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Liberia Ranks Highly With Secret Savings in Swiss Banks

MONROVIA—Liberia’s international negative reputation for corruption continues to grow with several international reports painting a bad image about how the country is managing its resources.

Against the backdrop of a Global Witness report alleging bribery reported committed by former and current Liberian government officials another report has listed Liberia as the top African country with saving in bank accounts when the amount deposited are matched with the country Gross domestic Product.

Deposits from Liberia might not be comparable with bigger countries like Nigeria but matching the deposits with GDP, Liberia ranks high due to its small budget compare to other bigger countries.

In a recent report on the impact of savings in secret Swiss bank HSBC accounts on poor income countries Liberia is ranked the highest in Africa and the 14th highest in the world.

The report released by Financial Transparency Coalition and Christian Aid indicates that the amounts deposited in Swiss banks account traced to Liberia accounts for 15% of the country’s annual GDP in the year 2013.

The report highlights that looking at the list of the top 50 countries with money in HSBC accounts, it can be sliced nicely into two groups: tax havens and developing economies.

The bigger list, the report noted is of alleged tax havens, and reflects the common practice of moving illicit funds through one or more secrecy jurisdictions before reaching their final destination.

Amongst the countries worldwide that are most affected, the report furthered that the British Virgin Islands kept the equivalent of more than three years of economic production in secret accounts at HSBC; the Cayman’s, almost two years; and the Bahamas, almost a year stating that it is not the first time GDP analysis has revealed something fishy in Caribbean tax havens.

Liberia tops Africa

In the report, Liberia is ranked fourth worldwide and the highest in Africa with the amount in Swiss banks accounts amounting for 14.76% of the country GDP in 2013.

“Corruption-scarred Liberia had the equivalent 15% of its annual GDP in secret HSBC accounts. The desperately poor West Bank and Gaza had 1.3% of its GDP in HSBC accounts.

Five members of this list—Senegal, Burundi, Mali, the DRC, and the Central African Republic — are on the United Nations’ list of the least-developed countries in the world”, stated the report.

The issue surrounding secret savings in Swiss accounts was leaked by a whistleblower revealing details of secret Swiss accounts at global bank HSBC earlier this year.

The strongest reaction came from advanced economies, where governments launched efforts to reclaim tax money hidden abroad.

But the new analysis by the Financial Transparency Coalition and Christian Aid shows that the financial impact of the lost revenue is far larger in developing economies that lack the resources to go after tax evaders.

The FTC organized the Swiss accounts by national origin and compared them to the annual economic production in each country to get a better sense of the scale of the hidden funds.

According to the report, advanced economies, by nature of their size, saw relatively small impact—funds hidden abroad by US nationals were equivalent to 0.08% of GDP, for example.

While $13 billion is still a lot of money to have hidden from taxes at a single foreign bank, it’s nothing compared to what smaller countries face.

Many African countries have been making efforts to reclaim amounts deposited in Swiss banks with Ghana and Nigeria amongst some African countries taking the lead. Other African countries including those in North Africa have already reclaimed some of their stolen money.

In May 2016, the Swiss Ambassador to Tunisia, Her Excellency Rita Adam, delivered to Tunisian authorities a check in the amount of 500,000 Tunisian Dinars, corresponding to approximately US$234,000 dollars.

UNICRI views this announcement as very positive step forward in the recovery of stolen assets and applauds the cooperation and efforts of the Government of Switzerland and the Government of Tunisia.

This, combined with other recent developments, including Nigeria’s recent announcement that, over the past year, it has recovered approximately 9.1 billion dollars in stolen illicit assets, shows that asset recovery, while often a lengthy process, is indeed producing results.

UNICRI, in cooperation with the European Union, places particular emphasis on asset recovery, and is working closely with the Governments of Egypt and Tunisia, as well as the countries in which stolen assets have been deposited or otherwise located, to more quickly and efficiently return stolen assets, as well as take additional measures to trace and identify other assets that have yet to be seized.

For the moment, some 901 million dollars in assets belonging to the Egyptian government and its people and to the Tunisian government and its people, remain frozen in bank accounts or have been seized in different countries since the Arab Spring.

In light of the pressing development needs in both Egypt and Tunisia, especially for those suffering from limited health and education services, UNICRI encourages all states to take the widest measures possible, as required under the United Convention against Corruption, to facilitate the return of currently frozen assets, as well as to trace, identify and seize other assets suspected of being the product of corruption.

This requires efforts to maximize inter-institutional and international cooperation to ensure that judgements (in penal cases, as well as in non-penal cases) are entered, and are sufficiently detailed, in both Egypt and Tunisia, and to ensure that requests to return assets are acted upon swiftly in those countries where the assets are located.

Since the Arab Spring, the best example of efficient asset recovery for Arab Spring countries has been the return, in 2013, of more than 28 million dollars from Lebanon to Tunisia.

UNICRI is confident that the combined efforts of Tunisia and Switzerland will produce even more significant results in the near future, and will serve as an example for other States to follow.

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