Non-conviction-based assets recovery is a potent tool for recovery of illicit wealth, the chair of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), Bolaji Owasanoye, has said.
Mr Owasanoye said it also helps to deny looters “the fruits of wrong-doing”.
The approach involves recovering proceeds of crimes through court orders without necessarily securing the conviction or establishing the guilt of the looters or anyone associated with the crime in court.
He said this at the ongoing 12th Commonwealth Regional Conference for Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Africa, Kigali, Rwanda.
The theme of the conference is ‘Combating Corruption for Good Governance and Sustainable Development in Africa,’ according to a statement issued by ICPC’s spokesperson, Azuka Ogugwa, on Thursday.
According to the ICPC chairman, non-conviction-based asset forfeiture would deny corrupt persons the use of whatever they had stolen from the public coffers.
In his presentation titled, ‘The Effects of Non-Conviction Based Asset Recovery in Fighting Corruption,’ Mr advised that civil forfeiture was a viable alternative to criminal forfeiture.
“The Anti-Corruption Agencies (ACAs) need to improve capacity in investigation especially asset tracing to ensure maximum impact of non-conviction based asset forfeiture.
“Serious efforts should be made to address the dysfunction in the criminal justice system while improved public education is required on the utility of civil forfeiture to anti-corruption efforts,” said Prof. Owasanoye, who was a former Executive Secretary of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC).
He listed the advantages of non-conviction based asset forfeiture, including the ability to conclude proceedings quickly, the liberty of the person in possession of assets not being an issue because it does not violate fundamental rights or constitutional safeguards, and the proceeding being against property rather than people.
The ICPC Chairman further stated that removing criminals from their ill-gotten wealth was adequate punishment to deter others, as the United Nations Convention Against Corruption recognises and encourages (UNCAC).
Despite its numerous advantages, Mr Owasanoye acknowledged that asset recovery had limitations in combating corruption.
Nigeria is likely one of the most politically active states in the issue of assets recoveries with the government being able to forfeit, freeze and recover large amounts of assets in the past three years, with officials claiming to have recovered millions.
Yet, the success has been better despite the lack of transparency in data around recovered assets.
Both the ICPC and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have made significant recovery of looted assets through non-conviction based proceedings, especially since 2015.
But many observers have expressed concerns about the lack of openness in the data around recovered assets.
The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, issued a regulation in 2019 giving his office the power to manage the assets recovered by all relevant federal government agencies.
In November 2020, the federal government, also, through the AGF office, established a 22-member committee to dispose of all assets forfeited to the federal government within six months.
These were efforts geared towards ensuring transparency and effective coordination of the management of recovered assets but have failed to achieve the intended goal, as activities of the relevant committees and departments continue to be shrouded in secrecy.
Limitations to non-conviction-based asset recovery
Mr Owasanoye, a professor and senior advocate, also identified some limitations of non-conviction based asset recovery as a measure of fighting against corruption.
One of them, according to him, is a public perception that it is not deterrent without imprisonment.
He said: “limiting the utility of non-conviction based asset recovery where the offender remains in public office to accumulate other illicit assets; retention of other assets undermines public confidence when all illicit assets are not traced, and non-conviction based asset recovery without imprisonment is perceived by the public as not a full deterrent of wrongful conduct.”
The anti-corruption boss also outlined three activities that African Union member countries should take in the battle against corruption and ensure effective asset recovery.
The actions, according to him, include, “Executing the Common African Position on Asset Recovery (CAPAR) standards, implementing the Thabo Mbeki Report’s recommendations, and lobbying for a model template for asset recovery are among the initiatives.
“The African Union Heads of Government need to implement the low hanging fruits of the Mbeki Panel Recommendations viz – establishing specialized asset forfeiture/recovery units locally and within AU structure; and complying with Article 4 (1) and Article 20 (1) of AUCPCC, by providing the required information in compliance with AU Executive Council Decision by designating a national authority and criminalizing acts of corruption.
“The African Union Heads of Government need to combine diplomatic, civil and criminal forfeiture mechanisms for asset recovery and not just diplomatic measures as well as establish transparent mechanisms for management and use of returned assets.
“They also should demand transparent parameters and a timetable for the return of assets to Africa including stolen artefacts.
“This is to eliminate ‘musical chairs’ in asset return. In addition, the AU Heads of Government need to advocate the application of common standards of governance on use of returned assets.”
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To place an advert here . Call Willie - +2348098788999