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Stolen Assets (Repatriation)

Volume 575: debated on Tuesday 11 February 2014

3. What steps the Government are taking to ensure the repatriation of stolen assets to emerging democracies in the middle east and north Africa. (902535)

In September 2012, the Prime Minister established a taskforce to speed up our efforts to return stolen assets to the people of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. The Metropolitan Police Service is currently investigating a number of specific cases alongside its Egyptian counterparts. At international level, we used our G8 presidency last year to promote that agenda. That included co-hosting an international conference in Marrakesh on asset recovery last October, which I attended.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that this Government have been at the forefront of helping with the issue, particularly with regard to returning stolen assets to Egypt, and that that was key at the Arab Forum on asset recovery?

Yes, I can confirm that we have been at the forefront of asset recovery efforts. A number of priority cases have been identified with the Egyptian authorities. UK investigators have opened domestic money laundering investigations into individuals with significant assets in the UK and they are in daily contact with their Egyptian counterparts. I hope that that will improve with some secondments to Egypt shortly.

The Arab Forum on asset recovery allowed us an opportunity to have an overall discussion about the issue. One of the difficulties is a lack of understanding in some countries about the due process of law that has to be gone through in order for recovery to take place. I hope, therefore, that the conference facilitated a greater understanding of that.

A National Audit Office report on the proceeds of crime shows that, as a result of poor co-ordination and a lack of leadership, out of every £100 generated in the criminal economy, as much as £99.64 is retained by the perpetrator. What is the Attorney-General doing to address those findings so that victims in north African and middle eastern emerging democracies can get their—

Order. We are fully seized of the purport of the hon. Gentleman’s inquiry at just about the same time as he has become seized himself.

The hon. Gentleman shows some ingenuity in linking his question to that asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies). I assure the hon. Gentleman that asset recovery is given a high priority and that a taskforce within Government is looking at how we can improve it overall. There are a number of interesting challenges, which go back long before this Government came into office. For example, there is a mismatch between the amounts ordered to be seized and the actual realisable amounts and, in some cases, the orders made bear very little relation to the assets available. We are looking at all those things and seeking to prioritise how we can identify those assets that can best be recovered. I would be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about that so that he can be brought up to date on our thinking.

In relation to repatriation from north Africa and the middle east, the Attorney-General will know that, in 2012, 500 children were abducted from the United Kingdom contrary to UK court orders and taken to countries in such areas. What steps have been taken and what discussions have taken place with those countries about returning the children to the United Kingdom?

This matter does not fall within my departmental responsibility, and it would be best for my hon. Friend to raise that with the Ministry of Justice. I accept that there are areas of real difficulty in respect of children who are abducted, but that complex issue above all involves international co-operation and respect for the orders made by family courts in other countries.

It is probably foolish to engage in speculation about precise figures, but I will simply say that it is recognised that there are likely to be substantial sums in this country.