NDLR To complement “State Capture in Tunisia” : A World Bank Report on Economic Corruption published few days ago on Nawaat, this article questions specific economic elements and the date of publication of the World Bank Report.

What about the Ben Ali Clan’s Assets Abroad?

The report focuses exclusively on the Ben Ali clan’s firms nationally and does not account for its assets outside of Tunisia. Furthermore, “assets” is a broad term encompassing many categories that the investigation does not explore and which were certainly associated with economic corruption under Ben Ali, including movable and immovable assets, capital, and private properties. Certainly this study was tedious and long in the making, nonetheless, the World Bank has long been invested in Tunisia, three years have passed since Ben Ali was removed from the picture, much more information remains elusive, and one cannot help but wonder why this report has surfaced only now.

The fact that four out of five assets recoveries are pending in different national courts may be one explanation. The Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR), a database within the World Bank, contains information about pending and completed recovery procedures outside of Tunisia.

The Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (The StAR) is a partnership between the World Bank Group and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that supports international efforts to end safe havens for corrupt funds. StAR works with developing countries and financial centers to prevent the laundering of the proceeds of corruption and to facilitate more systematic and timely return of stolen assets.

The Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (The StAR)

Until now only $28,800,000 in assets have been recovered according to a December 2012 decision by the Fifth Chamber of the Beirut Court of Appeals which ordered the confiscation of the assets of Leila Bent Mohammed Bent Rahouma-al-Trabelsi in an account at the Lebanese Canadian Bank S.A.L. in Lebanon. Lebanon “handed over” the funds in the form of a check to Tunisia’s current President Moncef Marzouki.

In other cases presented in foreign courts, confiscation procedures are still underway. The main problem that faces StAR abroad is that legal procedures vary by country and investigations do not progress at the same pace. The coordination of legal procedures amongst countries would certainly accelerate recovery, but this is a task more easily envisioned than implemented.

According to the StAR, there are four ongoing assets recoveries in Canada and Switzerland in frozen assets that amount to $68,749,000. In the United Kingdom and the European Union, a total amount is not specified as the identification of unlawfully-obtained goods is still underway.

Timing is everything

In the guise of some sort of awareness campaign focused on economic corruption associated with the Ben Ali clan, the World Bank carries forward its own unwavering dependency-creating, self-serving objectives. In Tunisia’s case, (re-)reforming the Investment Law represents the organization’s pathway to fulfilling these objectives.

The Investment Law of December 1993 and its twenty -two -presidentially decreed amendments go against the extreme liberalism advocated by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, particularly the Law’s third article which restricts foreign participation in many sectors including services and agriculture.

As reported by the reports’ authors Rijkers, Freund and Nucifora in the Washington Post :

The risk today is that vested interests will continue to capture the opportunities for rent-seeking, prevent change, and aggravate social exclusion. Removing regulatory barriers that protect the elite few at the expense of the public is critical to accelerate job creation and bring greater prosperity to all Tunisians.
Tunisia’s golden age of crony capitalism, By Bob Rijkers, Caroline Freund and Antonio Nucifora, The Washington Post, March 27th 2014

The statement, without deliberately identifying the World Bank’s own potential culpability as a significant personal interests-seeking force, nonetheless conveys the hidden agenda of the recent report and, on a larger scale, of the World Bank’s over-arching plans for the Tunisian economy.

By reforming the Investment Law, The World Bank hopes to expose Tunisia’s economy to large corporations and encourage the country to repatriate benefits without restrictions.

Some may recall this past September when several members of the World Bank arrived in Tunis to meet with members of the ANC (unnannounced and without media coverage), lobbying for adoption of desired constitutional reforms.

It is curious timing indeed that the report should be completed just before the Prime Minister’s official visit to Washington to entice American entrepreneurs to invest in Tunisia. In an interview with the Washington Post, Jomaa expressed intentions to pursue economic reforms that conceivably align with World Bank-propelled reforms:

Washington Post: Are you aiming to create a more market-based economy?
Mehdi Jomaa: The big trend for Tunisia is to encourage all private initiatives.