatives, members of business communities, and others, which seeks to reinvigorate the region’s democratic trajectory, support democratic and economic reform, and strengthen the transatlantic partnership. The following panelists are scheduled to speak: Andrew Wilson, Managing Director, Center for International Private Enterprise Peter Golias, Director, Institute for Economic and Social Reforms, Slovakia Andras Loke, Chair, Transparency International, Hungary Marek Tatala, Vice-President, Civil Development Forum, Poland Additional comments will be provided by: Jan Surotchak, Regional Director for Europe, International Republican Institute Jonathan Katz, Senior Resident Fellow, German Marshall Fund

  • Helsinki Commission Announces Briefing on Kleptocracy in Russia

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: KLEPTOCRATS OF THE KREMLIN: TIES BETWEEN BUSINESS AND POWER IN RUSSIA Thursday, July 20, 2017 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM Dirksen Senate Office Building Room G11 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission Eighteen years after he first took power, Vladimir Putin rules a Russia increasingly characterized by censorship, political repression, and human rights violations.  A central feature of Putin’s authoritarian regime is sprawling corruption. This corruption undermines the legitimacy of public institutions domestically and internationally via an opaque network of interlocutors who enable assets to be stolen from the Russian people and hidden abroad. While the president is the primary beneficiary, the Kremlin’s brand of kleptocracy depends on a loyal group of cronies, who acquire untold wealth by ensuring that state institutions follow Kremlin directives, and that private businesses play along or stay out of the way. The briefing will examine the dynamics of Putin’s closest circle in order to establish who most strengthens and benefits from his rule. Additionally, briefers will analyze how these cronies advance Putin’s geopolitical goals and interests. The following panelists are scheduled to speak: Brian Whitmore, Senior Russia Analyst, Radio Free Europe Ilya Zaslavskiy, Research Expert, Free Russia Foundation Dr. Anders Aslund, Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council Marius Laurinavicius, Senior Analyst, Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis Ambassador Daniel Fried, Distinguished Fellow, Atlantic Council

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Illicit Cigarette Smuggling

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: A HAZY CRISIS: ILLICIT CIGARETTE SMUGGLING IN THE OSCE REGION Wednesday, July 19, 2017 9:30 AM Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 106 Live Webcast: http://www.senate.gov/isvp/?type=live&comm=csce&filename=csce071917 The global illicit tobacco trade costs governments around the globe approximately $40 billion to $50 billion annually. The U.S. Department of State classifies illicit cigarette smuggling as low-risk, high-reward behavior for traffickers; they are regularly able to avoid detection and punishment while bringing in millions of dollars. This money is frequently used to fund other criminal activities such as human trafficking, drug trafficking, and terrorism. One of the most problematic regions for cigarette smuggling globally is the OSCE region. For example, studies estimate that €10.2 billion ($11.64 billion) is lost every year to this criminal activity in the European Union alone, where counterfeit cigarettes are particularly prevalent and account for 30 percent of articles detained by EU customs. Hubs of illicit activity exist in regions such as Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, where large quantities of cigarettes are produced and then illicitly trafficked through transit countries. Western Europe’s high cigarette taxes create demand for illicit alternatives, and transnational organized criminal networks and terrorist groups have seized upon this opportunity. The hearing will examine the issue of illicit cigarette smuggling in the OSCE region with the goal of understanding the threats it poses and how best to respond. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Louise Shelley, Director, Terrorism, Transnational Crime, and Corruption Center, George Mason University David Sweanor, Adjunct Professor of Law, University of Ottawa Marc Firestone, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Phillip Morris International  

