Report urges creation of mechanism to repatriate Venezuela's stolen assets to alleviate humanitarian crisis
As the United States and its allies continue to seek ways to remove Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro from power, a new report is urging the need to create a mechanism to repatriate an estimated $24 billion dollars in assets stolen by crooked businessmen and government officials to help meet the growing humanitarian crisis in the country.
“People have floated this idea in very general terms but we looked around and nobody has done the deep thinking on this to delineate what some of the concrete options might be for making this happen,” said Michael Camilleri, an international lawyer and former diplomat, who served in the Obama administration. “There are workable ways to take this money which is in the process of being recovered and employ it for the benefit of the Venezuelan people,” he added.
The report by the Inter-American Dialogue, a non-profit policy analysis group based in Washington DC, is the culmination of over a year of research by a team led by Camilleri.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the Treasury Department through its sanctions against the Maduro regime, has already hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen assets, while also prosecuting and jailing some corrupt businessmen, bankers and Venezuelan officials, including Alejandro Andrade, the former national treasurer.
There are billions more hidden in the rest of the world, especially in Europe. Last week a leak of secret bank reports from the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinEN) revealed how Venezuelan ‘boligarchs’ moved vast sums of dollars in public money out of Venezuela, including money intended for housing and other basic services.
The Inter-American Dialogue report concludes that if only 10 percent of the $24 billion were recovered, that would exceed the total humanitarian assistance provided by the international community to Venezuelans both inside and outside their country over the past several years.
“This simple arithmetical reality suggests it is time for a serious examination of asset recovery efforts and repatriation options with respect to Venezuela,” the report states.
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Country in crisis
Venezuela, once an oil rich country, remains trapped in an everlasting crisis that has sparked a mass emigration of millions of its citizens to escape political repression and economic hardship, due to what many independent observers consider to be two decades of grossly corrupt and incompetent socialist rule, as well as human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.
The Inter-American Dialogue report makes a series of recommendations to policy makers including the U.S. government to “lead a diplomatic effort to establish mechanisms for using the proceeds of asset recovery efforts for humanitarian purposes,” and to create an international process “to actively trace, seize and confiscate the proceeds of Venezuelan corruption.”
It says that should include cross-border sharing of financial intelligence related to the movement and holdings of stolen Venezuelan assets. The report also argues that due to the humanitarian emergency in Venezuela, the use of at least some of the recovered assets should begin right away, even without a transition plan in place to replace Maduro. To ensure transparency and to avoid empowering Maduro, the money should be channeled through respected international organizations already working in the country, such as the United Nations, the Red Cross and religious groups, the report says.
“Our argument is that it shouldn’t wait, given the gravity of the situation on the ground,” said Camilleri, noting that nine out of ten Venezuelans don’t have enough money to eat properly and the collapse of the public health system. Despite its vast potentially oil wealth buried underground, “Venezuela pretty soon will be competing with Haiti for living standards,” he said.
Last year Republicans and Democrats pushed legislation to provide relief to Venezuela’s people, the so-called VERDAD Act , which requires the State Department “to establish a strategy to identify, block, and recover assets taken from the people and institutions of Venezuela through theft, money laundering or other illicit means.”
Based on his research and conversations with policy makers and government officials, Camilleri says he is hopeful that, using tools such as the VERDAD Act, action could be taken soon to begin putting the mechanisms in place to start repatriating the stolen assets.
“This particular idea is attractive to everybody because you are going after corrupt officials and cronies of the Maduro regime and using their money to try to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, which is something that everyone agrees we should be focused on doing,” he said. “Obviously, there’s little cost to U.S. tax-payers. It’s money coming from Venezuelan kleptocrats themselves,” he added.