UNGASS 2021 against corruption highlights importance of stolen asset recovery and addressing corruption in the health sector

Restoring proceeds of corruption to their rightful owners is a development imperative. “By returning corrupt funds, we can mobilize resources to reduce poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” says UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly, and highlights that “It is also the right thing to do.”

But recovering these proceeds of corruption, especially those transferred abroad, can be especially challenging.

The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), the only legally binding universal anti-corruption instrument, established the return of stolen assets as a fundamental principal of the global fight against corruption. It also calls upon countries to adopt a wide range of measures to recover assets stolen through corruption. At an event on the sidelines of UNGASS 2021, experts discussed lessons learned and challenges of applying non-conviction-based confiscation.

In such cases, confiscation does not require a criminal conviction. This is a powerful tool which can be used when a criminal conviction is not possible, such as when the wrongdoer is dead, has fled the jurisdiction, or is immune from prosecution. As this tool is not yet available in all jurisdictions, experts also looked at key considerations when introducing it into legislation.

Speaking at the event, Nona Tsotsoria, Judge of the European Court of Human Rights said that “States should consider alternative methods of recovering assets acquired through corruption. Non-Conviction based confiscation, if applied with appropriate safeguards, is an acceptable mechanism to recover illicitly acquired wealth.”

UNODC response

UNODC provides technical assistance and guidance to States on how to effectively implement UNCAC’s relevant chapters on asset recovery. Together with the World Bank, UNODC set up the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR Initiative) that supports international efforts to end safe havens for corrupt funds. Through the StAR Initiative, UNODC and the World Bank work with jurisdictions to improve legal frameworks on asset recovery and to provide training, guidance and practical assistance on asset recovery-related issues.

Also speaking at the event were Gretta Fenner, Managing Director, Basel Institute on Governance, Emile van der Does de Willebois, Coordinator, StAR Initiative, and Patrick Konsbruck, Public Prosecutor, Luxembourg.


Corruption thrives in times of crisis and the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic has not been an exception. During a health crisis, fighting corruption can mean the difference between life and death, as corruption diverts valuable resources meant for crisis response and recovery and undermines the effective delivery of public services such as healthcare.

“Crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbate the risk of corruption, particularly where systems are already fragile and stressed,” said Mandeep Dhaliwal, Director of the HIV, Health & Development Group at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) at an UNGASS 2021 event on corruption in the health sector during crisis. Ms. Dhaliwal also highlighted that “Rapid emergency procurement of commodities and an influx of large amounts of funds have the potential to create a more fertile ground for corruption.”

Corruption also has the potential to “Jeopardize the success of entire COVID-19 vaccination programmes,” said John Brandolino, UNODC Director of the Division of Treaty Affairs. Therefore, the “Role of anti-corruption agencies and other relevant institutions is pivotal to ensure that each dose reaches its intended recipient and no one is left behind.”

Looking at possible solutions, Lene Lothe, Assistant Director of the Global Health Section at the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) said that “Transparency, access to information, and active participation can reduce corruption, illicit financial flows, and strengthen public trust and support for programs needed to curb the pandemic and its consequences.” And for this, Ms. Lothe said, “Civil society at country and international level is key.”

UNODC response

UNODC is supporting national health authorities in assessing and mitigating corruption risks in their operations and in strengthening health procurement and whistleblowing measures. The Office has developed policy documents on COVID-19 and corruption, covering topics such as vaccines and corruption risks and COVID-19 fiscal response and prevention of corruption.

To be able to help with tailored and innovative assistance to States parties to UNCAC in the current pandemic and in any other crises, UNODC has conducted regional surveys on the role of anti-corruption agencies in COVID-19 response, which will be published as a global report and will help to identify anti-corruption challenges and good practices in national responses.

The event was moderated by Sarah Lister, Head of Governance, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, UNDP, and speakers included Mensah-Abrampa, Director-General of the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC), Ghana, Cheri-Leigh Erasmus, Global Director of Learning, Accountability Lab, and Charles Kajoloweka, Executive Director, Youth And Society (YAS), Malawi.







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