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Sunday, 22 March 2009

African leaders steal $ 148 billion a year

A QUARTER of the gross domestic product of African States - or $148 billion is lost to corruption annually, the United Nations has said. 

Most of this money is stolen by African leaders and kept in banks overseas.The UN and the World Bank estimate that the value of criminal businesses is between $1 to 2 trillion. The revelations were made during a press conference by the UN Secretary general, Mr Ban ki Moon, and the World Bank President, Mr Robert Zoelick in New York on Monday.

To check this practice, the two bodies announced a partnership to recover billions of dollars stolen by corrupt leaders from the developing world and which monies are lying in foreign banks while the countries from which it originated wallow in poverty. A partner in the recovery effort will be the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

The launch of Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative (STAR) in New York is a warning shot especially in Africa- where leaders like the late Congolese (Zairean) President Mobutu Sese Seko and Gen Sani Abacha of Nigeria- built obscene fortunes abroad. 

However, neither Mr Ban nor Mr Zoelick mentioned the culpability of the banks that accept deposits from corrupt African leaders -and the support given to some of these leaders by powerful western governments.

"The theft of public assets from developing countries is a grave and growing concern, said Mr Ban, adding that stolen assets amounted to US$ 1 trillion every year. Mr Zoellick on his part said the money being stolen was at the expense of social programmes that would target the poor in society.

"There should be no haven for those who steal from the poor," Mr Zoellick added. STAR is also intended to tighten the noose on illegal money used by criminal groups including international terrorists.

The Bank also says officials in developing countries pocket between US$ 20 to 40 billion in bribes- equivalent to almost 40 percent of the money they receive from development partners. The new initiative intends to re-invest recovered money in social programmes.

"Every 100 million recovered could fund full immunisations for 4 million children, provide water connections for some 250,000 households or fund treatment for over 600,000 people with HIV/Aids for a full year," Mr Zoellick said.

The World Bank president was optimistic that assets could be recovered citing cases from three countries - Phillipines, Peru, Nigeria. In 2004, the Phillipines was able to repatriate $624 million of former President Ferdinand Marcos' money held in Swiss Bank accounts. 

Marcos, a staunch ally of America, was President from 1965 to 1986, and was reported to have stolen billions of dollars while his wife Imelda lived a lavish lifestyle- filling her house with thousands of pairs of expensive shoes. 

Nigeria also recovered $505 million of the Sani Abacha money from Swiss banks but this is just a small slice of the money he is reported to have stolen. The chairperson of Transparency International Huguette Labelle described the initiative as "a wake up call to those who steal and to those who facilitate or harbour stolen assets" but little pressure has come to bear on western banks and governments who are complicit in the thefts. 

In May 2004 for example, Christian Aid, a United Kingdom-based charity organisation, accused the Uganda government of "wrongly" diverting aid money with the knowledge of the British government. Uganda, an aid-dependant country, is also notoriously corrupt. 

This year the government has said fighting corruption is a priority but a 2004 report for the World Bank, which gives millions of dollars worth of aid and loans to the country, noted that corruption was key to the survival of the regime in Kampala.

Source: TheMonitor:

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