Archive for the ‘International Asset Recovery’ Category

Christian Science Monitor quotes Ward & Ward Partner Mark Vlasic

March 17, 2011

Ward & Ward partner and Georgetown professor Mark Vlasic was recently quoted by the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) in two articles–“How dictators stash their cash 101” and “Swiss freeze Qaddafi assets”–discussing the Swiss government’s recent efforts to freeze the assets of embattled world leaders.  Vlasic, a former head of operations at the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR), has written several Op-Eds on stolen asset recovery and on how a new law in Switzerland makes it easier for the Swiss government to freeze potentially stolen assets.

Vlasic called Switzerland, “[O]ne of the most forward-leaning countries in the world of asset recovery,” and he said, “[The Swiss] burden-shifting law is unique in the world of anticorruption legislation.”  Vlasic also told CSM that world bodies, like the World Bank and the G-20, are stepping up to assist in asset recovery efforts.  He added, “Political leaders have aligned themselves with the importance of this cause, and that empowers the technical aspects.”

Thanks to the political significance of the issue, the new Swiss law, known as the Recovery of Illicit Assets Act, has already had some success.  The law is playing an important role in an investigation of assets held by Haiti’s Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.  While at the World Bank, Vlasic served on the Duvalier/Haiti asset recovery team, and he is currently serving as an international legal advisor to the Charles Taylor/Liberia recovery team.

TIME Magazine quotes Ward & Ward Partner Mark Vlasic

February 20, 2011

TIME Magazine recently quoted Ward & Ward partner and Georgetown professor Mark Vlasic in an article discussing Switzerland’s role in freezing assets.  TIME relied on Vlasic’s expertise in stolen asset recovery to inform its understanding of a new Swiss law that makes freezing potentially stolen assets easier.

For Switzerland, it was a no-brainer. It didn’t even wait to be asked. Only two hours after Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak announced his resignation on Feb. 11, the Swiss government froze all the money he holds in the country’s banks. Now it plans to send it back to Egypt, where it can be used to do good.

Swiss authorities explained in a statement that the swift action on Mubarak’s wealth — and just how much of his reported multi-billion dollar fortune is deposited in Switzerland is not yet known — was taken “to avoid any misappropriation of Egyptian government assets.” And it was possible thanks to new legislation that went into effect on Feb. 1, making it increasingly difficult for plundering rulers to open accounts in Switzerland or lay claim to the assets hidden therein. The Restitution of Illicit Assets Act (RIAA) allows the government to immediately freeze and confiscate the funds of “politically exposed persons,” even if the implicated nation has not asked for the money back. Once returned to their country of origin, the funds must be used to improve quality of life, strengthen the judicial system, and fight crime.

“Normally, a foreign country lodges an official request when it seeks to find and freeze the illegally obtained assets of one of its corrupt officials,” explains James Nason, spokesman for the Swiss Banking Association (SBA), an umbrella group for the country’s financial institutions. “This Act was designed to deal with situations involving countries that have no functioning legal system and can’t competently follow through with any judicial procedure.”

Experts say the law will help Switzerland shake off its reputation as a place where bad guys go to hide their ill-gotten gains. Only two years ago, the country was placed on the OECD’s “gray list” of tax havens that failed to meet international transparency standards (it has since been removed from the list). Now Switzerland is a trailblazer in the quest to return stolen assets to developing nations. “Passing such a forward-leaning law is not easy,” says Mark Vlasic, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. who served as head of operations of the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative and is now an international legal adviser to the Charles Taylor/Liberia asset recovery team. “It goes a long way in showing Switzerland’s intent to be on the right side of history when it comes to fighting grand corruption and kleptocracy.”

The Foreign Ministry devised the legislation because of its experience with former Haitian president Jean-Claude Duvalier, who stashed about $5.8 million of looted money in Switzerland. After “Baby Doc” was overthrown in 1986, the Swiss froze his assets. Then in 2010, following 24 years of legal wrangling, a Swiss court ruled that the money should be returned to Duvalier. However, since he couldn’t prove that he had earned the money legitimately, the Foreign Ministry blocked the release of funds and scrambled to devise and pass the RIAA. Under the new law, the confiscated assets will, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs’ website, “be returned to Haiti in order to improve the living conditions of the people.” The law stipulates that Switzerland and the country to which the money is returned should agree on the programs of public interest that will be financed with the assets, or the Swiss government can also return the money through international or national organizations.

