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Attorney General Holder Delivers Remarksat the Ukraine Forum on Asset Recovery


United States

Thank you for those kind words – and thank you all for such a warm welcome.  It’s an honor to join so many dedicated leaders, committed public servants, and distinguished policymakers from around the world for this important Forum.  It’s a pleasure, as always, to be back in London.  And it’s a great privilege to be here at Lancaster House – where history has brought others together many times before to address fundamental questions about the right of self-determination and the necessity for the rule of law.

 I would like to thank Her Majesty’s Government, Prime Minister [David] Cameron, my good friend and esteemed colleague Home Secretary [Theresa] May, and the British people for welcoming me, the entire U.S. delegation, our Ukrainian counterparts, and all of our foreign and agency partners to this beautiful city – and for co-hosting this week’s critical gathering.

The goals that bind together every nation represented here are, as ever, rooted in our long shared and defining values.  For well over a century, our mutual commitment to cooperation has played an indispensable role in ensuring stability, international security and bolstering global collaboration.  And today, once again, this community of nations stands as one – our ranks strengthened by partners, old and new, from around the world, and our peoples united by a joint and pressing obligation:  to respond to the challenges of this day, to help resolve the conflicts of this hour, and to stand with the people of Ukraine in this moment as they rightfully chart their own, independent course to safety, prosperity, and peace.

By our presence here today and participation in this vital Forum on Asset Recovery, we reaffirm our dedication to supporting Ukrainian leaders and citizens as they strengthen law enforcement efforts, reinforce key institutions, and build and improve systems that will help guarantee the economic stability, the vital political independence, and the national sovereignty of a strong and free Ukraine.  As President Obama said in the Oval Office early last month, the interests of the United States – and the interests of our friends and allies around the world – are squarely consistent with the overwhelming desire of the Ukrainian people, as with peoples around our world, to determine their own destiny.  Their desire is not a unique one and is as old as recorded time.  And today’s gathering should send a powerful message to those in every region of Ukraine – and others across the globe and in the region – who are striving to move their country forward:  that they have, and can continue to expect, the strong and unwavering support of every nation represented here.

Together, we are committed to providing much-needed aid and supporting economic reforms.  We’re determined to offer technical assistance to help ensure free and fair elections.  We will do all that we can to bolster investigative efforts to locate and return stolen assets coopted by members of the previous regime.  And wherever our partnership can make a positive difference, we will not hesitate to use every tool and resource at our disposal to enable Ukraine to rebuild, reform, and refocus on its future.

We gather this morning, in part, in recognition of the fact that this process will be anything but easy.  The challenges we face are both numerous and profound.  As the President said last month in Brussels, this is “[a time] of testing for Europe and the United States and for the international order that we have worked for generations to build.”  And the adversity we must confront is exacerbated in no small part by the rampant corruption of Ukraine’s previous regime, which deprived the country of vital resources and lined the pockets of unscrupulous leaders with ill-gotten gains.

This state of affairs underscores the reality that many of us have seen firsthand throughout our careers – including during my own service, decades ago, as a young prosecutor in the Public Integrity Section of the United States Department of Justice:  that official misconduct and corruption is acutely corrosive.  And I saw, as you all have seen, that the costs of this corruption can be both immense and long-lasting.

We now know that, worldwide, the cross-border flow of proceeds from criminal activity, including corruption, has been estimated to be as great as $1.6 trillion per year.  Corruption often serves as a gateway crime, paving the way for money laundering, transnational organized crime, and in some cases even terrorism.  It’s no exaggeration to say that it undermines the fundamental promise of democracy and legitimate self-rule.  It siphons precious resources away from those in need.  It imperils development, security, stability, and faith in financial markets.  And it profoundly weakens that which is the basis of the desired modern society – the rule of law.

Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions.  As you know, fighting corruption and retrieving stolen assets requires a great deal of patience and persistence.  Investigations of, and prosecutions against, corrupt officials are inherently complex and resource-intensive.  International corruption cases are even more so.  And all too often, the processes necessary to refine laws and law enforcement modalities are cumbersome at best – and arcane or even nonexistent at worst.

 These obstacles are real – and they can be daunting.  But I have been proud to work with my British counterparts to convene this Forum – and bring this community of nations together – precisely because I believe that we can, but more importantly must, create out of this significant challenge an even greater global opportunity:  to discuss our respective experiences, to share knowledge and expertise, to refine our understanding of best practices, and to seek new avenues for communication and cooperation, both in Ukraine and far beyond.

This effort will be bolstered by the great work we’ve already done, and the infrastructure we’re currently building, to carry similar efforts through to completion around the world.  Fourteen years ago, officials from many of the nations represented here gathered in Washington, D.C., for the very first Global Forum on Fighting Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity.  That meeting marked a groundbreaking new start – and the culmination of a growing international willingness to acknowledge corruption as a problem that every country, every region, and every people, must learn to confront.

In the decade and a half since, international leaders and luminaries have repeatedly come together – in a variety of ways – to foster widespread consensus on the need for collective action in the face of shared challenges.  And our nations have accomplished a great deal.

In recent years, we’ve worked together to draft and bring into force the United Nations Convention Against Corruption – the first-ever global anti-corruption treaty – which has transformed transnational cooperation on issues ranging from anticorruption to counterterrorism.  More recently – as the world watched winds of change sweep across the Middle East – we gathered in Doha and in Marrakech for the first and second Arab Forums on Asset Recovery.

In Colombia and other nations, the United States has helped set up vetted units within key government institutions to ensure that those very bodies tasked with rooting out crime and corruption are not themselves tainted.  These lessons are valuable ones and should be passed on to Ukraine and other countries seeking to cope with the legacy of endemic corruption.

