Black money: The Swiss are very helpful, if there's political will

This interest has driven many to come to India to have a first hand experience of it. Some of them are even eager to contribute to it. British lawyer Tim Daniel, famous for recovering stolen public money of Nigeria and other countries is one of them.

He was in Delhi last week to contribute his bit to the anti-graft crusade. Tim has been a champion of international battles against black money since early 70s. A founder of the Public International Law Practice in UK, he has been successfully pursuing many cases involving state heads and top bureaucrats. He worked with the Nigerian government to recover the black money stashed away by Sani Abacha, who was the military dictator of Nigeria during 1993-1998, and listed as the fourth most corrupt leader in recent history.

Tim has also worked with Kenya, Pakistan and Indonesia on recovery of assets stolen by politicians and high-ranking officials. Currently his firm is acting for the Turks and Caicos Islands recovering their stolen land and assets. Tim advised the government of Kenya on anti money laundering and proceeds of crime legislation. His book ‘Corruption and Misuse of Public Office’ published by Oxford University Press is going for second edition in the coming weeks. Anil Sinha of Deccan Herald spoke to Tim Daniel on the anti-graft movement and its prospects.

Could you narrate your experiences of chasing lost public assets across the world?

In 2001, my law firm got an assignment from the Nigerian government. The government assigned us the task of tracking and recovering the public assets looted by the dictator, Sani Abacha. Aabcha died in 1998 leaving a huge wealth he had created by looting his country. His money was stashed away in many countries. The legal proceedings in the United Kingdom alone resulted in the recovery of 50 million pounds. Another $2.3 billion was recovered from the state governors of Nigeria, majority of which was in Swiss Banks. Swiss lawyers helped recover it.

Do you think it’s possible for groups of people comprising legal activists and intellectuals to recover the lost public assets? Does it not require a strong intervention from the governments concerned?

Of course, it requires government intervention. The governments have to take the lead in the recovery of stolen public assets. The government alone can ask for such recoveries because it involves legal issues which can only be handled by the government. But the question is whether the government is willing to do it, has the necessary political will.

This is very important because without it you can’t go ahead. The nature of money which is illegal is protected by state enterprises. No public money can be looted without the help of government institutions like banks, etc.

The Government of India has been citing difficulties in tracing these assets. Do you think it is a correct position?

A number of countries have recovered their public assets. Wikileaks has also been contributing to this effort. America, Germany and many other countries have done it.

Nigeria was also facing similar problems when it was trying to recover its stolen public assets. You need a political will to check complaints. What is required is the open procedure and transparency at all levels.

The Indian government has been emphasising that the Swiss officials are not cooperating due to legal hurdles. Do you think it is a valid explanation?

The Swiss officials are very helpful. There are Swiss lawyers who also help. They have been fighting against black money. If India ratifies the UN Convention against Corruption, the task will become much easier. The civil society has been building pressure and it seems that the government will do it. This is very important.

Do you think it is ethical for countries like the UK and the USA to continue to do deal with countries where no business is possible without adopting corrupt means?

There is a lot of hypocrisy. In UK, the government is open to question whenever they do business with corrupt regimes. In the USA also, if an American corporation does such business, it is open to prosecution under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Political and business circles in India have been full of gossip about the amount stashed in Swiss banks. Could it be estimated?

No, it is very difficult. Let us wait for the Wikileaks disclosures. They have the list which may give some estimation of it. They have the list.

How do you view the anti-graft movement led by Anna Hazare?

It is very good that the civil society is mobilising people against corruption. It will create pressure on the government to act. I see people are responding. Moreover, you have the tradition of Gandhi’s peaceful mobilisation and non-violent struggles. It certainly generates hope.

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