Remarks at a UN General Assembly Special Session Against Corruption Side Event on Defending Democracy: Combating Kleptocracy at Home and Abroad

Ambassador Elisabeth Millard
Senior Representative to the Economic and Social Council
New York, New York
June 2, 2021


Thank you, Shruti, for the kind introduction. Welcome to our distinguished panelists and honored guests. When we started planning the UN General Assembly Special Session against Corruption over a year ago, none of us imagined we would be holding the event in a largely virtual format. Despite the challenges preventing us from being together in person today, I am grateful you are all able to be here to address the important topic of combating kleptocracy at home and abroad.

The UN Convention against Corruption and the UNGASS political declaration underscore our shared commitment to combating corruption. We have seen the debilitating impact that corruption has on the rule of law, economic growth, and security. Kleptocracy, in particular, erodes public trust in governance and siphons away public resources; resources that should be going to improve the lives of citizens, not line the pockets of kleptocrats. We know what needs to be done, but so often are faced with difficulties turning plans into action. This panel, comprised of the U.S. government’s lead entities in combating corruption, will demonstrate and reinforce the need for a coordinated, whole-of-government effort to prevent and combat kleptocracy.

Our efforts extend beyond the public sector to also include civil society and the private sector, which also play important roles. I would like to share how the U.S. government and civil society work together to combat kleptocracy, because I think it is important to highlight the critical, but often overlooked, role civil society plays in this regard. For instance, through the State Department’s visa restriction authorities, the U.S. government is able to deny visas to corrupt current and former foreign officials and their immediate family members. What goes unseen in this work and many of the other tools my colleagues will discuss today is that investigative journalists and civil society organizations often play a key role in providing the information that can help the United States initiate or advance a corruption-related visa restriction, sanction action, or law enforcement investigation. Without the work from these individuals and groups, who have in-depth, on-the-ground knowledge about these kleptocrats’ actions, it would be difficult for the United States to gather all the information needed to take these actions. Not only has our engagement with civil society yielded tangible results in the visa restrictions program, but our engagement with civil society has proven effective in U.S. efforts to sanction and prosecute kleptocrats and, when possible, forfeit the proceeds of their crimes.

With civil society support, U.S. efforts have been impactful internationally, with positive ripple effects: local authorities in the kleptocrats’ home countries opening investigations into and prosecuting the corrupt conduct, removing kleptocrats and their associates from office, and/or implementing anticorruption reforms after a visa restriction has been announced. I am glad to share that today the State Department designated five current and former Bulgarian officials, and their family members, under this authority. The designations were announced in tandem with the Department of the Treasury’s designation of prominent Bulgarian oligarch and kleptocrats in the largest Global Magnitsky action to date.

During this panel, you will hear from senior U.S. government officials about the various tools the U.S. government uses to combat kleptocracy. These include initiatives such as the Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and which has led to the forfeiture and return of over $1.6 billion in criminal proceeds, to the Department of the Treasury’s new Kleptocracy Rewards Pilot Program, complementary economic sanctions, and financial transparency. We share these examples not in a way to imply that we have figured everything out, but in an effort to offer our lessons learned and best practices to aid in our mutual learning and understanding.

Combating kleptocracy also includes multilateral and regional diplomatic efforts. Through this engagement, the State Department, in coordination with the Departments of Justice and Treasury and USAID, is helping shape the international norms and obligations necessary to ensure kleptocrats cannot enjoy their ill-gotten gains. The State Department and USAID also provide technical assistance to build the capacity of government and non-government stakeholders to prevent and combat corruption. Our USAID panelist will speak more about these efforts.

So often we talk about the importance of combating kleptocracy. Let us focus now on the UNGASS follow-on, and turning this talk into action. With that, I look forward to hearing from the panel about the specific tools the United States is using to address this issue.

Back to you, Shruti.