This is really just a new twist on Switzerland’s long-standing tradition of restitution. So far, the country has returned $1.5 billion of plundered funds to their countries of origin — including Nigeria, the Philippines and Mexico — more than any other financial center of a comparable size. And long before RIAA went into effect, Switzerland had already enacted laws and procedures to combat money laundering and corruption. “Swiss banks must follow very strict procedures when they start a business relationship with a ‘politically-exposed person’,” says SBA’s Nason. “They must monitor that client’s financial activity and clarify any unusual transactions. But unlike many other countries, Swiss banks don’t have to wait for a court order to freeze suspicious accounts – they can act on their own initiative.” When Swiss banks detected suspicious activity on the account held by disgraced Peruvian spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos in 2000, for example, they reported it to the authorities and froze the assets, as they are obliged to do under Switzerland’s anti-money laundering laws. The same thing happened with Taiwan’s former president Chen Shui-bian in 2008.

But experts say Switzerland wouldn’t have to work so hard at fighting corruption if the banks in other countries were more careful about whose money they accept. When the government investigated the case of Nigeria’s former leader Sani Abacha, for example, they discovered that a substantial portion of the $700 million he had stashed in Swiss accounts had first gone through banks in the U.S. and the U.K. Funds of criminal origin often come to Switzerland from other countries where “know-your-customer” rules are not as strict, Nason says, pointing out that Swiss financial institutions must have detailed information not only about the account owner but also about their beneficiaries and those holding power of attorney over the assets. “In Britain, you can verify your identity when opening a bank account by showing a utilities bill with your name and address on it,” he says. “If you tried that in Switzerland, you would be laughed out of the bank.”

Ward & Ward Partner and Georgetown Professor Mark Vlasic Invited to Speak at the International Association of Prosecutors Conference in Brazil

February 11, 2011

Ward & Ward Partner and Georgetown Professor Mark Vlasic was invited to speak at the International Association of Prosecutors Regional Conference in Brazil. Professor Vlasic will focus his discussion on anti-corruption issues and international asset recovery.

Ward & Ward Partner and Georgetown Professor Mark Vlasic Publishes Op Ed in the Washington Times

February 11, 2011

Ward & Ward partner and Georgetown professor Mark Vlasic published Haiti Has Lessons for Tunisia, a Washington Times Op Ed that argues that Tunisia might be able to learn lessons from Haiti in coming to grips with its former dictator and its possible efforts to recover stolen assets.

VLASIC & COOPER: Haiti has lessons for Tunisia
Both nations need to come to grips with their kleptocratic pasts

When Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali abruptly fled Tunisia‘s chaos,becoming an exile of a nation that he and his wife reportedly used as their personal cookie jar, it was deja vu all over again.

Amid rumors that Mr. Ben Ali fled along with 1.5 tons of gold (worth approximately $65 million), his escape seems eerily reminiscent of president-for-life Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s escape from Haiti. According to reports, it appears that both leaders fled aboard aircraft filled with stolen loot from countries that had endured nearly two decades of corruption and nepotism under their regimes. In a mysterious turn of events and after 25 years in exile, Mr. Duvalier recently returned to Port-au-Prince as Swiss and Haitian officials are working to return millions of his frozen assets to Haiti. Considering the similarities, one must ask: Can post-Ben Ali Tunisia learn something from post-Duvalier Haiti?

Much like post-Duvalier Haiti, Tunisia is in a fragile state, and after an attempt to create a unity government with opposition leaders, it is clear that events that will define its future are still in motion. When the dust settles and a stable government is formed, one of the major questions it will face will be whether it will follow Haiti‘s lead in trying to achieve some measure of justice by attempting to recover allegedly ill-gotten gains accumulated by the Ben Ali family.

