International Centre for Asset Recovery
The International Centre for Asset Recovery (ICAR) at the Basel Institute on Governance works with countries around the world to strengthen their capacities to recover illicit assets.
We place particular emphasis on hands-on mentoring on investigation methods and confiscation and prosecution strategies, as well as international cooperation. The aim is two-fold: to build capacity and effectively progress cases to the stage of recovery.
- support legislative and institutional reform processes;
- develop and deliver tailor-made training;
- work with other international organisations to advance innovation and global policy dialogue on asset recovery.
Our team is made up of former prosecutors, lawyers and (financial) investigators from a wide variety of countries and legal traditions. We don’t speak from text books, but from practice. And we pride ourselves on being driven by, and responding flexibly to, the needs of our partner countries – because there is never a one-size-fits-all solution to asset recovery.
Frequently asked questions
- What is asset recovery?
Asset recovery involves the confiscation of illicit assets, usually the proceeds of crime, and the return of these assets to the legitimate owner(s). Assets can take the form of money or other items of value, for example real estate, precious metals, investments such as shares, virtual assets such as cryptocurrencies, race horses, luxury goods, or an aeroplane.
Asset recovery can be a purely domestic process when the funds have been hidden or invested in the jurisdiction where they were illegally obtained. It can also be international, when the funds have been sent to another jurisdiction.
The process of asset recovery is complex but generally covers four basic phases: pre-investigation (verification of information), investigation (often including seizing/freezing assets and international cooperation to obtain intelligence or evidence), judicial proceedings (following which the court may issue a confiscation order for the assets), and disposal or return (where the assets are returned to the rightful owner).
For more details, see Tracing Illegal Assets – A Practitioner’s Guide or the Guidelines for Efficient Recovery of Stolen Assets.
Note: ICAR is exclusively dedicated to the recovery of public (government) assets, often in cases of grand corruption. The practice also exists in relation to assets misappropriated from the private sector. ICAR is not active in this practice.
- Why is asset recovery important in preventing and combatting corruption?
First, for its deterrent effect. People are more likely to engage in corrupt behaviour if they are confident that – even if they are caught and convicted – they and their families will still be able to enjoy their illegally obtained wealth. Recovering illicit assets helps deter corruption by turning it into a higher-risk, lower-reward activity.
Second, by convicting corrupt officials and recovering stolen assets, countries can also generate funds for development and strengthen their criminal justice system. The end results are stronger rule of law, integrity and trust in government.
Read more in the ICAR Operational Strategy 2021–2024.
- How does ICAR contribute to the Basel Institute’s anti-corruption mission?
As a specialised division of the Basel Institute on Governance since 2006, ICAR is dedicated to supporting developing and transition countries to recover illicit assets misappropriated through corruption and other financial crimes. ICAR works through four main lines of intervention:
- Case advice, mentoring and facilitation of international cooperation
- Capacity building / training
- Institutional development and legal / policy advice
- Global policy dialogue and innovation
Learn more about ICAR and our approach to asset recovery and the fight against financial crime in the ICAR Operational Strategy 2021–2024.
- Does ICAR’s work have wider benefits?
Yes. We believe that supporting countries in recovering stolen assets and promoting sustainable development are mutually reinforcing. Helping countries recover stolen assets can mobilise important resources to finance development or poverty reduction efforts.
The asset recovery process itself also plays a critical role in strengthening some key foundations of sustainable development, such as the rule of law as well as strong, transparent and accountable institutions.
Read more in our Working Paper 29: Recovering assets in support of the SDGs – from soft to hard assets for development
- In which countries does ICAR work?
Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, ICAR works with and in partner countries across Central Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America.
- With which public institutions does ICAR work?
Our main counterparts include:
- National authorities mandated to investigate corruption, for example, a country’s Anti-Corruption Bureau or a specialised division within the police
- Attorney General’s Offices/Public Prosecutor’s Offices
- Financial Intelligence Units
- How is ICAR funded?
Currently, six donors from five countries support ICAR with core funding:
- Bailiwick of Jersey
- Principality of Liechtenstein
- Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad)
- Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)
- UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO)
- UK Home Office
Several dedicated country programmes received additional earmarked support from our core donors' country offices or from other donors such as the U.S. Department of State and GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit).
- To whom is ICAR accountable?
We are accountable to the beneficiary governments for what we promise to deliver in our mutually agreed frameworks and work plans.
We are also accountable to our core donors and project donors through different reporting mechanisms and a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation system. Core donors participate in the formulation of our four-year operational strategies and take part in a steering committee.
The quality, strategic direction and integrity of our work is overseen by the Basel Institute’s Board.
- Who works for ICAR?
