Recovery orders: repatriation

Part of Criminal Finances Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:45 pm ar 22 Tachwedd 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 2:45, 22 Tachwedd 2016

First, I think that we all support what we are trying to do: returning money that we take off the bad guys to whomever it belongs to. If that is not possible—I used the example earlier of a criminal enterprise whose wealth was created by drug dealers, rather than by ripping off a state or somebody else’s assets—we return it to the prosecution authorities to ensure that they can continue.

Significantly, in the past, we have seen money paid back in cases of grand corruption. The UK is party to the UN convention against corruption, article 57 of which clearly requires embezzled funds to be paid back to the victim state, so we are already obliged under international law to do that. We must do that, and it is what we want to do. The £28 million returned to Macau that the hon. Lady and I both mentioned fell under the auspices of that convention. As we are subject to international law, there is no requirement to put such provisions in our domestic legislation. Nothing in our law prevents us from returning recovered assets.

Sharing and repatriating assets in asset recovery cases is a fast-developing issue in international law, and it is something that the UK fully supports. For example, there is a requirement, under the EU framework decision on the mutual recognition of confiscation orders, that at least 50% of assets recovered on behalf of another member be sent back to that state. The UK can return assets to any country, and where underpinning international agreements are required, we enthusiastically pursue them. For example, we recently concluded an asset-sharing agreement with Nigeria, under the formal title I referred to earlier.

This helpful debate on the Opposition’s new clause has allowed us to put these points on the record, but I trust that the Opposition will agree that there is no need for further primary legislation. Asset return happens anyway, with my full support and encouragement. Indeed, strict requirements in an Act could restrict our flexibility and make it harder to obtain effective asset-return agreements tailored to the peculiarities of individual cases. I am aware of a number of cases in which another country’s Government members have requested that we effectively co-return assets for certain projects, for fear of them disappearing into other parts of that Government that are corrupt. That type of flexibility is important to make sure that moneys returned do indeed get to the right place, rather than going back to the same place, and the same individual turning the assets of crime back into another townhouse in London.

That flexibility is really important, and while I cannot bind any successor Government, it would be odd if any Government chose to say, “No, thank you, we are going to keep everything, break our international law obligations, and upset a number of countries around the world by just pocketing this for ourselves.” It is not what we have done in the past, and it is not what we will do in the future. I urge the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton to look to our obligations under international law; I hope that that will satisfy her that we do not need more restrictive primary legislation on this issue.