Worldwide hunt for assets of UPFA leaders

Worldwide hunt for assets of UPFA leadersWeliamuna joins Mangala to meet World Bank’s StAR unit to recover plundered wealth

Measures to trace the foreign assets of top politicians and officials of the former UPFA Government will get underway in Washington DC next week. For this purpose, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and eminent lawyer J.C. Weliamuna, a former local head of Transparency International, will meet officials of the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Unit (StAR) in the US capital. They left Colombo yesterday.

Mr. Samaraweera’s main mission is a meeting on February 12 with US Secretary of State John Kerry. He is seizing the opportunity together with Mr. Weliamuna to meet StAR officials and place before them preliminary details of persons whose stashed-away assets the National Unity Government is seeking.

The Sunday Times learns that the Government will submit a list of names of leading UPFA politicians and officials who were allegedly involved in amassing assets abroad, particularly in foreign banks. Such a list is now being compiled in conjunction with ministries which have information of different activities.

The World Bank’s Stolen Assets Recovery Unit (StAR) is an initiative of the World Bank Group and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). It supports international efforts to end safe havens for corrupt funds. StAR works with developing countries and financial centres to prevent the laundering of the proceeds of corruption and to facilitate the return of stolen assets.

A Government source said yesterday that once a tie-up with StAR was worked out, officials would travel to Washington DC again to make available all the information with regard to those who had allegedly amassed assets overseas.

According to StAR’s website, the unit provides “technical assistance to countries that are operationally engaged in asset recovery cases. Working with all the relevant institutions, including financial centres and anti-corruption agencies, StAR adds value by offering technical advice and best practice in the development of case strategy, as well as in the identification and mobilisation of the most appropriate asset tracing tools – such as mutual legal assistance, seizing and confiscating assets, and assisting in the acceleration of international co-operation. StAR performs the role of a neutral convenor or facilitator among parties in the international asset recovery process, to promote effective ‘quiet diplomacy.’

mahinda familyMeanwhile Reuters reported from Washington that the United States had pledged to assist Sri Lanka’s new government in creating a more open and democratic society.
In a speech laying out President Barack Obama’s updated national security strategy, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice included Sri Lanka alongside Myanmar — which is also known as Burma — and Tunisia as a country “in transition.”

“We’ll help countries in transition — like Burma, Tunisia, and Sri Lanka — become more open, more democratic, and more inclusive societies,” Ms. Rice said in a speech at the Brookings Institute. Earlier, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the United States had commended steps by new Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena to address post-war reconciliation and long-standing issues such as governance and accountability.

“Certainly have seen some positive steps here,” she told a regular news briefing. On Thursday, Nisha Biswal, the US State Department’s senior official for South Asia, who visited Sri Lanka last week, told reporters Sri Lanka still faced “big challenges” dealing with issues such as reconciliation.

“But there’s such a strong commitment that’s visible in this government to want to address these issues that we very much want to work with them to see that happen,” she said. The United States is keen to bolster ties with countries throughout Asia as part of its effort to counterbalance an increasingly powerful and assertive China, which has sought strategic influence in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan Government said this week it was planning a new investigation into accusations of human rights abuses in the final stages of the civil war that ended in 2009, amid international frustration at the failure of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to look into numerous civilian deaths.