Indeed, concerns about high-level corruption were among the reasons for the uprising in Tunisia, so it stands to reason that any new government would be well-served by launching a proper investigation into the allegations of malfeasance that have arisen.

In a matter of days since Mr. Ben Ali‘s quick departure, his international assets are being identified and targeted abroad. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s office announced it would block all “suspicious” movements of the Ben Ali family’s assets, preventing their liquidation or transfer out of the country. Similar actions are being taken in the United States. In Canada, there are reports of Tunisian expatriates protesting outside a $2.5 million stone mansion that is purported to be the property of Mr. Ben Ali‘s 30-year-old son-in-law. And in Switzerland, a country recognized for being forward-leaning in helping recover stolen assets (including passing a law to help repatriate Duvalier-related funds to Haiti), the Swiss Federal Council decided to block “with immediate effect” any possible funds in Switzerland of Mr. Ben Ali and his associates.

These are welcome steps forward – and a testament to a new era of fighting impunity – in which alleged kleptocrats are no longer openly welcomed by private banks and Western governments – but rather, sovereign states and political leaders step in to ensure that, as World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick put it, there are “no safe haven* for those who steal from the poor.”

But a full accounting of Mr. Ben Ali‘s wealth has yet to be revealed – and it will take time and sustained political will by any new Tunisian government to run all leads to an end. Indeed, it took years for Haiti to commence a sustained effort to recover Duvalier-related assets.

Unfortunately, political will on the part of a post-kleptocratic government is one of the rarest, yet most necessary, ingredients for successfully recovering illicit assets. And even should a new Tunisian government be willing to investigate the former president’s assets, identifying and recovering stolen assets is far from easy.

This is one of the reasons Mr. Zoellick made the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative, a global partnership to help recover assets from past dictators, his first initiative after joining the World Bank. Mr. Zoellick and his colleagues recognized that grand corruption – not unlike the alleged corruption in the cases of Mr. Duvalier and Mr. Ben Ali – is a global issue that demands a global response.

According to Jean-Pierre Brun, the lead author of new StAR handbook on recovering stolen assets, “the [asset recovery] process can be overwhelming for even the most experienced practitioners. It is exceptionally difficult for those working in the context of failed states, widespread corruption, or limited resources.” Thus, for Tunisia, any quest to recover stolen assets will not be simple. But it is not the only country to face such challenges.

Over the past few years, the Haitian government has been working quietly with officials from Switzerland and the StAR Initiative to help recover assets purportedly stolen by Mr. Duvalier (indeed, such efforts likely prompted Mr. Duvalier‘s sudden return to Haiti). And even though time-consuming, Haiti is on track to possibly recover millions of dollars of assets that are frozen in Swiss bank accounts – bringing some sense of justice to a country sorely in need of good news.

Thus, with the recent departure of Mr. Ben Ali comes the possibility of a new chapter for Tunisia – one in which corruption does not dominate the country – and in which the rule of law plays a central role in society. Should the new government decide to enter into the world of asset recovery, it should do so knowing that the success of such operations depends a great deal upon the political willpower of the successor government to sustain its recovery efforts. Let us hope the new leaders in Tunisia are statesmen, emboldened by the examples of Haiti and others to continue their fight against corruption, and that future dictators and kleptocrats around the world take notice. For it is only by collective and targeted international action that we can ensure that there will be no safe haven for stolen assets.

Mark V. Vlasic, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University, worked on the Haiti/Duvalier asset recovery team while serving as head of operations of the World Bank’s StAR Secretariat. Greg Cooper is a law student at the University of Texas.

Ward & Ward Partner and Georgetown Professor Mark Vlasic Publishes Op Ed in the Huffington Post

February 11, 2011

Ward & Ward partner and Georgetown professor Mark Vlasic published 5.7 Million Reasons for Duvalier to Return to Haiti, a Huffington Post Op Ed regarding stolen asset recovery and possible reasons for “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s return to Haiti.

