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"The Battle Against Corruption And Illicit Financial Flows Should Not Be Taken Lightly" - Deputy AG

The Deputy Attorney-General and Deputy Minister for Justice, Diana Asonaba Dapaah has hinted that the battle against corruption, Illicit Financial Flows (“IFFs”) and other forms of organized crime is not one to be taken lightly as it is broader than what is currently seen.


According to the Deputy AG, these crimes have far reaching consequences as they contribute to the insufficient distribution of resources in Ghana and on the African continent at large.

 

Speaking at the launch of the Asset Recovery & Management Policy Framework and Inauguration of Implementation Committee Members in Accra on Tuesday, she said "In fact, in the wake of corrupt activities by persons, including public officials, on the African continent especially, the conversation has been on how their extravagant assets in foreign countries and offshore accounts could be recovered after successful prosecution"


The Deputy AG added that the success of the modern legal framework is making it possible for corrupt persons to be arrested and prosecuted resulting in assets of such persons being seized and accounts being frozen by courts of competent jurisdiction.

 

"Asset recovery remains the kernel of the fight against serious and organized crimes as it deprives criminals of the profits of their criminal endeavors. The recovery of illicitly-obtained assets linked to criminal activities both within and outside the jurisdiction of a country can provide developing countries like Ghana with resources needed to undertake high-priority development projects. Ghana’s anti-corruption agenda is predicated on both local initiatives and international obligations mostly arising from treaties several of which have strong requirements on Asset Recovery and Management. All these highlight the legal procedures that govern the return of assets and wealth acquired through corrupt means on both the international and domestic fronts"

 

The international front

Madam Dapaah disclosed that Ghana has, amongst others, acceded to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC, 2003), the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC, 2000) and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combatting Corruption (AUCPCC, 2003).


She further revealed that the country also has some international obligations under the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) of the World Bank/UNODC and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) 40 Recommendations.


These collectively, she hinted prove the urgency to which the global movement wants to ensure the return of assets to the countries they were stolen from.

 

The domestic front

"Ghana has enacted several legislations in line with Ghana’s international obligations. The Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2007 (Act 749) and the Economic and Organized Crime Act, 2010 (Act 804) and the Mutual Legal Assistance Act, 2010 (Act 807) make provision for the seizure and return to the legitimate owner of proceeds of crime as well as the confiscation by the State of embezzled public funds or laundered embezzled public funds to its rightful owners"

 

These laws, she says, also set up institutions and structures such as the Economic and Organized Crime Office (EOCO) and the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC).


"These institutions are mandated to prevent, investigate and prosecute corruption-related crimes, money laundering and other serious and organized crimes. In the course of their work, these institutions also identify, trace, seize and seek orders from the court to freeze, confiscate and forfeit proceeds of crime"

 

Nonetheless, some systemic challenges make the asset recovery process in Ghana a complex and complicated task.


"At the domestic level, there are challenges of identifying, seizing, freezing and confiscation in addition to the more problematic issue of proving the origin and ownership of these assets. Furthermore, a major problem still lingers in the right procedure to evaluate the assets of corrupt persons including public officials and also to prosecute them after they have been proven guilty. The covering of immunity of some of the state officials makes it difficult for them to come under scrutiny and the right punishment to be passed on them for their crimes"

 

Challenge

She sighted inadequacy of provisions in the relevant laws on the important issue of the management of recovered assets as one of the challenges.


"Every Law Enforcement Agency (“LEAs”) in Ghana adopts and implements their own asset management framework in the absence of a centralized standard or coordinated mechanism. The effect of this is the deterioration and dissipation of recovered assets as well as the lack of transparency and accountability in the management process. This has led to huge losses to the state and loss of public confidence in the process. Consequently, the Law Enforcement Coordinating Bureau (“LECOB”) tasked EOCO to create a division and a centralized framework for asset recovery and management for all law enforcement agencies in Ghana"

 

"At the international level, there are jurisdictional challenges including the application of the Mutual Legal Assistance and all the complexities associated with it. Even where the recovery effort is successful, a critical problem has to do with the management of the recovered assets. These should not however deter us from taking proactive measures towards improving the already existing mechanisms aimed at recovery and management of tainted assets"

 

She encouraged the promotion of enhanced diplomacy and international relations between Ghana and other nations.


