x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Long road to recover the wealth of Arab Spring nations

Recovery of assets looted by former dictators in Arab Spring countries is proving a slow process, which is eroding trust in new governments.

Efforts to recover ill-gotten assets connected to former leaders of Arab Spring countries are proceeding, but the slow pace is frustrating many.

Spain said on Thursday that it had seized €28 million (Dh135.3m) in assets linked to the former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, including five luxury cars and nine properties in Marbella and the leafy Madrid suburb of La Moraleja.

Since revolutions overthrew the governments of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, the European Union has frozen assets of 67 people linked to the misappropriation of state funds in Egypt and Tunisia.

Last month, the EU said it had approved the release of funds to Egypt and Tunisia frozen by sanctions against Mubarak and Ben Ali.

Egypt's Illicit Gain Authority said in September that it had received 597 reports of corruption since January of last year. Six of the cases have been referred to criminal courts for trial.

But asset recovery had been a slow process because of the complexity involved in tracking down assets in multiple countries overseas, said Arwa Hassan, regional outreach manager at Transparency International.

"Asset recovery really needs the cooperation of a lot of different stakeholders, not just political will," she said. "Often the judiciary isn't sufficiently independent in these countries and there may be conflicts of interest which may prevent some of those in the judiciary ruling in a certain direction."

It also requires cooperation and information sharing from offshore financial centres where many illicit assets were managed, Mr Hassan added.

But trust in government was likely to remain low throughout the typically drawn-out process of investigating and prosecuting former regime insiders, she said.

In the meantime, some unorthodox methods of recovering assets have become lightning rods for criticism.

Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's president, established an account at the country's central bank intended for "repentant" businessmen wishing to donate ill-gotten gains or for those savers looking to donate funds to the country's redevelopment. The idea was lampooned by the public.

ghunter@thenational.ae