5.7 Million Reasons For Duvalier to Return to Haiti

After twenty-five years in comfortable exile, what convinced former president Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier to leave France and return to earthquake-shattered Haiti? Supporters will claim that he returned to help re-build his country. But if so, why did he choose to return a year after a 7.0 earthquake struck his homeland? The answer likely has little to do with a small island in the Caribbean trying to dig itself out of poverty — and much more to do with a small country in the Alps better known for its watches, chocolate and ski resorts.

That’s because the “Return of Illicit Assets Act” (RIAA), passed by the Swiss Parliament last October, comes into effect this week.

But why would Duvalier, a Haitian living in France, care about a law change in Switzerland?

Money — that’s why.

You see, the Swiss government maintains an “assets freeze” on over $5.7 million of Duvalier-related bank accounts in Switzerland. And while Duvalier has been fighting the assets freeze for years — trying to stop the Swiss from confiscating his allegedly ill-gotten gains — the law that takes effect this week paves the way for returning his assets to Haiti — thus completing an asset recovery effort that began in 1986.

Duvalier’s return to Haiti, just as another alleged kleptocrat, former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, fled his own country, evoked memories of déjà vu to many in the asset recovery world.

Taking over as “president-for-life” after his father’s death, Duvalier’s rule was characterized by greed and neglect. For 15 years, Duvalier and his associates allegedly stole Haitian funds and international aid money while ordinary Haitians grew poorer and poorer. Only when faced with the near-total breakdown of the Haitian state, rioting, and a potential coup d’état did Duvalier flee the country.

Similar to reports that Ben Ali left Tunisia on a jet with millions of dollars in gold coins, Duvalier reportedly left Haiti in a jet filled with gold, jewels and artwork, leaving (like Ben Ali) a chaotic and economically scarred nation behind.

Since then, it has been left to Duvalier’s successors in Haiti and a handful of diligent officials in Switzerland, aided by the joint World Bank-United Nations Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative, to try to recover Duvalier’s assets for the benefit of the Haitian people.

Unfortunately, corruption in Haiti and Tunisia are not isolated issues. According to World Bank estimates, corruption among holders of public office accounts for the misappropriation of between $20 and $40 billion each year. This corresponds to 20-40 percent of annual global development aid.

Because of this, there has been greater attention focused on stolen asset recovery as a critical component in the fight against impunity that is so often associated with grand corruption. This was one of the reasons President Robert Zoellick made the StAR Initiative, a global partnership to help recover assets from past dictators, his first initiative after joining the World Bank. And this is one of the reasons that so many in the development and anti-corruption fields have been waiting patiently for Switzerland’s RIAA to come into effect.

The Swiss law, also known as “Lex Duvalier,” was designed for cases involving assets frozen in Switzerland which have been acquired unlawfully, but which cannot be returned via typical mutual legal assistance channels due to failures in the victim state’s judicial system.

In such cases, where the country involved renders it impossible to conduct a proper exchange procedure, the Swiss law would enable a unique “burden shift.” In these cases, should RIAA be implemented as envisioned, officials would only have to show that the funds held in Switzerland by an alleged corrupt official are significantly larger than what someone could have credibly earned in office, and that the country from which the funds originate was known to be corrupt.

Then the burden of proving that the money came from legal sources would lie with the allegedly corrupt official, rather than the Swiss state. If the official could not prove a legitimate origin of his or her Swiss assets, they would be confiscated by the state.

It is likely that Duvalier returned to Haiti in order to throw a wrench into the new law’s application, perhaps hoping that by re-entering Haiti, he could challenge the use of the law, or possibly strike a deal that could allow for a return of his assets to Haiti, but in a manner that might better position him for a future presidential bid. For the moment, however, it looks like his plan has backfired, and he may finally face justice in Haiti. Should that happen — and Duvalier’s assets are finally returned to Haiti – it may give life to President Zoellick’s assertion that “there should be no safe haven for those who steal from the poor.”

