Readers of this blog know the Swiss government faces a dilemma in returning several hundred million Swiss francs of stolen assets to Uzbekistan (here and here). Although the current government has taken small steps towards reform, it remains dominated by the same clique of Soviet-era apparatchiks whose corrupt ways were behind the theft of the assets. Returning the money thus runs a high risk that it will go right back to the culprits or their cronies.
At the same time, the Swiss government has an obligation under the UN Convention Against Corruption to return the assets. Moreover, thanks to decades of misrule, living condition for the average Uzbek remain dismal at best. Money for everything from basic education and health programs to investment in public works is desparately needed.
Uzbek civil society now offers a solution to the Swiss dilemma. Acknowledging the reformist leanings of the current government, and wanting to encourage them, civil society proposes that the Swiss government return the funds in tranches. The return would be keyed to progress in realizing the kinds of reforms the government says it is committed to making. Internationally recognized measures would be used to gauge progress.
A phased, conditioned return has two advantages. It offers those in the Uzbek government leverage to persuade reluctant colleagues of the need for change. At the same time, a phased return avoids swamping the government with a massive amount of money its primitive public financial system simply couldn’t manage responsibly.
The proposal appears in a letter to Swiss authorities authored by prominent Uzbek citizen, both those who have had to flee the country to escape political repression and those (anonymously) who remain. The English version is here; a Russian version here. A commentary on the proposal in the Swiss press is here, and background on the circumstance the led to the theft is here.