Egypt joins international program to end corruption and money laundering

In hopes of recovering billions of dollars of public funds from bank accounts and other assets beyond its national borders, Egypt's Ministry of State for Administrative Development has joined a long-term project with the United Nations and European Union to confront corruption and money laundering in its different forms.

The joint anti-corruption project was launched on Tuesday under the slogan "Supporting Measures to Combat Corruption, Money Laundering, and Fostering Asset Recovery in Egypt." The project, which is funded by the EU, reportedly aims at establishing effective mechanisms to confront corruption in Egypt, and to facilitate asset-recovery procedures.

It also aims at establishing a framework through which to enforce the UN Convention Against Corruption, which Egypt signed in December 2003, and ratified in February 2005.

The launch event took place at the ministry's headquarters under the chairmanship of Ashraf Abdel Wahab, deputy minister of state for administrative development; and under the auspices of Mohamed Abdel Aziz, regional director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); along with Marc Franco, ambassador of the EU delegation to Egypt.

According to Abdel Wahab, Egypt's partnership in the program is of vital importance since "the [25 January] revolution does not have a magic wand with which to make corruption disappear.

"We urgently need new legislation, the enforcement of existing laws and legal mechanisms, along with governmental reforms, public-awareness initiatives, and a radical shift in Egypt's understanding of corruption," said Abdel Wahab. "This process will take time."

Meanwhile Abdel Aziz spoke of "the emergence of a new era of transparency" in light of the uprising. The regional director of UNODC added that the Egyptian state – via the ministries of administrative development, justice, interior, and the public prosecutor – and civil society are now responsible for monitoring and combating "the multi-faceted problem of corruption."

"This project seeks to establish a national program to confront corruption in all its different forms, within set time-tables." According to Abdel Aziz, the combating of corruption and the recovery of national assets is the ambition not only of Egypt's recent revolution, but a common "aim and ambition of all the Arab Spring's uprisings."
When asked whether the UN and/or the EU would be able to recover Egypt's public assets abroad, Ambassador Franco commented that the Egyptian people are rightfully impatient and have high expectations in these regards. However, "assistance in the recovery of assets, from a legal point of view, is a very complex process."

Franco added that the EU has moved to freeze the assets and bank accounts of numerous Egyptian statesmen "to make sure the money stays as is." Yet the actual process of asset recovery may take several years, according to Franco.

Abdel Aziz added "it took Nigeria over five years to recover assets from abroad, and in the Philippines it took over 18 years to recover funds and assets smuggled from the country under the rule of Ferdinand Marcos."

He went on to say that in Egypt "we must overcome our emotional demands, and the demand that we want our money right now. These actions entail complicated processes, investigations, and must be taken in accordance with a host of laws. Therefore, this process will take a long time."

According to Abdel Aziz, this drawn-out process will be carried out in line with to the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative, which was launched over 30 years ago by the World Bank and UNODC.

In terms of combating corruption on the domestic front, Abdel Aziz called for the issuance and enforcement of proper "investment mechanisms, and anti-monopolization laws" to promote justice, and fair competition in the business sectors. "We must also buttress the role of civil society, consumers, and non-governmental organizations in order to monitor the national economy and confront corruption."

Abdel Wahab concluded by saying: "We are in the process of completing draft laws for the access and provision of information amongst civil society" in order to provide for more transparency and accountability in Egypt, and for the confrontation of administrative and financial corruption, along with bribery, money laundering and all other forms of corruption.

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