Currently ICAR has a team of approximately 40 staff, with the majority based in the field in ICAR partner countries.
The team includes practitioners in financial intelligence and analysis, investigation and/or prosecution with relevant backgrounds in asset recovery and financial crime. We also have programme managers and coordinators in place to ensure our programmes are run smoothly and effectively, achieving the goals set together with our partner countries.
- What training programmes do you offer?
Through customised and interactive training courses, ICAR's expert training team helps practitioners in partner countries develop the skills to investigate and prosecute financial crime and recover stolen assets.
ICAR’s unique training concept is based around:
- Hands-on exercises and interactive group tasks
- Practical tools and skills you can use straight away
- Country-specific course material for maximum relevance
- Fully adapted to the local context, laws and institutions
- Fast and fun: gain advanced skills in just a few days
- Learn to use the latest technologies
Participants work together on real-life tasks, such as “following the trail of the money” and gathering and preparing evidence in simulated investigations. This group dynamic helps facilitate inter-agency cooperation.
*Note that ICAR’s training courses are developed at the request of partner countries. We do not offer courses for individuals. If you are an individual looking to develop your skills in asset recovery and financial investigation, you can take one of our free eLearning courses on our virtual learning platform, Basel LEARN.
- What support do you offer in terms of actual cases?
Our asset recovery specialists work hand-in-hand with practitioners in our partner countries to tackle complex international financial crime cases. We are currently assisting with almost 100 high-stakes cases across 10+ countries.
Our assistance takes the form of advice in the following fields:
- Intelligence gathering and analysis
- Asset tracing
- Financial profiling
- Investigation and prosecution strategies
- International cooperation and mutual legal assistance
Many of our experts are embedded in partner institutions, where they can provide closer support more efficiently and build the necessary relationships and trust.
Through our technical assistance and on-the-job coaching, we not only help to advance individual asset recovery cases but also develop skills and good practices among the practitioners we work with. That often leads to long-term reform processes to give practitioners the legal and institutional frameworks necessary to operate effectively.
- What kind of legal and policy advice do you provide?
While assisting with asset recovery cases, we help to identify and address gaps in national laws, policies and practices. Common challenges are:
- Poorly developed processes for building and documenting cases
- Lack of, inadequate, contradictory or unclear legal framework
- Weak/inefficient international networks
- Lack of domestic inter-agency cooperation
- Infrastructure and technology deficits
- Insufficient security of staff, documents and communications
- Agencies lacking autonomy
We also help our partner countries to meet the requirements of international treaties and recommendations, such as the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and the FATF Recommendations.
- What kind of policy advocacy do you engage in?
Globally and domestically, many hurdles still exist that make asset recovery too difficult, too slow and too costly. With our hands-on insight into the practice of asset recovery in a wide range of countries, we are well placed to support global efforts to make asset recovery simpler and more efficient.
We therefore participate in global forums on asset recovery, sharing our on-the-ground experience to contribute to the development of global good practices, simplified procedures and a strategic international framework.
- Illicit Enrichment: A guide to laws targeting unexplained wealth – an open-access and freely available book on illicit enrichment laws and their application to target unexplained wealth and recover proceeds of corruption and other crimes.
- Boosting co-operation in asset recovery: Exploring the potential of private sector engagement and public-private collaboration – a result of the 11th Lausanne Seminar initiative of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs – Directorate of International Law, in collaboration with ICAR and the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) of the World Bank and UNODC.
- Guidelines for the efficient recovery of stolen assets – a result of the Lausanne Seminar initiative and collaboration as above.
- Guide to the role of civil society organisations in asset recovery – developed in the context of the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery.
- What digital tools and learning opportunities does ICAR support?
We are well known for publishing the Basel AML Index, an independent assessment and ranking of money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/TF) risks in countries around the world. Issued annually since 2012, the Public Edition ranking and report generate widespread discussion on ML/TF risks among governments and citizens. The Expert Edition, which enables users to explore 18 country-level indicators of ML/TF risk on an interactive dashboard, is free for all except private firms.
Our online learning platform, Basel LEARN, is a popular platform for investigators, prosecutors and other anti-corruption practitioners seeking to gain new skills to fight financial crime. It hosts a suite of free self-paced courses on financial analysis, asset tracing, open-source intelligence and more, plus other free learning resources and guidelines. Basel LEARN is also our base for virtual delivery of ICAR training programmes.
Basel Open Intelligence (BOI) is an internet search tool that we developed to help investigators and others research potential links between individuals, companies and criminal activities. Financial intelligence units, anti-corruption agencies, police, prosecutors and investigative journalists worldwide use Basel Open Intelligence to help them quickly spot and analyse a suspect and their networks.