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Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery



Thank you, Dr. Al Marri, for those kind words – and for welcoming me back to your beautiful city. It is, as always, a pleasure to be in Doha – and to stand among so many esteemed colleagues. I would like to pay special tribute to my distinguished friend, Dr. Al Marri, who has been a leader on rule of law issues not only within the region, but worldwide.

And I’d like to join President Obama in thanking the government of the State of Qatar – particularly His Highness the Emir and His Excellency Dr. Al Marri – for hosting this important gathering.

Even as we come together in a spirit of partnership, I know we are also bound by shock and sorrow at the tragic events that took place earlier this week at the United States Consulate in Benghazi, where the lives of four courageous Americans were lost in a senseless and brutal attack.

Among these extraordinary Americans was our Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens – who dedicated his career to strengthening the bonds of friendship and cooperation between the United States and the Libyan people. Through conflict and revolution – in times of uncertainty and transition – he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with all who spoke out – and fought – for the democratic ideals that have always defined our shared aspirations. Today, we condemn – in the strongest possible terms – the deplorable and savage acts of violence that claimed his life and those of the three other brave Americans who served with him. I can assure you – as the President has assured the world – that we are committed to working with the Libyan government to seek justice for the victims of this outrageous and unjustified attack, and to supporting the people of Libya – and millions of others throughout this region and around the world – as we promote religious tolerance and uphold the unshakeable values – of freedom, opportunity, and justice – for which these four brave individuals gave their lives. To that end, the FBI has opened an investigation into their deaths and the attack on the U.S. Consulate.

Today, I’d like to commend each of the delegations represented here for your contributions in advancing what’s become a robust and ongoing dialogue about the role that each of our nations can play – and the responsibilities that we all must fulfill – in combating corruption, recovering stolen assets, and establishing a framework for cooperation and collaboration not only throughout this region – but across the globe. The hard work done here over the past few days – building relationships, establishing guidelines for the type of information that needs to be exchanged, and discussing what evidence exists – will pay dividends for all our citizens.

As President Obama reminded the United Nations General Assembly just last year: “No country can afford the corruption that plagues the world like a cancer.” And as he reiterated in his videotaped remarks to this Forum, no people should be forced to bear the costs incurred by the corruption of their former leaders. Through our participation in this inaugural Forum, we affirm that every country must take part in the struggle to combat corruption and, wherever possible, to return stolen assets to ordinary citizens who are all deserving and in need. And I am proud to join you in pledging my own best efforts – and the full support of the United States government – as we take our collective anticorruption work to the next level and build on the excellent foundation provided by this historic gathering.

My colleagues and I are determined to do everything in our power to extend the record of achievement that’s been established in recent years – and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any nation that strives to ensure integrity, to foster innovation, and to create opportunities for prosperity and progress; that cherishes the benefits of a free, fair, and open society; and that seeks to eradicate the public corruption and official misconduct that can weaken political institutions, threaten the democratic process, undermine the strength and promise of civil society and negatively impact, in a very real way, the lives of ordinary people.

Of course, fighting against these forces never has been – and never will be – easy. But, in many ways, it’s never been more important. Corruption has long been recognized as a transnational problem that demands a coordinated, global response. Time and again, we’ve seen its destructive, corrosive effects – hindering development, impeding advancement, and siphoning precious resources away from those in need at a time when they could hardly be more scarce – and when the world economy could hardly be more vulnerable. We’ve come to understand its impact in eroding trust, favoring the interests of a dishonest few over the needs of the hardworking many, and even breeding contempt for the rule of law.

This is something I’ve witnessed firsthand – when, more than 35 years ago, I began my career as a young attorney in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, prosecuting government officials in the United States who violated the trust of those they were sworn to serve. Like many of you, I quickly recognized that, in the United States as in other nations – large and small, rich and poor, young and old, in every corner of the globe – when corruption takes hold, both stability and legitimacy may be compromised. The health of international markets can be adversely affected. Foreign investment is frequently driven away. And competition – more often than not – is stifled.

Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that corruption often becomes a “gateway crime,” paving the way for organized crime, money laundering, and, in some cases, even terrorism to take hold. And all of our nations have seen that effectively beating back corruption requires nothing less than a fundamental shift in the way public business is conducted, the way law enforcement operates, and the way civic leaders and members of the private sector think of themselves and the role they play.

Fortunately, recent years have provided ample proof that progress is possible. In the winds of change that have swept across the Middle East and fueled the Arab Spring; in the groundbreaking forum for transnational cooperation that this diverse group has begun to build; and in the growing call for gatherings like this event – we’ve seen that significant, even transformational, change is not out of our reach. And that the fundamental shifts we seek to bring about can – and do – happen. Progress, positive change is possible.

In 2009 – during my first year as Attorney General – I was proud to help mark the beginning of one such shift right here in Doha, when I joined Dr. Al Marri and many of you in opening the sixth – and final – Global Forum on Combating Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity. That day, heads of state, attorneys general, and justice and interior ministers from around the world came together to articulate a new vision for a brighter, more prosperous future. We concluded the Global Forum series with a fresh resolve to continue its important work. And we left this city more determined than ever to push for the full implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption; to recover and repatriate the proceeds of corruption; and to end immunity for officials who engage in corrupt activities.

Less than a year later – in Uganda, during the summer of 2010 – I stood with leaders from across Africa to announce a new Justice Department program known as the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, an effort aimed at making good on the United States government’s commitment to help lead the fight against large-scale corruption, and to recover stolen funds so they can be used for their intended, legitimate purpose. Since then, we’ve assembled a team of highly-skilled prosecutors – a number of whom are present at this Forum – to enhance our anticorruption activities and bring offenders to justice. And I’m pleased to report that – despite the complexity inherent in all major international corruption cases – the Initiative’s work is paying dividends.

Late last year, for instance, the Justice Department filed civil forfeiture complaints against more than $70 million in alleged proceeds from corrupt activities conducted by a government minister in Equatorial Guinea, who – we have alleged – had laundered these assets through the United States. Earlier this summer, we obtained a forfeiture judgment allowing the United States to dispose of more than $400,000 in assets traced to a former Nigerian public official who was impeached in 2005 – the first judgment obtained under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. Just under two months ago, we secured a restraining order against more than $3 million in corruption proceeds connected to another former Nigerian official – who, earlier this year in the United Kingdom, was convicted of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering, and has been sentenced to 13 years in prison.

And, as we demonstrated at the end of February – when the United States implemented the mandate of the United Nations to freeze approximately $30 billion in Libyan assets, preventing Moammar Gaddafi from using them to flee or fuel a brutal crackdown on the Libyan people – wherever possible, we’re determined to cooperate and bring innovative tools and strategies to bear in order to stop corrupt regimes from exploiting public resources for personal gain.

There’s no question that each of these actions represents a meaningful, measurable step in the right direction. We are committed to work together with all of you to achieve the same results if we can locate stolen funds from your countries within the United States. But – if we hope to expand on these and similar efforts; if we intend to capitalize on the momentum we’ve built; and if we aspire to usher in a new era of integrity and accountability among public officials around the world – the reality is that these initial steps, on their own, will never be enough. O ur continued progress will increasingly depend on our ability – and our willingness – to tear down traditional impediments to sharing information and to come together in common cause. Over the years, we’ve learned that asset recovery cannot be successful unless we work across borders and jurisdictions – and approach this work with a new level of commitment and understanding. For example, nations requesting help locating stolen assets that may have been laundered abroad cannot necessarily expect their partners to know where the assets stolen from a prior regime are located and to simply send them back. Similarly, states that have been called upon to provide such assistance cannot expect that victim states will be able to pinpoint all of the assets and criminal activity involved at the outset of an investigation. Progress – and justice – can only be achieved through a partnership that allows us to share the information that is essential to allow the tracing and forfeiture of these stolen funds .