"The presence of these relationships does not only strengthen ties for economic growth but also provides avenues for the fight against common vices of which corruption is a part. In view of allowing the free flow of information and a coordinated effort for the recovery of assets, it is of importance that some diplomatic caucus is encouraged among nations to enhance positive international relations for the agreed cause. This will build trust and give way for proper negotiations and communication"

 

She reminded all that it was also necessary to ensure transparency and a high level of accountability for all officials who are instated to serve the State.


"The law is a major tool in the fight for the recovery of assets acquired through corruption. In the presence of good legislation, the procedures are easy to follow and duly implemented. However, it is necessary that the law itself is not used as a shield to safeguard government officials or any other corrupt person from any level of scrutiny. It is also recommended that the level of immunity against legal actions against suspected corrupt officials be reviewed so as to ensure that every stolen asset is duly returned to the State"


"I would encourage the State to sign more asset recovery specified agreements so that there would be a move away from rhetoric towards action. It is highly expedient and relevant for some agreements to be in place between Ghana and several foreign states to steer the asset recovery process and to aid in retrieving stolen assets"

 

"Lastly, I urge the Ghana Police Service, Economic and Organized Crime Office, the Narcotics Control Commission, the Office of the Special Prosecutor and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to collaborate effectively by ensuring a year-on-year increase in the value of assets frozen, seized and recovered from criminals. This would have the overall effect of addressing the strategic deficiencies identified in the second round of Mutual Evaluation by the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) (May 2017) where the country recorded moderate to low ratings as far as the investigations, prosecution and recovery of proceeds of crime is concerned"

 

Taking her turn, Executive Director of Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO), Maame Tiwaa Addo-Danquah said "Ordinarily, a casual visit to the precincts of our Police Stations, courts and even the car parks of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) would reveal that these areas are littered with seized and impounded vehicles which are almost always connected to crime"


With time, she noted, these restrained vehicles are left to rot away under the harsh conditions of the weather with very little or no value to salvage at the end of the criminal justice process.

 

She stressed that the persistent failure on the part of LEAs to manage assets linked to the commission of crimes eventually culminated in Ghana receiving low ratings as far as the recovery of proceeds of crime is concerned.


This finding, she added, is succinctly captured in the report published after the second round of Mutual Evaluation undertaken by GIABA in 2017.

 

"To address the above strategic deficiencies and to whip Ghanaians asset recovery and management regime in line with international best practices, the Law Enforcement Coordinating Bureau (LECOB), tasked EOCO to spearhead the process for the adoption and operationalization of a harmonized regime on Asset Recovery and Management"


"Fortunately, attempts at navigating our way around this national assignment caught the attention of GIZ’s Governance for Inclusive Development (GovID) Programme commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and co-funded by the British Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). By this, GIZ offered to fund and lend its critical support to the national assignment geared towards building a robust and efficient asset recovery and managment regime in Ghana"

 

"In furtherance of the above, GIZ, through a competitive and transparent process selected an international consultant by name Alex Ferguson who subsequently developed the following principal documents after a comprehensive assessment and review of relevant laws and institutions in Ghana: This include; National Policy Framework on Asset Recovery and Management, 1-3year Implementation Strategy for operationalization of the National Policy Framework and Standard Operating Procedures for LEAs. 


Explaining further, Maame Tiwaa Addo-Danquah noted that the SOP are intended to be a practitioner’s guide for those who are involved in the investigation, prosecution, and recovery of the proceeds of crime"


She mentioned that upon a review of the first draft of the documents by EOCO and GIZ, a one-day validation workshop was organized, and this had relevant agencies such as the Ghana Police Service, Office of the Special Prosecutor, Financial Intelligence Centre, Ghana Revenue Authority, and the Narcotic Control Commission represented. 


"The validation workshop sought to collate comments and suggestions on the three draft documents, and this enabled the consultant to finalize work on the documents"

 

"I am therefore of the firm belief that our collective resolve to see to the operationalization of this initiative would elevate our dear nation head-and-shoulders above its peers, in the next round of mutual evaluation by GIABA"

 

On her part, Speech of GIZ Country Director, Regina Bauerochse Barbosa said "We, GIZ, are proud and delighted to have supported the law enforcement agencies in developing the Framework together with our co-financing partner, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), and other relevant institutions We congratulate the team on this important milestone"


She mentioned that this was a necessary step as Ghana is losing huge amounts of money through illicit financial flows (IFF) - reportedly 340 million USD annually since 2015.


