Washington, February 5, 2010–The World Bank Group welcomes the continued efforts of the Swiss Government to hand over to Haiti millions of stolen assets held by the Duvalier family in Switzerland, money that could be used for development purposes following the devastating earthquake in the Caribbean country.
The Swiss authorities announced Wednesday that the Federal Supreme Court had ordered the release of US$5.7 million to the family of Haiti's ex-dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. Whilst upholding judgments of lower courts on facts, the court decided that funds would have to be released to the Duvalier family because the statute of limitations had expired. Following the announcement, the Swiss Government, the Federal Council, immediately ordered the assets to be frozen on a constitutional basis.
“We welcome the decision by the Swiss authorities to freeze the looted funds. They should be returned to Haiti, especially now when the humanitarian needs have increased after the earthquake,” said World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. “This case highlights the technical difficulties countries face when dealing with stolen assets, and the importance of undertaking ambitious and creative legal actions by all financial centers to overcome this problem.”
In its written decision, the Supreme Court advised that the legal constraints that hindered the return of assets in this case would have to be addressed by strengthening legislation. The Swiss authorities have indicated they are already working on legislative proposals aimed at improving the legal framework. Solutions may be found in extending the statutes of limitations on international corruption cases and facilitating the process of legal assistance between national authorities.
“The legal challenges in the Duvalier case are shared by many other jurisdictions,” said Okonjo-Iweala. “We need pro-active global action to set up a more flexible international framework on asset recovery. Recovering and repatriating looted assets to countries where they belong sends a far more powerful message than aid.”
At the request of the government of Haiti, the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR), a joint effort of the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), has provided technical assistance to help further the freezing and restitution of the Duvalier assets.
The StAR Initiative was launched in September, 2007. It emphasizes that developed and developing countries share a joint responsibility in tackling corruption, and that international collaboration and collective action are needed to facilitate asset recovery and prevent asset theft.