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The BOTA Foundation Revisited – Part One: Introduction

What happens when recovered assets that were stolen by kleptocrats are not simply returned to the government currently in power, but used to benefit victims of corruption -- the poor?

What if the mechanism to return these assets is a foundation, monitored by civil society activists as well as a multilateral finance institution like the World Bank? What if such a foundation not only existed, but provided a tested model, complete with external evaluations, annual audits, and first-hand accounts that demonstrated that more than $100 million was returned accountably, transparently and with great impact? 

Such a foundation did indeed exist, the BOTA Foundation in Kazakhstan, which was active for five and a half years, from 2009 – 2014. Readers of the FCPA Blog are likely aware of BOTA. Andy Spalding has posted several times about why BOTA is important and how it could be an important precedent for future corruption settlements, and in 2015 I cooperated with Andy to produce an extended series on BOTA.

Over the last year, the success BOTA had was recognized in the New York Times and the Financial Times. A recent op-ed piece in the Washington Post called for the BOTA model to be replicated in Uzbekistan, in connection with the return of almost one billion dollars linked to the Karimova case. Discussions between the DOJ and Government of Uzbekistan have had going on for several months on how that money will be returned and used. 

What was BOTA’s history and what made it successful? What were its chief lessons for new foundations that could be established to return recovered corruption assets? These questions, and much more, were explored on a new case study on BOTA which I wrote and was recently published in association with the “Philanthropication through Privatization” (PtP) Project, led by Professor Lester Salamon of Johns Hopkins University. 

I will summarize BOTA’s beginnings, key success factors and lessons it provides in the case study in the next three` blog posts. For those who cannot wait and wish to download “The BOTA Foundation: A Model for the Safe Return of Stolen Assets?” please click here.


Aaron Bornstein was the Executive Director of BOTA Foundation, employed by a Washington, D.C. based NGO called IREX, from 2011 until its close in 2014. He has worked in eight different countries on a variety of anti-corruption, institution building, poverty alleviation, and other projects. Currently available for new consulting assignments or speaking engagements on stolen asset return, Aaron can be contacted here.