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UK to set up Arab Spring asset recovery team, says foreign office official

Published: Updated:

Britain is committed to help the return of stolen assets belonging to Arab Spring countries, a foreign office official said this week.

A specialized UK-based team will be set up for asset recovery, minister of Middle East affairs at the British foreign office Alistair Burt told the Deutsch Press Agency (DPA).

“The UK itself remains fully committed to helping return stolen assets to the people of the Arab Spring countries, and we have created an operational task force dedicated to this end.

“It includes investigators working full time on asset recovery cases, plus lawyers from the Crown Prosecution Service, and officials from HM Treasury who lead on asset freezing,” said Burt.

The ex-leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, toppled during Arab Spring revolts, had been in power for years when the protests began. They had accumulated fortunes, which they often stashed in foreign accounts in the United States, Switzerland or in the United Kingdom.

“Tackling illicit financial flows through increased transparency of our financial systems is a key priority of our Presidency of the G8,” said Burt.

“Improved transparency will also help us trace stolen assets in cases where they have already been laundered and where the origin of the assets have been disguised. We believe it is vital that there is an effective international response to stolen assets,” he added.

Last month it was revealed that the family of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak still owns assets on British territory, Egypt’s largest investment bank disclosed.

Mubarak’s son Gamal has a 17.5 percent stake in a fund registered in the British Virgin Islands, the fund’s co-owners EFG Hermes said.

It has been 20 months since the territory’s authorities issued an order for the freezing of Gamal’s assets.

He has received around $880,000 annually from the fund since it was incorporated in July 2002, though it currently does not contain any “meaningful” assets, said EFG-Hermes.

Six months ago, a BBC investigation revealed that members of the former regime had millions of unfrozen assets in mainland Britain.

Meanwhile, Burt said the Deauville Partnership aims to keep the spotlight on the political and economic changes underway in countries of the Middle East & North Africa.

“It is not for us to dictate solutions. But the Partnership will work with the six Arab countries in reform: Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, Morocco and Yemen,” but added.

The Deauville Transition Fund has been funded by key “donors” including Gulf states and Turkey.

“The Gulf partners – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE - and Turkey have made pledges to the fund totaling $50 million,” Burt said.