The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), in coordination with the Belgian Central Office for Seized and Confiscated Assets, hosted asset recovery officials from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Libya, Moldova and Ukraine to discuss new modalities being used worldwide to improve the seizure of assets linked to organized criminal activity and corruption. Support for the Libyan Delegation was provided through a project co-implemented with UNODC. The two-day forum was held on 30 November and 1 December 2021 in Brussels, Belgium, and was financed by the European Union.
According to reports issued by UNICRI in 2021, more than 29 billion euros in illicit financial flows circulate in the European Union’s Eastern Partnership region every year. In some countries, the figure is at least one billion euros per year. UNICRI highlights that if only 10% of these sums were seized and confiscated, this could fund salaries for thousands of doctors, nurses and teachers, as well as address other high-priority development needs in the affected countries.
UNICRI brought together asset recovery practitioners to discuss modern techniques to accelerate the seizure of such assets. This included closed-door discussions on increased use of civil confiscation and other non-penal mechanisms to target illicitly-obtained assets. The experts also highlighted new modalities being deployed to capture cryptocurrency and other virtual assets which are linked to criminality.
Key countries, such as Ukraine, have recently adopted civil confiscation mechanisms, which dramatically reduce the process for confiscation from a period of years to a period of months. Other participating countries have streamlined the means by which they trace illicitly-obtained assets, such as by establishing central offices that house access to multiple national databases, including vehicle registries, land registries, tax information and banking information – this allows authorities to quickly identify the assets held by those suspected of being involved in criminal activity.
The importance of recovering illicitly-obtained assets has been underlined by the Director of UNICRI, Antonia Maria De Meo:
Organized crime, and the illicit money flowing from it, is crippling economies in numerous countries. These illicit financial flows mean fewer jobs, schools and hospitals. Targeted and tougher measures are needed to go after the money. Events such as this one show a more concerted effort to not just follow the money, but to pro-actively seize and confiscate it with the ultimate aim of contributing to development priorities.