Saturday, 11 February 2012

Dictators’ assets in Europe red-flagged

By John Stephen Katende
6th January 2012:
Past & Present: Africa's powerful dictators.
Members of the European Parliament [MEPs] have, in an unprecedented move, raised the red flag on their governments and called on their leaders to end what they called “hypocritical” dealings with the world’s top tyrants who use EU member states as a safe haven for their ill gotten wealth.
“…Leaders of authoritarian regimes can spend their dubiously acquired wealth in the EU, despite measures to prevent it, because EU Member States provide safe havens for their personal fortunes and give them access to education and leisure services. This has to stop,” the European Parliament said in a resolution passed on Thursday last week.
In the resolution addressed to the European Council of Ministers, the MEPs said to many authoritarian leaders and their acolytes, the EU is an attractive place to invest, buy property, hold bank accounts, and enjoy the “…freedom to spend their often dubiously acquired wealth.” The EU legislators added that the hypocritical stance towards the leaders of authoritarian regimes needs to end.
“…We publicly denounce their human rights records, while letting them busily stash their money away in our banks, own property within our borders, do business with our companies, and holiday in our resorts. Our message has to be loud and clear: the EU will not help you launder your ill-gotten gains,” said MEP Graham Watson who drafted the report.
End selective application of sanctions
The MEPs also said applying restrictive measures inconsistently is not effective and damages the EU’s credibility.  They thus called on all Member States to ensure that there are “…no double standards when deciding on restrictive measures or sanctions and that these are applied regardless of political, economic and security interests.
They MEPs also invited the European Commission and all Member States to coordinate arms embargoes and pay due regard to International Criminal Court judgments relevant to EU sanctions policy.  Member States were also urged to declare the names of persons on the sanctions list who hold property or financial assets within their borders and cooperate in identifying and confiscating those assets.
“…Listed leaders and persons or organizations associated with them [dictators] should be strictly prohibited from owning assets and property in the EU or travelling in Europe for leisure.  Academic institutions, sports and charity organizations should likewise be prohibited from accepting funding, grants or donations from these leaders and their natural and legal associates,” the MEPs demanded.
At the same time, the MEPs said, the EU should strive to minimise the impact of sanctions on the vulnerable and innocent populations of authoritarian regimes.  “…All restrictive measures must aim to influence only the accountable elites of repressive or criminal regimes, and should be coupled with support for civil society, so as to build respect for democracy and human rights.” the EU legislators counselled.
Repatriation of frozen assets
The MEPs were however, also at pains to point out the need to repatriate frozen funds and assets back to the citizens of the countries from which they were stolen.  “…Member States should endeavour to mobilise frozen and confiscated assets and repatriate them to their respective countries as soon as possible so as to benefit the population,” the text of the report read in part.
Egypt’s former dictator Hosni Mubarak has for example been accused of stashing away [in the EU and US] a massive fortune estimated to be around $70 billion.  Likewise, the family of the deceased Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi is suspected to have accumulated billions of dollars worth of properties abroad.
Other Mubarak and Gadhafi, the French media reported in 2009 that on the 28th of August 2009, long serving Cameroonian President Paul Biya and his acolytes checked in La Baule, a luxurious French resort where they each booked 43 rooms at the cost of $60,000 per night.  They stayed there for 20 days and racked up a bill of $1.2million for accommodation alone.
Before this latest EU resolution, a senior Ugandan opposition leader told this newspaper last year that when Museveni’s government falls, they would seriously hunt down assets bought by NRM leaders abroad using stolen money.  That may however be easier said than done.  END.  Please login to every Monday to read our top stories and anytime mid-week for our news updates.

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