  • The Romanian Anti-Corruption Process: Successes and Excesses

    Corruption is an issue of particular concern to the United States and the OSCE because of the threat it poses to security, economic development and human rights. Romania has a history of combating corruption since the fall of Communism, and to this day struggles to maintain transparency in its government institutions and businesses. The fight against corruption is the modern arena for the protection of democratic institutions and freedoms, which for Romania means the strengthening of its institutions and rule of law. The U.S. Helsinki Commission’s hearing on June 14, 2017, focused on Romania’s anti-corruption process, examining progress as well as recommendation for the United States to help support these goals.   “Romania’s anti-corruption efforts have garnered international attention and have been held up as an example for other countries, such as Ukraine,” observed Chairman Wicker. “We want those efforts to be successful. In holding this hearing today, we hope to support those working to fight against corruption in a way that is consistent with the rule of law and strengthens the democracy Romanians have worked so hard to build.” Witnesses at the hearing included Ambassador Marc Gitenstein, former U.S. Ambassador to Romania from 2009 to 2012 and a partner at leading global law firm, Mayer Brown; Ms. Heather Conley, Senior Vice President for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic, and Director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies; Mr. David Clark, a British foreign policy commentator and consultant with Shifting Grounds; and Mr. Philip Stephenson, Chairman of the Freedom Group and former partner of the International Equity Partners.  Witnesses overwhelmingly stressed the need for continued anti-corruption work in Romania and made recommendations for strengthening and improving those efforts. In his opening statement, Ambassador Gitenstein conveyed his optimistic view of Romanian anticorruption efforts, and pointed to the recent mass demonstration in January of this year—the largest in Romania since 1989—as evidence of strong public support for continued progress. In this regard, he said Romania was a model for the region, and continues to meet benchmarks set by the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) of the EU - a special monitoring mechanism established by the EU as a condition for Romania’s accession. Ms. Conley characterized the fight against corruption as “a matter of national security.”  While echoing Ambassador Gitenstein’s optimism, she underlined that Romania is not done with its fight against corruption. She stated that the United States decreased the amount of assistance to Romania after the country’s accession to the EU and NATO, suggested that this was a mistake. “This is what leaving the policy playing field looks like,” Ms. Conley argued. She warned that allowing corruption to spread and create weaknesses within Romanian institutions would allow for future exploitation by Russia. Mr. David Clark expressed concern regarding several areas of Romania’s anti-corruption measures, which he said had been tainted by the politicization of justice, collusion between prosecutors and the executive branch, intelligence agency influence over the process, lack of judicial independence and other abuses of the process. He doubted the accuracy of the European Union’s CVM progress reports due to the Union’s “epic capacity for wishful thinking,” as evidenced by how slow the EU has been to respond to the serious deterioration of democratic standards in Hungary and Poland. He pointed to several troubling human rights violations in Romania and urged the Helsinki Commission to ask hard questions of the State Department and support better reporting on corruption issues in the annual State Department Country Reports on Human Rights. Mr. Phil Stephenson described his personal experience with the Romanian judicial system and his ongoing investigation by DICOTT, an antiterrorism organization in Romania, stating that “the fight against corruption itself has been corrupted.” He appreciated the attention that the Commission was bringing to the issue of corruption in Romania and argued that continued attention will protect against deficiencies in the anti-corruption process. Note: The unofficial transcript includes a Romanian translation.

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Romanian Anti-Corruption Process

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: THE ROMANIAN ANTI-CORRUPTION PROCESS: SUCCESSES AND EXCESSES Wednesday, June 14, 2017 9:30 AM Senate Visitors Center (SVC) Room 212-210 Live Webcast: http://www.senate.gov/isvp/?type=live&comm=csce&filename=csce061417 Since the fall of Communism, Romania’s greatest challenge has been the fight against corruption. This fight has largely succeeded, with powerful national-level prosecutors (the National Anticorruption Directorate) getting public support and scoring large numbers of convictions ranging from the level of local politicians to former Prime Ministers. However, two worrying trends have developed recently. First, in what was seen as an attempt to exempt government officials from prosecution, a move by the government to pardon government officials whose abuse of office caused damages of less than $47,000 led to the largest mass protests since 1989. Second, there are indications that some elements of the Romanian state, including possibly the security services, are using the necessary and popular fight against corruption as a pretext, in a few cases, to punish political opponents and expropriate business interests. The hearing will examine the current state of the Romanian anti-corruption process with goal of understanding its successes and excesses and how best to respond. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Ambassador Mark Gitenstein, Special Counsel, Mayer Brown Heather Conley, Senior Vice President, Center for Strategic and International Studies David Clark, Foreign Policy Commentator and Consultant Philip Stephenson, Chairman, Freedom Capital

  • Russia’s Weaponization of Corruption (and Western Complicity)