These funds she explained are urgently needed for public services such as health and education.


"Moreover, confiscation of illegally acquired assets is crucial in the fight against organised crime, as cnminal convictions without confiscation and restitution of assets will not deter criminals"


Challenge

"Another challenge is that while some assets have been seized by law enforcement agencies and handed over to the state over the last few years, the management of them has not worked as there is no coordinated and effective mechanism tn place for the management of such assets The result ts the forferture and squandenng of the recovered assets.

The general public also realised this grievance and there has been pubic outcry on the dissipation of recovered assets This has led to a loss of public confidence in the fight against corruption and organized crime"


"Therefore, managing recovered assets with integrity and efficrency ts crucial to butid confidence in public institutions and faith in the fight against corruption and other cnminal activities, and to reinforce the rule of law. In order to advance the fight against Senous and Organized Cnme and Illicit Financial Flows, we have been supporting state institutions in Ghandwith ounGiZ-programme Govemance for Inclusive Development” since January 20224 This measure 1s cofunded by the UK Foreign Commonwealth Development Office FC

Together with our partners and all relevant stakeholders this policy framework and implementation strategy for asset recovery and management has been developped..


The GIZ Country Director noted that the framework spells out measures for goverment and law enforcement agencies to improve efficient mechanisms to recover, manage and maintain frozen and confiscated cnminal assets.


"It is important to note that the effective implementation of this policy will be key to improve the asset recovery practices in Ghana and | am pleased that the policy has been approved by the Minister tay ~ ef Attorney-General and-dustrce This is a positive development, as government of Ghana, at the highest political level, is fully committed to the implementation of this policy"


She congratulated EOCO, for having already recovered an amount of GHC 27 55 millior’as proceeds of crime through the continuous technical support in the areas of asset recovery and management from January to September 2022.


Sharing his thoughts, Director, Asset Recovery and Management at the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP), Albert Akurugu said "Over the years the attention of many a law enforcement agency has been focused on investigating and prosecuting various crimes including corruption and corruption-related offences. Not much has been done by way of corruption prevention and recovery of tainted property and proceeds of crime"


Mr. Akurugu added that the importance of asset recovery in the fight against corruption and corruption-related offences cannot be over emphasized.


"If people who commit corruption and corruption-related offences are confident that even if apprehended and convicted they and their families can enjoy their illicitly obtained wealth, they will be more likely to commit those crimes. On the other hand, recovery of tainted property and other proceeds of crime not only prevent crime but serves as a deterrent, making corruption an act of higher risk with lower returns"


He stressed that funds obtained from recovery of tainted property can be used in development and strengthening the various law enforcement agencies.


"As a specialized agency in the fight against corruption and corruption-related offences and the key stakeholder in the implementation of the asset recovery and management policy framework, the Office of the Special Prosecutor is delighted to work in cooperation with other public institutions in investigation, prosecution and recovery of proceeds of corruption while taking steps to prevent its occurrence"


He noted that the OSP is not oblivious of the fact that asset recovery in Ghana is a journey undertaken by several law enforcement agencies.


"Reaching the destination, however, requires a shared vision and excellent coordination which the Asset Recovery and Management Policy Framework provides"


"While we applaud ourselves for achieving this feat, it is important to remember that the greatest challenge we may face is not the creation of this Policy framework but applying the Standard Operating Procedures therein correctly"


The OSP calls for maximization of the use of the various channels of cooperation and speedy exchange of information among members of the Implementation Committee to avoid dissipation of tainted property in the course of legal proceedings in court.


He called on Authorities to invest in training for members of the Implementation Committee to serve as specialized officers in the field of asset recovery and management.


Head Of Analysis, Financial Intelligence Centre, Lucy Abebrese on behalf of her colleague Implementation Committee Members thanked the organisers for the trust imposed on them.


She assured that they will be guided by the legal framework and ensure that corrupt persons are arrested and prosecuted likewise assets being seized and accounts frozen.


Below are some pictures:

Story by: Joshua Kwabena Smith


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