Despite international conferences littered with promises by world leaders from both the developed and developing world to end the looting of assets, there are few signs of progress. A joint report of the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) concludes that the gap between promise and reality if vast, when an estimated $20 – 40 billion are taken in corruption each years:

Few and Far: Ultimately, a huge gap remains between the results achieved and the billions of dollars that are estimated stolen from developing countries.
Only US$147.2 million was returned by OECD members between 2010 and June 2012, and US$276.3 million between 2006 and 2009, a fraction of the $20–40 billion estimated to have been stolen each year.

At least as depressing is that the successes the report celebrates are old and not very impressive. Take, for example, the case of Angola and Switzerland. This is what the report has to say:

“Angola and Switzerland work together to channel recovered assets worth $64 million to priority development needs. In 2004 and 2012, Switzerland conducted separate criminal investigations into allegations of corruption and money laundering involving corrupt officials from Angola. In both, the proceeds were initially frozen ($21 million in 2004 and $43 million in 2012) as part of the criminal
case. Although the criminal investigations were subsequently closed, the funds remained frozen, and it was not contested that the money belonged to the Angolan state. Switzerland and Angola explored options to return the funds and agreed to designate them for projects in key development areas. In 2004 the recovered assets financed projects that cleared land mines and supported agricultural development.
In 2012 the funds were allocated for development needs that included establishment of a hospital infrastructure, water supply, and local capacity building for reintegration of displaced persons. Switzerland and Angola shared the planning and implementation responsibilities, and that helped Angola build capacity. The return has strengthened international cooperation and the capacity
of law enforcement officials.”

All very credible. Until one thinks for a moment about Africa’s richest woman: the daughter of the Angolan President, Isabel dos Santos. Now I am sure she is a fine businesswoman. But has anyone done an audit of the $3 billion fortune she has amassed in a decade?

This is what Forbes magazine had to say:

“At 40 Dos Santos is Africa’s only female billionaire, and also the continent’s youngest. She has quickly and systematically garnered significant stakes in Angola’s strategic industries–banking, cement, diamonds and telecom–making her the most influential businessperson in her homeland. More than half of her assets are held in publicly traded Portuguese companies, adding international credibility. When FORBES outed her as a billionaire in January the government disseminated the news as a matter of national pride, living proof that this country of 19 million has arrived.

The real story, however, is how Dos Santos–the oldest daughter of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos–acquired her wealth. For the past year FORBES has been tracing Isabel dos Santos’ path to riches, reviewing a score of documents and speaking with dozens of people on the ground. As best as we can trace, every major Angolan investment held by Dos Santos stems either from taking a chunk of a company that wants to do business in the country or from a stroke of the president’s pen that cut her into the action. Her story is a rare window into the same, tragic kleptocratic narrative that grips resource-rich countries around the world.

For President Dos Santos it’s a foolproof way to extract money from his country, while keeping a putative arm’s-length distance away. If the 71-year-old president gets overthrown, he can reclaim the assets from his daughter. If he dies in power, she keeps the loot in the family. Isabel may decide, if she is generous, to share some of it with her seven known half-siblings. Or not. The siblings are known around Angola for despising one another.”

What does today’s report have to say about all this? Well, nothing at all. But it does offer one clue. Under the heading ‘Developing countries’ it has a series of recommendations.

This one is top of the list:

Political will. Commitment to recover assets must start at the highest levels, backed by necessary resources, legislative and institutional changes, and determination
to increase domestic coordination and international cooperation.

And that is precisely what is lacking. Enough said.