Ward & Ward Partner and Georgetown University Adjunct Professor of Law Mark Vlasic Publishes Op-Ed in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune

October 6, 2010

Ward & Ward Partner and Georgetown University Adjunct Professor of Law Mark Vlasic publishes “Justice for Haiti, via the Swiss” – a New York Times and International Herald Tribune Op-Ed regarding the Swiss passage of the “Return of Illicit Assets Act” and the effort to recover stolen assets for the benefit of the Haitian people:

October 3, 2010
Justice for Haiti, via the Swiss
By MARK V. VLASIC

Twenty-four years after Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier left a champagne-filled party at his presidential palace and boarded a chartered jet to flee Haiti, leaving a chaotic and economically scarred nation behind, a democratically elected government in Haiti now has a chance to recover millions of dollars of stolen assets.

That is because on Friday, the Swiss Parliament passed the “Return of Illicit Assets Act” (R.I.A.A.), an innovative legislative fix to a decades-old problem that, if implemented properly, may give added life to World Bank President Robert Zoellick’s assertion that “there should be no safe haven for those who steal from the poor.”

Taking over as “president-for-life” after his father’s death, Baby Doc Duvalier’s rule was characterized by greed and domestic neglect, resulting in a paralysis of national development. A world-class kleptocrat, for 15 years Duvalier and his associates stole Haitian funds and international aid money while exploiting Haitians for the benefit of sugar companies. Stolen cash was allegedly used to pay for fast cars, shopping vacations, jewelry and posh properties in foreign hotspots.

Only when faced with the near-total breakdown of the Haitian state, rioting, and a potential coup d’état did Duvalier acknowledge that his days were numbered and flee the country. Since then, it has been left to Duvalier’s successors in Haiti and a handful of hard-working officials in Switzerland, aided by the joint World Bank-United Nations Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative, to try to recover the stolen assets for the benefit of the Haitian people.

Sadly, as we are reminded almost daily with reports of high-level corruption in Afghanistan and elsewhere, what happened in Haiti is not an isolated occurrence. According to World Bank estimates, corruption among holders of public office accounts for the misappropriation of between $20 and $40 billion each year. This corresponds to 20 to 40 percent of annual global development aid.

For this reason, there has been greater attention focused on combating grand corruption as a critical component in the fight against impunity — and thus a more concerted effort to track down and recover stolen assets. This was one of the reasons Mr. Zoellick made the StAR Initiative, a global partnership to help recover assets from past dictators, his first initiative after joining the World Bank.

With Switzerland’s landmark vote, the country that is traditionally associated with bank secrecy laws — which have been abused in the past to hide stolen assets — is poised to become an example of one of the most forward-leaning countries in the quest to return stolen assets to developing countries.

To be fair, Swiss efforts to return stolen assets are not new. According to Swiss reports, over the last 20 years the government has returned more than $1.5 billion in assets of criminal origin — including assets from some of the most famous kleptocrats in history such as Sani Abacha of Nigeria, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Carlos Salinas of Mexico. Despite these successes, however, asset recovery cases are not easy. They are governed by complex laws and international treaties, and as in the case of Duvalier, many languish for decades.

This is the reason why Switzerland developed R.I.A.A., which is designed for cases involving assets frozen in Switzerland which have been acquired unlawfully, but which cannot be returned via typical international mutual legal assistance channels due to failures in the victim state’s judicial system.

In such cases, where the country involved renders it impossible to conduct a proper exchange procedure, the new law would enable a unique “burden shift.” In these cases, should R.I.A.A. be implemented as envisioned, the Swiss government would only have to show that the funds held in Switzerland by an alleged corrupt official are significantly larger than what someone could have credibly earned in office, and that the country from which the funds originate was known to be corrupt.

Then the burden of proving that the money came from legal sources would lie with the allegedly corrupt official, rather than the Swiss state. If the official could not prove a legitimate origin of his or her Swiss assets, they would be confiscated by the Swiss state.

With the Swiss Assembly’s passage of R.I.A.A., it is expected that the last barriers to repatriating Duvalier’s frozen assets — an effort that began in 1986 — will finally be removed, and approximately $5.8 million will be soon returned to Haiti, a country desperately in need of good news and money. (Had the law not passed, the Swiss freeze would have expired, and the funds would have been returned to the Duvalier family.)