    By Paul Massaro, policy advisor and Amelie Rausing, intern Russia’s weaponization of corruption—its export of corrupt practices via the abuse of western legal and financial loopholes in order to further its geopolitical goals—has stimulated anti-American sentiment in Europe and galvanized extremist forces on both sides of the Atlantic. While Moscow pushes its anti-globalization narrative, it is simultaneously taking advantage of globalization to export its own version of crony capitalism to many countries in the OSCE region. The Russian brand of corruption thrives off of globalization and depends on access to the global financial system. Under this model, weak property rights and lack of rule of law support a corrupt system at home, where markets are distorted and courts are politicized. State funds are looted and assets are acquired through corporate raiding and asset stripping. Cronies then siphon off national funds to safe havens outside of former Soviet countries. Offshored money can be used to buy real estate, education, and health care in the United States and in Europe. It can also be used back home, to finance rigged elections, support local political figures, reward loyal cronies, and fund projects strategically important for geopolitical goals. Stolen money can also buy influence and keep foreign governments friendly. In the meantime, popular discontent brews domestically. Western politicians often argue that globalization undermines corruption and authoritarianism. In reality, that is not the whole story. The emergence of a parallel, opaque, financial system that allows dictators to anonymously and untraceably funnel money to the West is one of the direst consequences of an increasingly globalized world. European and American lawyers, bankers, lobbyists, and accountants provide services that facilitate and benefit from the laundering of stolen assets. Illicit wealth is then invested in real estate in cities like London, New York, and Miami. In many cases, victims are well aware of the West’s complicity in funneling off their hard-earned taxes and state budgets. Their sense of powerlessness is further fortified when the United States and European countries fail to trace and recover funds that have vanished in the global financial system. It strengthens the sense of a culture of impunity for grand corruption, a public setback that can then be exploited by extremist voices. In Russia, “Londongrad” is widely known as the capitol of Russia’s stolen wealth. Furthermore, in the digital era, stolen assets are flaunted on social media for everyone to see. Last year, reporters from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Novaya Gazeta established that a 280-plus foot super-yacht named St. Princess Olga belonged to Putin crony and Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin after examining the social media accounts of his rumored girlfriend, Olga Rozhkova. While the exact price of the yacht is unknown, it is estimated to be around $190 million. At best, the United States and other Western countries are accused of facilitating the looting of corrupt countries. At worst, they drive and benefit from the transfer of financial assets from the East to the West. Disdain of the West becomes especially contagious when people like Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny start to express frustration with Western complicity in money laundering. It is bad news when freedom fighters and dissidents, traditional allies of the United States, start to question the West’s commitment to democratic development. The failure to return ill-gotten assets, especially when they have been invested in the U.S. economy, diminishes the United States’ democratic legitimacy and America’s claim to be a champion of freedom. The perception of a hypocritical West with sham values is then exploited by opportunist politicians and media, who egg on anti-American sentiment with this carefully constructed narrative about globalization. This narrative fuels extremism and terrorism and it is in the United States’ national interest to encounter it. The Helsinki Commission recently investigated one aspect of this phenomenon in a staff-level briefing titled, “Countering Corruption in the OSCE Region: Returning Ill-Gotten Assets and Closing Safe Havens.” This briefing demonstrated that strengthening mechanisms for repatriation and accountability in the financial sector needs to be a priority. When these illicit assets are safeguarded in places where democratic governments have some leverage then it is important to use it to ensure the responsible return of funds for the benefit of victims. To avoid looking hypocritical, financial organizations and law firms that enable the looting cannot profit from the repatriation process. There are many different methods required to combat corruption and responsible asset recovery might not seem like the most critical at first glance. However, it is an essential step for preventing future corruption. Recovered assets can be invested in the rule of law and aspects of civil society that serve as corruption watchdogs. Responsible and transparent repatriation has the potential to empower these watchdog organizations, strengthening the backbone of democratic development.

  • Countering Corruption in the OSCE Region: Returning Ill-Gotten Assets and Closing Safe Havens

    The World Bank estimates that twenty to forty billion dollars are stolen from developing countries every year. The majority of stolen funds are never found, and even if they are, recovering stolen assets and repatriating victims is a complicated process. The process often involves many different countries with different legal frameworks and financial structures. On June 1, 2017, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing on asset recovery in the OSCE region. Ill-gotten assets from the region frequently end up in money laundering safe havens in the West, where Western financial services enable the safeguarding of stolen funds. Briefers included Charles Davidson, executive director of the Kleptocracy Initiative at the Hudson Institute; Brian Campbell, legal advisor for the Cotton Campaign; and Ken Hurwitz, senior managing legal officer on anti-corruption with the Open Society Justice Initiative. The briefing was moderated by Paul Massaro, economic and environmental policy advisor with the Helsinki Commission.  Panelists at the briefing discussed methods to achieve responsible repatriation for grand corruption. After tracing and freezing assets, Western authorities are faced with the dilemma of how to return assets stolen by kleptocrats to the people of that country. A critical part of anti-corruption work, successful repatriation can empower civil society and democratic development in affected countries. In turn, civil society and the judiciary can play critical roles in fighting and exposing grand corruption. Panelists drew comparisons between the challenges associated with returning assets stolen by the Karimov regime in Uzbekistan and the successful case in Kazakhstan, where $115 million in disputed assets was returned to the people through the BOTA Foundation. While grand corruption takes on many different forms, most corrupt countries in the OSCE region are former members of the Soviet Union and have imported Moscow’s own brand of corruption. Panelists discussed how the lack of transparency and accountability in Western financial systems facilitate the looting of former Soviet countries. Additionally, they argued for the United States’ national interest in countering corruption and ensuring responsible repatriation.

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