Between the 17th and 18th of April 2024, the first BRICS Anti-Corruption Working Group (AGWG) convened in Moscow, Russia, to adopt its anti-corruption program for 2024. This event was for the first time attended by the new members of BRICS: Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

In the meeting, South Africa was represented by Adv A Mothibi, Head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), Dr S Hoogenraad-Vermaak and Adv M Shaku, both from the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA). A special online session, hosted on 19 April 2024, was attended by Advocates Bezuidenhout and Mgiba from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and Mr Engelbrecht from the South African Revenue Service (SARS).

The ACWG consists of two sessions and lasts two days. The delegates’ general focus was on enhancing asset recovery across borders, strengthening international cooperation in fighting corruption, building capacity for competent authorities to fight corruption, and addressing the implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).

The ACWG was opened by Mr Sergey Vershinin, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, who outlined the specific focus of the Russian Presidency for the AGWG for 2024, including the following:

  • A renewed focus on asset recovery;
  • The development of awareness programmes and training support by the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA) and
  • Improving the implementation of UNCAC, especially by addressing its assessment mechanism.

During the two-day discussions, South Africa recommitted itself to supporting the BRICS International Competition of Social Anti-Corruption Advertising, as it promotes youth awareness of anti-corruption. The competition provides an excellent opportunity for the youth to be rallied around the anti-corruption efforts of their respective governments. Over the past few years, the DPSA has coordinated this activity, and several South African youths have been awarded prizes in second and third place. The value of the competition lies particularly with its application in the management of ethics, as ethics officers are encouraged to use the competition’s products for anti-corruption awareness campaigns.

The main objective of the two-day discussions was to explore the challenges that the competent authorities of the BRICS countries face in the cross-border movement of virtual assets that are proceeds of crime and to discuss how to establish efficient cooperation in the framework of mutual legal assistance to counter the movement of such assets abroad and ensure their return to the countries of origin to repair the damage inflicted by the crimes.

To address this important topic, the Russian BRICS Presidency planned a special event on 18 April 2024 on Asset Recovery and International Cooperation under the UNCAC to address emerging challenges associated with asset recovery and return. The analysis of current trends in the international financial markets demonstrates that using cryptocurrencies and other virtual assets to launder ill-gotten gains is becoming more widespread because it considerably increases the anonymity of illicit activities and complicates the tracing of stolen assets. Several presentations by Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, China, and Egypt shed light on the issue of virtual currencies and how BRICS countries can work closer to address this phenomenon.

Another important topic addressed during the two days was to define the most acute and common challenges the BRICS countries encounter in asset recovery processes and to elaborate on a list of recommendations on how to address them more efficiently and effectively, emphasizing, in particular, the need to ensure that law enforcement cooperation remains technical as per the existing international obligations and that the sovereignty of requesting States in the management and disposal of returned assets must be fully respected. Ethiopia, India, Russia, Brazil, and South Africa made presentations to outline the existing barriers. Adv Mothibi, head of the SIU, presented the following: “International anti-corruption cooperation and asset recovery: the perspective of South Africa”.

The presentation provided BRICS countries with an opportunity to reflect on the SIU model to recover assets by providing an overview of the legal provisions for the SIU, the use of civil proceedings and civil litigation to recover assets, and the use of the Special Tribunal to ensure the swift recovery of assets. South Africa’s role in addressing asset recovery as part of international and continental bodies, such as those under the Commonwealth, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the African Union, was also highlighted.

At the end of the two-day session, the proposed BRICS ACWG Cooperation Framework received support from all members. The members also expressed the need for a common BRICS position on asset recovery, with South Africa suggesting further developing a BRICS network for rapid information sharing and ensuring action is taken regarding the commitment to develop a network on asset recovery. South Africa also requested that the judiciary’s role in asset recovery be considered.