Let us hope that other major financial centers follow suit, that Haitian officials are emboldened to continue their fight against corruption, and that future dictators and kleptocrats around the world take notice. For it is only by international collective and targeted action that we can ensure that there will be no safe haven for stolen assets.

Mark V. Vlasic, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University and partner at Ward & Ward PLLC, worked on the Haiti/Duvalier asset recovery team while serving as head of operations of the World Bank’s StAR Secretariat. He currently serves as international legal adviser to the Charles Taylor/Liberia asset recovery team.

Ward & Ward Partner and Georgetown University Adjunct Professor of Law Mark Vlasic Featured in Devex Article on Charles Taylor

August 6, 2010

Ward & Ward Partner and Georgetown University Adjunct Professor of Law Mark Vlasic was featured in a Devex article on Charles Taylor, entitled “Ex-Liberian Leader’s War Crimes Case Revisited Ahead of Supermodel’s Testimony.”

Ex-Liberian Leader’s War Crimes Case Revisited Ahead of Supermodel’s Testimony

By Ivy Mungcal on 04 August 2010

Supermodel Naomi Campbell is set to testify Thursday (August 5) before an international court in the Netherlands on a case that experts see as the potential link between former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s supposed war crimes and illegal financial activities.

This testimony is about the “blood diamond” Campbell supposedly received from Taylor, which could prove that the former African leader used his country’s resources to enrich himself. Such allegations are the reasons why the World Bank and United Nations created certain mechanisms to recover stolen country wealth, a Georgetown law professor observes.

The illicit financial transactions and diamond trade that supposedly funded Taylor’s crimes against neighboring Sierra Leone prompted World Bank President Robert Zoellick and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to create the Stolen Asset Recovery initiative, explains Mark V. Vlasic, who also serves as international legal adviser to the Charles Taylor/Liberia Asset Recover Team at Ward & Ward PLLC. The StAR, Vlasic explains, ensures that “there are no safe havens for stolen assets.”

Vlasic says war crimes often, and unfortunately, trigger economic crimes such as illegal trade, corruption and plunder.

“Sadly, it seems that the link between war crimes and economic crimes is that one leads to the other,” writes Vlasic in an opinion piece for the Washington Times. “Without money from blood diamonds and other natural resources, Mr. Taylor was limited in what he was able to accomplish. But with supporters, business associates and friends in multiple countries and global financial centers willing to look the other way, Mr. Taylor’s particular brand of evil was able to flourish not just via warfare, but also through financial transactions throughout the world.”

Vlasic adds that if Campbell did receive a “blood diamond” from the former president, prosecutors will gain critical evidence for their case. If prosecutors are able to establish a link between Taylor’s plunder of state coffers, war crimes and illegal diamond trade, they will be able to show how some people are willing to sacrifice the lives of innocent people as well as squander millions of dollars.

Taylor is also facing 11 counts of crimes against humanity, war crimes and other transgressions against international law with the Special Court for Sierra Leone, an independent judicial body created for trying crimes committed during the country’s civil war. These charges are based on allegations that he founded, supported and funded the Revolutionary United Front, a rebel group responsible for atrocities in Sierra Leone, Liberia’s neighbor country.

Taylor allegedly funded the group’s activities by engaging in the trade of “blood diamonds” and anomalous government practices.

Campbell supposedly received a “blood diamond” from Taylor during a 1997 dinner hosted by former South African President Nelson Mandela at his Table Mountain residence in Cape Town.

Ward & Ward Partner and Georgetown University Adjunct Professor of Law Mark Vlasic Publishes Article in the Yale Journal of International Affairs

August 3, 2010

Ward & Ward Partner and Georgetown University Adjunct Professor of Law Mark Vlasic publishes “Fighting Corruption to Improve Global Security: An analysis of international asset recovery systems” – a Yale Journal of International Affairs article regarding the link between corruption and state security, with a focus on Afghanistan.

