The battle to recover Yemen's lost billions

The battle to recover Yemen's lost billions
3 min read
28 January, 2015
Political turmoil has brought efforts to recover funds misappropriated by the former regime to a halt, but many in Yemen still hope they might see some of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh's estimated multi-billion dollar fortune.
The Houthis have seized a reported $12 billion worth of weaponry... [AFP]

Yemeni efforts to recover funds misappropriated under the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh have never really gotten off the ground. One of the reasons was the Ansar Allah movement (known as the Houthis) seizing control of the capital city of Sanaa on 21 September 2014.

But even before that, analysts say the post-revolutionary government did not exert enough effort to recover stolen funds. Instead, it continued to work according to the rules of the old regime - political settlements and government quotas.

     Yemen's success in recovering stolen funds from abroad will help avoid an economic collapse.

- Abdul Monem, Amal Centre

Mohammad Samih, General Coordinator for the recovery of the stolen funds, told al-Araby al-Jadeed in a telephone interview that many obstacles hinder progress in the issue of recovering the funds.

"There is no progress due to the lack of political will and enthusiasm of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, as well as interventions by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his party to hinder the issuance of the law for the recovery of stolen funds," Samih said.

Saleh's billions

Samih added the Yemen Looted Funds Recovery body had compiled accurate information about the wealth of Saleh and his family, in offshore accounts, in ranches, other properties and assorted investments. He said Saleh stood accused of embezzlement, corruption and plundering the country's wealth.

Estimates of Saleh's wealth vary, with some putting it as high as $50 billion, more than double Yemen's public debt.

According to Samih, however, Houthi control over Sanaa and the main institutions of the state make saving the state a higher priority than the stolen funds. The Houthi movement, he added, had appropriated heavy state weaponry worth roughly $12 billion.

Samih said there has been ongoing coordination with international organisations, especially the United Nations, as it is part of the process of recovering public funds.

Said Abdul Momen, director of the Amal Centre for Transparency, believes that recovering stolen funds should be a national process that includes all sectors of society.

"Yemen's success in recovering stolen funds from abroad will help avoid an economic collapse and get rid of the heavy burden of debt in such poor country," Abdul Momen said.

A first step

Yemen has taken the first steps towards the recovery of stolen funds with the government of Mohammad Salem Basindwa drafting a law on the recovery as one of the outcomes of the national dialogue conference.

The draft law posits the establishment of an independent committee with a legal writ and financial independence. The committee should trace stolen funds and return them to the public treasury, regardless of the form or location of such funds, which were stolen through the misuse of power and authority.

However, the draft law has faced fierce opposition by the former president and his party, the General People's Congress. Mohammad al-Mekhlafi, Minister of Legal Affairs, has found himself harassed and threatened.

While the government is currently weak, civil society has been active in recovering stolen funds from abroad. In early 2014, the National Network for the Recovery of Stolen Funds Abroad was established. However, Saleh and his regime, which still wields a great deal of power, money and authority in Yemen, have countered civil society's efforts with violence and oppression, and activists have received death threats.

Yemen is currently looking to the Security Council and the international community to assist with the recovery of stolen funds stashed abroad. The Security Council resolution passed in November freezing Saleh's assets has given people hope that the misappropriated funds might be restored - even though the asset freeze was imposed because he was deemed a threat to the peace.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.