And today, as we open the Ukraine Forum on Asset Recovery, we also reaffirm our enduring commitment to the ideals that characterized those earlier gatherings and endeavors.  And we assert our unyielding determination to fight corruption wherever it exists and in whatever form it exists – however long it may take.

 Of course, if this work is to be successful, each of us must be willing to meet our individual responsibilities – and to serve not as just productive partners, but as leaders, of our comprehensive global effort.  This is why, as my country’s Attorney General, I have made certain that anticorruption and asset forfeiture have consistently stood as top priorities for my colleagues across the U.S. Department of Justice.  I launched a Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative within the Department – in 2010 – to combat large-scale foreign official corruption and help recover funds for their proper and intended use:  ensuring the welfare and well-being of the citizens to which they rightly belong.

Through this initiative, my colleagues and I have assembled a team of highly-skilled prosecutors to enhance our anticorruption activities and deny corrupt officials the benefit of the funds they’ve stolen.  Already, our Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section has initiated a number of cases targeting hundreds of millions of dollars in corruption proceeds – including, most recently, over $550 million that was stolen by the Nigerian dictator and notorious kleptocrat Sani Abacha.

 As we turn our collective attention and resources to the situation in Ukraine, it’s clear that we face a variety of new dangers and unprecedented challenges.  The importance of our cooperative work has been brought into stark focus.  The untenable situation currently confronting the Ukrainian people clearly impels the international community to further action and engagement.  And that’s why, within days of the fall of President Yanukovych’s regime, the U.S. Department of Justice had a response team on the ground in Kyiv to assess the needs of Ukraine’s investigation into stolen assets belonging to its people; to provide assistance with document review and preservation; and to help initiate and coordinate any and all efforts required by further investigations.

We have also deployed significant resources from the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section; from our Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training; from the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network – or FinCEN – to help gather information, analyze data, and look into potential leads.  This represents an extremely promising start.  But if we are to be successful in our effort to help the people of Ukraine realize their own destinies – and help create the basis for a more fair and more just society that they desire and that they deserve – the international community must stand together, once again, to do even more.  And today, just as we have in the past, the people and government of the United States are ready and willing to do our part.

Last week – at President Obama’s direction, and in order to build on the work that’s already ongoing – Vice President Biden announced that the United States is committing an additional $1 million in technical assistance to aid the Ukrainian investigation for equipment and other developing needs.  Among other things, these funds will place a Justice Department attorney on the ground in Kyiv to work exclusively with Ukraine and its partners on asset recovery and mutual legal assistance issues.  As we’ve learned from providing similar assistance and support to Arab Spring countries, this move will be critical to augmenting vital information-gathering and communications capabilities in order to enhance asset recovery in both the short and long term.

 Fortunately, this is just the beginning.  This morning, I am pleased to announce the creation of a dedicated Kleptocracy squad within the FBI.  This specialized unit will partner with our Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section to aggressively investigate and prosecute corruption cases – not only in Ukraine, but around the world.  The squad of about a dozen personnel will consist of case agents and forensic analysts who are capable of unraveling the intricate money laundering transactions commonly employed by kleptocrats.  Their sophisticated work will be supported by deputy marshals from the United States Marshals Service and analysts from FinCEN, which is our financial intelligence unit.  And this new initiative will provide the United States with increased capacity to respond rapidly to political crises as they arise – so we can help prevent stolen assets from being dissipated or secreted away by deposed regimes.

 I thank you all for your partnership, and your steadfast support, of this and other work that’s currently underway.  And I urge every nation to join the United States in helping to solidify and institutionalize the collaborative efforts of investigators, prosecutors, and other practitioners in tracing, freezing, confiscating, and repatriating proceeds of corruption and other financial crimes not only in Ukraine, but around the world.  We will need the leadership of both practitioners, sharing evidence and expertise, and policymakers, who hold the keys to unlock resources for these complex investigations – and the legislative remedies to remove obstacles to efficient cooperation in asset recovery.

This, after all, is the clear mission and the singular focus of this Forum: not to rest on our laurels or extol past achievements, but – through common cause and, primarily, collective action – to help sovereign nations chart their own courses for transparent and accountable government in order to secure the better and brighter futures that they and their citizens deserve.

It is only by working together, learning from one another, and striving to move forward as a community of nations – united by our means as well as our objectives – that we can help fulfill the promise of democracy, and ensure respect for the rule of law, throughout Europe and in every corner of the globe.  And today we declare once again – with one voice and one purpose – that we must not, and we shall not, settle for anything less.

The United States is proud to stand with you in taking up this charge.  We are fortunate to count each of you as a friend and ally in this vital effort.  We will continue to count on your partnership and leadership.  And we join millions around the world in expressing our admiration for the boundless courage and tenacity of the Ukrainian people – to speak out against corruption; to stand up for their right to be free from foreign intervention; and to insist on a government that’s committed to democracy and the rule of law.

We can all be encouraged by the swift action that’s being taken by a broad coalition of countries to strongly condemn unwarranted aggression and violations of international law.  And we pledge this morning that we will never stop fighting alongside Ukraine and its partners to make the progress we need – to ensure accountability, to strengthen transnational cooperation, and to meet instability and irresponsibility with resolve – and robust diplomacy.

 Thank you, once again, for all that you do.  I look forward to a most productive Forum, but caution you that – though our joint work begins here in London – our continuing efforts will take place in many venues around the world.  And our ultimate success will be dependent on the commitment to both action and perseverance with which all of the nations gathered here are capable.  We owe the Ukrainian people – and others watching around the world – nothing less than our best efforts.  We must not fail them.  Thank you.

Updated August 18, 2015