The United Nations Convention against Corruption, a major obstacle to development in poor countries, came into force today, providing the first legally binding global instrument for the return of assets illicitly acquired by dishonest officials, as well as preventive steps to detect plundering of national wealth as it occurs.“Time and time again, countries’ assets have been looted by corrupt leaders, while in the corporate world, many shareholders have been robbed by corrupt managers,” said Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which is the custodian of the Convention.“This Convention demonstrates that Governments are no longer prepared to tolerate a destructive practice which is as old as history and as wide as the globe. It gives nations the legal tools they need to transform their economies,” he added. The Convention, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in October 2003, signed by 140 countries and ratified by 38, rests on four pillars: prevention and criminalization of corruption, international cooperation and asset recovery.“The tough new provisions on asset recovery represent a major breakthrough,” Mr. Costa said. “The fact that nowhere in the world will be exempt from the obligation to return looted assets, and that old excuses such as banking secrecy will no longer be an impediment, will be of major assistance in preventing corruption.”Under the treaty, States are required to return money and other assets obtained through corruption to the country from which they were stolen. “This sends a warning to corrupt officials everywhere that they can no longer expect to enjoy the fruits of their crimes by moving stolen assets abroad. It is also a message of hope to millions of people who have grown angry and frustrated at seeing their country’s wealth plundered by criminals,” he added.The 90-day countdown for today’s entry into force was started at the UN World Summit on 15 September when Ecuador provided the required 30th ratification. Mr. Costa appealed to all Member States to ratify the Convention.“This new instrument must be only the beginning of our redoubled efforts to prevent and control corruption. We must all make sure that the momentum that made its negotiation and entry into force possible is not allowed to dissipate,” he declared.Implementation, which rests firmly in the hands of governments, would be a word devoid of meaning if the Convention did not become the global standard that it was intended to be, he said.UNODC has been assisting countries in developing anti-corruption strategies, implementing prevention measures and establishing the institutions they need to fight corruption effectively.To mark the entry into force, a panel discussion on combating corruption will be held at UN Headquarters in New York tomorrow, with the participation of Mr. Costa, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari and Under-Secretary-General at the UN Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) Inga-Britt Ahlenius.