U.S. Attorney General Holder At Arab Forum On Asset Recovery In Morocco

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder | AP Photo

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder | AP Photo

Attorney General Eric Holder at the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery

As prepared for delivery

Thank you for those kind words – and thank you all for such a warm welcome. Excellencies; distinguished guests; Minister [Abdelah] Baha; Minister [Mohamed] Louafa; Minister [Mustapha] Ramid; Minister [Mohamed] Mobdie; and honored colleagues – it is a pleasure to be with you today in this beautiful city. And it is a privilege to bring greetings from President Barack Obama and the American people.

I would particularly like to thank His Majesty King Mohammed VI, Prime Minister [Abdelilah] Benkirane, and the entire government of the Kingdom of Morocco, for welcoming each of the delegations that has traveled here this week – including my colleagues from the U.S. delegation – to take part in this important Forum. By hosting this critical gathering and contributing to the advances we’ve seen over the past year, the Moroccan government has shown clear and consistent leadership in helping to shape the future we must build together. Alongside our friends and colleagues from the United Kingdom, who have worked diligently to help organize this year’s Forum, you’ve brought a remarkable group of international partners together to discuss urgent challenges. And I want you to know how grateful I am for the opportunity to join you in closing what’s been a productive and rewarding conference.

We come together this year at a time of reflection and renewal – in a moment of progress and possibility; of challenge as well as opportunity. It was 14 years ago, in Washington, D.C., when then-Vice President of the United States Al Gore convened the very first Global Forum on Fighting Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity – an initiative that reflected a growing international willingness to acknowledge corruption as a problem that every country must face. Since that time, international leaders 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 together accomplished a great deal.

In recent years, we’ve joined hands to draft and bring into force the United Nations Convention Against Corruption – the first global anti-corruption treaty. That treaty was a critical part of a record of groundbreaking transnational cooperation on issues ranging from anticorruption to counterterrorism; from cyber security, to judicial reform, to intellectual property enforcement. And more recently – as the world has watched the winds of change sweep across this region – we responded by coming together in Doha last year to convene the first Arab Forum on Asset Recovery.

As we’ve all seen – and as President Obama has said – “[t]he struggle against corruption is one of the great struggles of our time.” Fortunately – thanks in part to the work of leaders like you – corruption is no longer widely seen as an accepted cost of doing business. It is no longer tolerated as an unavoidable aspect of government. On the contrary – it is now generally understood that the consequences of corruption are devastating – eroding trust in public and private institutions, undermining confidence in the fairness of free and open markets, siphoning precious resources at a time when they could hardly be more scarce, and all too often breeding contempt for the rule of law.

What makes this understanding remarkable is that it is accompanied, this week, by significant optimism: that corruption, despite its destructive power, can be overcome. That it is possible to make the progress we seek, and that our citizens deserve. And that our respective nations and governments have not only acceded to this recognition – we’ve summoned the political and institutional will to take a firm stand.

By convening this Forum, the community of nations represented here has helped to create a significant window of 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 collaboration. We signal, by our presence in Marrakech today, our enduring commitment to the difficult work before us – and our unyielding determination to fight corruption wherever it exists, and however long it may take.

We acknowledge, of course, that the change we seek will not take hold overnight. But we stand resolved to work together as never before – in bilateral and multilateral ways – to take the risks that reform entails. To locate and return stolen assets not for the benefit of those who wield power, but for the people whose futures depend on opportunity, prosperity, and progress. And to do everything possible to eradicate the public corruption and official misconduct that too often undermines the power – and promise – of civil society.

I know we’re all mindful of the fact that this work could hardly be more critical. This is why – in 2009, during my first year as Attorney General – I was proud to help mark the beginning of a major step forward in Doha, when I joined Dr. [Ali bin Fetais] Al Marri and many of you in opening the sixth and final Global Forum on Combating Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity. We concluded the Global Forum series with a fresh resolve to continue its important work. And we left Doha 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.

The very next year, I announced the launch of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, at the African Union Summit in Uganda. Through this initiative, the United States took another significant step to make good on our commitment to help lead the fight against large-scale corruption – and to recover stolen funds so they can be used for their intended, legitimate purposes. We assembled a team of highly-skilled Department of Justice prosecutors to enhance our anticorruption activities and deny corrupt officials the benefit of the funds they stole. And we took steps to enhance the work that’s been underway around the world for approximately two decades – during which, in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, and at the request of host nations – the Justice Department has placed U.S. prosecutors in our embassies to help build joint prosecutorial capacity with partners in dozens of countries around the world, including Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt, and right here in Morocco. This exchange of prosecutorial expertise has greatly benefitted us, no less than our foreign partners: we are all stronger for working so closely together.

In particular, to support the G8 and Deauville Partnership Arab Asset Recovery Plan that brings us here today, I have instructed the Justice Department to appoint attorneys to work exclusively with Deauville transition countries and their regional partners on asset recovery and mutual legal assistance issues. These attorneys specialize exclusively in asset recovery work – coordinating case cooperation between the Deauville Partnership and the Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Unit. And they work to identify and trace assets – in addition to conducting intensive courses on Asset Recovery – in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and other law enforcement agencies. And we work closely with our invaluable colleagues at the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative of the World Bank and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

In my speech last year to the Arab Forum, I pledged that the Department of Justice would dedicate two of its senior attorneys to advancing this work. Nancy Langston, a trial attorney with the Department’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, has been hard at work in Washington D.C. since January – designing programs, working with our Deauville Partners, and traveling the region to deliver courses. I am also pleased to introduce Karen Norris, a trial attorney with 20 years of experience – including a Justice Department assignment in Afghanistan – who will be based in Qatar starting next week. My colleagues and I are grateful to the Qatar Anti-Corruption and Rule of Law Center for providing her a base of operations as well as a venue for regional seminars. She will be conducting professional development programs in asset recovery in coordination with the Department’s Kleptocracy Unit – which is led by Dan Claman, and focuses on tracing and recovering assets from corrupt leaders, their families, and their cronies.