Ward & Ward Partner and Georgetown University Adjunct Professor of Law Mark Vlasic Publishes Article in the Washington Times

August 3, 2010

Ward & Ward Partner and Georgetown University Adjunct Professor of Law Mark Vlasic publishes “Look Who’s Coming to Dinner: a warlord, a president, a model – and a blood diamond?” – a Washington Times article regarding international justice, asset recovery and a blood diamond Naomi Campbell allegedly received from Charles Taylor, now at issue in this week’s testimony of Miss Campbell at Mr. Taylor’s war crimes trial in The Hague:

Look who’s coming to dinner
A warlord, a president, a model – and a blood diamond?

By Mark V. Vlasic – The Washington Times

5:56 p.m., Friday, July 30, 2010

Only Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s legendary president, could have managed such a guest list. At Genadendal, his Table Mountain residence in Cape Town, Mr. Mandela hosted what by all accounts was a lovely dinner for such notables as supermodel Naomi Campbell, actress Mia Farrow and Liberia’s then-President Charles Taylor.

Thirteen years after this eclectic gathering, the events of that night are front and center in an international courtroom. Mr. Taylor stands accused of being a war criminal and sits in the dock in The Hague, and one of the star witnesses is a star herself. According to Miss Farrow, Miss Campbell may have received a “blood diamond” from Mr. Taylor’s associates that evening. If true, the allegation will provide critical evidentiary support to international prosecutors, and thus the world’s eyes will be on Miss Campbell Thursday, when she is compelled to testify at Mr. Taylor’s trial in The Hague.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) is trying Mr. Taylor on 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of international law, including terrorism, rape, sexual slavery and recruiting and using child soldiers. The charges stem from allegations that Mr. Taylor founded, funded and supported the Revolutionary United Front, a rebel army responsible for mass atrocities in neighboring Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor funded this war, in part, by plundering state resources and trading in blood diamonds, one of which he purportedly presented to Miss Campbell at Genadendal.

If SCSL prosecutors are able to demonstrate the linkage between Mr. Taylor’s state plunder, diamond trade and mass atrocities, Mr. Taylor will stand as one more example of the proposition that those who are willing to slaughter thousands of innocents are also willing to steal millions of dollars, as Mr. Taylor purportedly did during the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Sadly, it seems that the link between war crimes and economic crimes is that one leads to the other. Without money from blood diamonds and other natural resources, Mr. Taylor was limited in what he was able to accomplish. But with supporters, business associates and friends in multiple countries and global financial centers willing to look the other way, Mr. Taylor’s particular brand of evil was able to flourish not just via warfare, but also through financial transactions throughout the world.

It is because of the global nature of such illicit financial transactions and transfers in plundered assets that Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, and Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, formed the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative. By assisting governments in their efforts to recover the proceeds of grand corruption, StAR serves as one more element in the fight against impunity, as it helps ensure that there are no safe havens for stolen assets. Thus, while tribunals such as SCSL are important institutions for holding perpetrators of war crimes responsible for their actions, recovering stolen financial assets is another important means of targeting those who act as financial enablers, thereby helping end the impunity for such crimes.

Miss Campbell’s story demonstrates that one does not need to be an international prosecutor, United Nations diplomat or World Bank official to find oneself in a position to help fight the impunity that so often is associated with war crimes and economic crimes. The supermodel, no stranger to courtrooms herself, likely never imagined that a dinner invitation from Mr. Mandela would land her on the witness stand in The Hague. But now, in an unlikely twist of fate, Miss Campbell has the unique opportunity to provide testimony that might help demonstrate that Mr. Taylor used blood diamonds for his own personal enrichment and to further the destruction he helped orchestrate in Africa.

Let us hope the supermodel recognizes the gravity of the role she is about to play in international justice and the fight against impunity and carries out her duties accordingly. As it was said by Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good men do nothing.”

Mark V. Vlasic is an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University and partner at Ward & Ward PLLC, where he serves as international legal adviser to the Charles Taylor/Liberia Asset Recovery Team.

Mark Vlasic Op Ed on Haiti Reconstruction

March 30, 2010

Ward & Ward is pleased to announce that Mark Vlasic, a partner at W&W and senior fellow at Georgetown’s Institute for Law, Science & Global Security, published an op ed in the Washington Times regarding Haiti reconstruction and fighting grand corruption