With this week’s Forum, you’ve already stepped to the forefront of this work. You’ve signaled your support for a worldwide kleptocracy initiative – and your commitment to the important work of recovering proceeds of corruption so that these assets can benefit people – from Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and other nations that have struggled to combat corruption – who’ve been harmed by abuses of power. With the launch of the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery, you will help ensure that direct engagement and robust enforcement can be prioritized by frontline practitioners and experts alike as they work to prevent and eliminate corruption throughout these and other countries in the region. And – thanks to the agreements you’ve begun to translate into action, the partnerships you’ve proposed and started to formalize, and the individual cases that – already – many of you are striving to advance – the leaders in this room have demonstrated an impressive commitment to driving this difficult and complex work into the future.

This shared commitment is also what has propelled the U.S. Justice Department to take unprecedented steps to engage with partners like you – along with business leaders and members of the nonprofit and advocacy communities – in order to help identify and disseminate best practices to prevent corruption, to share knowledge and innovative enforcement techniques, and to help develop and sustain the institutions that will always be at the center of this work.  It’s what has led us to build and strengthen relationships with leading nongovernmental organizations and other independent actors around the world. And it’s helped to inform, to augment, and to re-energize our broad-based, global efforts to confront a range of critical challenges – from fighting transnational crime and terrorism, to promoting global security and good governance, to ensuring equality and fair opportunity for all.

In each of these areas – and particularly when it comes to anticorruption – I want to make clear that the United States intends to serve not as a patron, but as a partner; not as a monitor, but as a collaborator. Like you, we approach the challenges before us with resolve, humility, and an eagerness to reinforce old friendships and forge new ones. And we understand intimately that this work – though global in its reach – must begin at home.

That’s why we’re determined not just to support and strengthen the efforts that each of you have undertaken – but to apply the lessons we learn, and the tools and techniques we develop together, in our own prevention and enforcement efforts. As Attorney General, I’ve consistently worked to ensure that anticorruption remains a top priority for my colleagues at every level of the Justice Department. From our robust enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – an important law under which we have secured more than 30 individual convictions and over 40 corporate resolutions, totaling more than $2.1 billion in penalties, over the last three years alone; to the anticorruption work of our prosecutors stationed both in the United States and overseas – I’m proud to report that we’ve made great strides in our fight against corruption, within – as well as beyond – our borders.

In particular, over the last two decades – in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, and at the request of host nations – the Justice Department’s Criminal Division has placed U.S. prosecutors to serve as legal advisors in dozens of countries around the world, including Yemen, UAE, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, and Egypt. I am pleased today to announce that the U.S. Department of Justice, in support of the G8 and Deauville Partnership Arab Asset Recovery Plan, and with the support of the U.S. Department of State, will appoint two additional Justice Department attorneys to work exclusively with Deauville transition countries and their regional partners on asset recovery and mutual legal assistance issues.  One of these attorneys – who will specialize exclusively in asset recovery work – will be based here in the Middle East / North Africa region, and the other in Washington. And their duties will be two-fold: first, they will be available to coordinate case cooperation between the Deauville Partnership and the Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Unit on identifying and tracing assets.  Second, they will conduct intensive interactive courses on Asset Recovery in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, and other law enforcement agencies to increase effectiveness of transnational financial and corruption investigations.

This dedication of new U.S. government resources, like the creation of my Department’s Kleptocracy unit, demonstrates the American commitment to the cause that has brought us all together at this Forum. I know that much remains to be done, and that it will continue to take very hard work to locate and recover the funds that have been stolen from the countries of this region. But make no mistake: everyone here can be proud – and encouraged – by the work that’s been done here this week; by the remarkable, once-unimaginable progress that this Forum represents; and by the record of achievement that our nations stand poised to build upon. But we cannot yet be satisfied – and this is no time to become complacent.

As I said here in Doha in 2009, asset recovery is a global imperative. It is our duty to act together to develop the investigations, evidence, and expertise that will enable us to recover monies stolen through the violation of public trust. This is our shared responsibility to the citizens harmed by abuse of office.

In advancing this work, I am grateful for your partnership. I am counting on your leadership. And I look forward to all that we must – and surely will – accomplish together - for our nations and for the people we all serve.

Thank you.

Updated August 18, 2015