The Basel Institute on Governance - which focuses on the recovery of illegally obtained assets - has announced the opening of its first international branch in Lima, Peru, with the backing of the Swiss government.
The idea is to support the public authorities in Peru in introducing measures to achieve efficient governance and to prevent corruption.
“It is a ground-breaking endeavour for us, as it is not only the only office in Latin America; it is the first foreign subsidiary anywhere in the world,” said Gretta Fenner, the institute’s director, as she made the announcement on Friday.
She said that the institute had decided to make an “operational shift not only to focus on lesser countries [with regard to corruption] but also to go more into depth”.
The institute will continue to work in Peru on the recovery of assets from politically exposed persons (PEPs). But the new branch, expected to open in September, will also focus on working with local governments. “Our engagement is going to strengthen their capacity to manage public resources in an efficient and effective way and to provide sufficient transparency,” Fenner said.
The programme in Lima will be in part-funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) for the work on asset recovery, and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) for the new element involving public financial management.
The institute has already worked with Peruvian authorities to recover assets located in Swiss and other banks associated with Vladimiro Montesinos, a Peruvian spy chief under former President Alberto Fujimori. Montesinos is currently serving a jail term for corruption.
Fujimori, who governed between 1990 and 2000, is also in jail. He was found guilty of embezzlement, in addition to earlier charges of ordering the killings of civilians during the country’s bloody struggle with the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso.
While some $100 million (CHF98 million) has already been recovered and returned to the Peruvian state, Oscar Solorzano, the future director of the Lima branch, explained that nine European banks, including five Swiss banks with funds worth $30 million, still have monies related to Montesinos.
He said that after Peru adopted more sweeping legislation in 2013 allowing for assets to be confiscated even if a person is not brought to trial, the Basel institute acted on behalf of Peru in Swiss courts to try to recover money held by third persons on behalf of Montesinos.
Fenner said: "There was a need to clean up the past, the Fujimori and Montesinos past. If we can bring closure to this one, then the country will be ready to look at more recent cases.”
Following regional elections in Peru last year, 22 out of 25 outgoing regional presidents are being investigated for embezzlement.
When asked about ongoing cases of corruption at the level of regional governments, Solorzano said that while the institute was looking at some of the cases, it could not comment further on those at the present time.
Luis Chuquihuara, Peru’s ambassador to Switzerland, was present at the official announcement of the branch’s opening
When asked about potentially high expectations for change in Peru, he said one had to go “step by step, programme by programme”.
"The final objective is clear: it’s the institutional strengthening of the Peruvian state through prevention mechanisms and the fight against corruption,” he told swissinfo.ch.
He added that he was “convinced of the involvement by international organisations in the fight against corruption”.
More work in Latin America
Fenner explained that the institute also had partnership agreements in Paraguay and Colombia for work on asset recovery. "Increasingly we see traction in Latin America, with a growing demand there for our services,” she said.
She added that there were many other cases that had a Latin American connection, "with money passing through the region".
But she emphasized that "initially the Peru office is there to serve Peru".