Corruption and Crisis in Venezuela: Asset Repatriation for Humanitarian Relief

Front cover of the report

Venezuelans once resided in the richest country in South America. Now they survive with electricity and water shortages, food handouts, and a public health system on the verge of collapse amidst a global pandemic. Perhaps the only thing more staggering than the scale of Venezuela’s economic and humanitarian collapse is its cause. Venezuela was not afflicted by war or natural disaster, but by leaders acting with gross incompetence and greed. Today, prosecutors in the United States and beyond are in court seeking to recover billions of dollars stolen by Venezuelan officials and their cronies.

A major new report from the Dialogue’s Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program analyzes one of the salient features of contemporary Venezuela—rampant corruption—and presents detailed proposals for repatriating stolen assets for the benefit of the Venezuelan people. Against the backdrop of the ongoing institutional breakdown and complex humanitarian emergency in the country, the report outlines the underlying conditions, legal framework, comparative case studies, and policy considerations that should drive and shape efforts to return corruption-linked assets to the Venezuelan people. 

This report builds on the Dialogue’s longstanding interest and attention to the situation in Venezuela and in particular on the work of our Venezuela Working Group, a task force of regional experts created in 2018 to develop and advance actionable policy responses to the Venezuelan crisis.


Both the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and US Government policy dictate that the recovered proceeds of Venezuelan corruption should be returned to the country’s people. Asset repatriation to Venezuela should occur only with sufficient guarantees that recovered assets can be returned in an effective, transparent, and accountable manner. The mechanics of doing so are complex and will likely remain so as long as the regime of Nicolás Maduro remains entrenched in Caracas. Nonetheless, workable vehicles exist for using the recovered proceeds of Venezuelan corruption to address the country’s humanitarian emergency, and the scale of this emergency renders such efforts urgent and vital. With some asset recovery cases nearing the final procedural stages, US policymakers should immediately begin examining mechanisms for repatriating corruption-linked assets to the Venezuelan people.

Options for repatriating corruption-linked assets to Venezuela include:

  • Discretionary fund controlled by the Venezuelan National Assembly. Hold recovered assets in Central Bank accounts controlled by the interim government, with expenditures approved by the National Assembly.
  • Fund for Venezuelan migrants and refugees. Channel assistance through established organizations such as local and international humanitarian organizations, multilateral institutions, and/or local and national governments that are already assisting Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Latin America.
  • Multi-donor trust fund for humanitarian relief in Venezuela. Use the existing distribution networks of international organizations to ensure the delivery of the humanitarian aid inside Venezuela in a neutral, impartial, and independent manner.

Follow our report online with #VenezuelaDDHH.

This report is made possible thanks to support from the Open Society Foundations.




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