U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. traveled today to Qatar for the first regional forum on recovering the stolen wealth of toppled Arab dictators and governments, the White House said in a statement.
Held jointly with the Qatari government, the forum is billed as a G8 effort to enable regional countries to trace, freeze and recover the proceeds of corruption. In Qatar’s capital of Doha today, representatives of four Arab Spring nations – Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, all of which have deposed their leaders in popular uprisings since last year – were due to make presentations.
To coincide with Holder’s departure, President Barack Obama released a two-minute YouTube video address to the forum.
“This money, potentially billions of dollars, does not belong to those who wielded power. It belongs to the people. Now it is need to help stabilize economies, create jobs and growth,” Obama said. “It is needed to help answer the aspirations for opportunity and dignity that are at the root of this Arab Spring.”
Obama pledged the “full support” of the U.S. to regional countries who take “the risks that reform entails.”
In his remarks to the assembly, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki said Switzerland, Canada and the European Union had frozen the assets of ousted president Zine El Abidine ben Ali but that authorities in Tunis where unaware of how to recover these funds, according to the Kuwait News Agency.
According to the White House, the U.S. is using the G8 forum to focus on asset recovery in the Arab World through the Deauville Partnership, an initiative for the development of post-Arab Spring economies announced in 2011.
The World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative, or StAR, is helping run this week’s meeting in Doha and will preside over the launch of the forum’s website on Thursday. (StAR, a partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, published a handbook in 2010 to guide prosecutors in recovering some of the estimated $20 to $40 billion that is stolen from governments.)
According to Reuters, at the height of the Arab Spring in 2011, “questionable asset flows” in Switzerland reached a record 3 billion Swiss francs (about $3.21 billion), partly because wealthy North Africans were moving their their money out of the destabilized region.
Before delivering the forum’s closing remarks on Thursday, Holder is to meet with Qatari officials and then travel to Jeddah and Ankara for meetings with senior government officials there, according to the Justice Department.
In Doha, Holder will meet officials including Crown Prince Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Attorney-General Ali bin Fatais al-Marri (who was recently named U.N. Special Advocate on Stolen Asset Recovery). Holder was also due to address U.S. service personnel at al-Udeid Air Base before traveling to traveling to Jeddah to meet with Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa.