Looted funds to be traced – MDC (23-11-06)

HARARE - The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has pledged to seek legal help from South Africa and the West to recover illicit funds stashed abroad by President Robert Mugabe and his corrupt lieutenants when it takes over the government of Zimbabwe.
The MDC will also instru

ct private sector lawyers to help launch an investigation into the assets held abroad by the ruling elite, according to a secret MDC document seen by The Zimbabwean.
The MDC says it is aware there have been huge capital outflows from top Zanu (PF) officials to tax havens in Europe and the US.
The document, prepared by the MDC’s Policy and Research portfolio, states that there is conclusive evidence that top government officials have stripped the nation’s Treasury.
The opposition party will seek the co-operation of the international banking community such as the World Bank, IMF and the European Union in proving that donor funds were abused and also in tracking funds externalized by the ruling elite.
Without naming anyone, the MDC says it has evidence of top officials who have sought to avoid detection by the central bank and the formal banking sector by redirecting funds held outside Zimbabwe or by illegally exporting hard currency.
A likely first destination is South Africa, which has a large banking system offering access to international investment and strong financial ties with its northern neighbour.
The MDC will also seek the cooperation of Switzerland in tracking down looted assets under a United Nations Convention, which criminalizes bribery, money laundering, and embezzlement of public funds. The pact obliges countries to return illegally acquired assets.
“To get the Swiss banking authorities to co-operate, we would need some official backing and a criminal prosecution,” said the report.
Swiss banks have co-operated in investigations into the assets held abroad by many fallen African dictators including Nigerian President, General Sani Abacha, the late Zairean strongman Mobutu Sese Seko, fallen Mali dictator Moussa Traore.
Over the past 20 years, Switzerland has returned nearly US$1,3 billion in loot.
The MDC document says any high-ranking account holders of suspect assets in foreign coffers must prove to the new government that they were not embezzled.
“An MDC government will do everything in its power to identify, block, confiscate and return the funds of ‘politically exposed’ persons by means of reciprocal legal assistance or other measures,” the MDC document says, using the Swiss euphemism “politically exposed” to refer to corrupt leaders.
Auditors however said the measures the post-Mugabe government was proposing would apply to more easily-traceable, hard assets, such as properties, rather than to bank accounts probably held in tax havens.
An auditor with Price Waterhouse Coopers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said top Zimbabwean officials were likely to have used formal private banking channels to move their money offshore. Alternatively, they may have set up corporate front companies to transfer their personal wealth overseas.
“There are so many legal and practical obstacles and restitution can take an awfully long period. But it can be done,” she said.

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