I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you this afternoon at the end of the Ukraine Forum on Asset Recovery.
I would like to thank the Foreign & Commonwealth Office for providing the venue here at Lancaster House, and the US Attorney General Eric Holder and our friends from the United States for co-hosting the event and the World Bank and others for the organisation.
A great deal of work has been done to set up this forum within a very short time, and it has brought together a remarkable group of international experts. Over the past 2 days asset recovery practitioners and policy makers from many different jurisdictions have convened to discuss the urgent challenges of recovering stolen Ukrainian assets. Highly constructive meetings have been held to progress specific casework, and more broadly to build relationships and develop international co-operation. I congratulate everyone who has participated in this forum and contributed to its success.
Events in Ukraine
I would like to reflect upon the events in the Ukraine which led to this forum taking place.
We must recognise the courage of the ordinary Ukrainian citizens who risked all to overthrow the discredited government of former President Victor Yanukovych in the hope of a better future.
The public demonstrations which took place in Maidan Square against that corrupt regime were met with violent suppression. Tragically, many people were killed. However on 22 February, which is barely over 2 months ago, the regime disintegrated and Yanukovych fled to Russia.
During this forum we have heard from our Ukrainian colleagues of the shocking levels of dishonesty and greed of government ministers and public officials who held office under Yanukovych. The full extent of that criminality is now being uncovered, with potentially billions of pounds stolen.
Ukraine faces significant challenges to establish a transparent and legitimate system of government and to purge its public institutions of the legacies of corruption.
The Ukrainian people will need to continue to show courage and resolve to achieve these goals in the face of external aggression. They will have the support of the international community to do so.
Corruption and asset tracking; international problems
Corruption is an old problem for society. However some of the ways in which the proceeds of corruption can be moved and hidden are very new.
It is only recently that the international community has begun to recognise the scale and complexities associated with tackling corruption and money laundering in modern society. There is a growing understanding of the difficulties faced by law enforcement agencies tracing stolen assets in today’s complex global financial system, and agreement on the need for a response which is co-ordinated at an international level.
In October last year the second meeting of the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery was held in Marrakesh. The Arab Forum is an example of increased international collaboration, and a willingness to accept responsibility to assist the people in the Arab Spring countries in the recovery of their stolen assets.
This Ukraine forum has been another substantial demonstration of international co-operation and determination to ensure that corruption does not go unpunished.
UK policy leadership
The United Kingdom, as a global financial centre, has a responsibility to play a leading role in these international efforts to tackle corruption and the detection of illicit flows of money.
Corporate transparency, and the prevention of misuse of legal ownership structures, are a vital part of the international anti-corruption agenda.
Yesterday the Home Secretary spoke about the UK’s commitment to implement a central registry of company beneficial ownership, to make it easier to identify and tackle misuse of companies for the purposes of laundering money. The Government intends that this central registry of beneficial ownership will be accessible to the public, UK law enforcement agencies and overseas enforcement authorities.
This means that details of who really owns and controls British companies will be known. This enhanced transparency of company ownership will help us to tackle tax evasion, corruption and money laundering. Furthermore direct access to the registry for law enforcement agencies should drastically reduce the time and administration resources required to obtain this information under traditional mutual legal assistance processes.
I was pleased to learn of the session this morning at which participants shared experiences, and discussed ways of speeding up the exchange of information. While the legal requirements of individual jurisdictions must be observed and respected, it is clear from the meeting that there are ways in which we can work together more effectively.
Ukraine, work so far
This Forum is a milestone in the process of recovery and repatriation of assets to the Ukrainian people.
At the start of March, just days after the collapse of the former regime, the UK deployed a taskforce of financial investigators and asset recovery specialists to Ukraine. They joined with colleagues from the US and met with the Ukrainian authorities and financial investigators to discuss ways in which we can work together.
There is an EU wide asset freeze in place against 22 individuals linked to the regime. This is a significant achievement and a crucial step to prevent asset flight.
This week the UK’s Serious Fraud Office announced that it is investigating allegations of corruption linked to the Yanukovych regime and has obtained a Court Order to restrain assets valued at approximately $23 million dollars.
This is a good start, but the scale and difficulty of the work that lies ahead should not be underestimated. The proceeds of the corruption of the former Ukrainian regime will be concealed through layers of corporate structures, laundered through legitimate businesses or converted into valuable assets.
As Attorney General I am particularly aware of the response of our domestic law enforcement and prosecuting agencies, which I superintend.
The Crown Prosecution Service has found that deployments of staff to other jurisdictions, to provide support for specific casework and assist with UK mutual legal assistance procedures, can deliver significant results.
This week the CPS has made a commitment to deploy a prosecutor to the Ukraine to provide initial support to Ukrainian counterparts on UK legal processes and specific casework and longer term needs.
The CPS prosecutor will be posted to Ukraine to join dedicated financial experts from the National Crime Agency to provide support to the Ukrainian authorities.
This week SFO investigators have held constructive meetings with Ukrainian counterparts about this specific casework and established direct lines of communication.
The SFO stands ready to support Ukrainian law enforcement and to provide whatever technical and practical assistance on the ground.
Looking beyond this forum, there will be no effective deterrent for corruption whilst levels of detection of illicit financial flows and recovery of misappropriated assets remain small in comparison with the scale of the problem.
However, tackling corruption and improving asset recovery is now at the top of the agenda at the highest levels of governments and international organisations.
This provides a valuable opportunity for policy makers, practitioners and civil society organisations to work in partnership to develop and improve the laws and processes by which we locate and recover the proceeds of overseas corruption.
If we are successful in this endeavour it will have the consequence of driving corruption out of governments across the world. The potential rewards are better governments, fairer societies and improving the lives of millions of people.
Thank you for your attention this afternoon and for your work during this forum. I hope that it has been a very productive and engaging experience for you all.