May 5, 2017
Corrupt people cannot steal public funds unless they have a safe place to hide them. There is growing evidence that the UK has become a safe haven for corrupt individuals and their assets. In March 2017 we identified London properties worth a total of £4.2 billion that were bought by individuals with suspicious wealth.
Currently, UK law enforcement has limited power to seize corrupt assets. At present, little can be done to act on highly suspicious wealth unless there is a legal conviction in the country of origin. In cases where the origin country is in crisis or the individual holds power within a corrupt government, this can take decades to obtain or is unlikely to be achieved at all, producing a mere trickle of results against a torrent of corrupt illicit funds.
Since 2015 Transparency International UK has been advocating for the introduction of Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) powers, an investigative tool that helps law enforcement act on suspicious wealth.
At the Anti-Corruption Summit, the UK committed to consult on “stronger asset recovery legislation, including non-conviction based confiscation powers and the introduction of Unexplained Wealth Orders”.
Suspects issued with a UWO would be required to explain legitimate and legal sources of wealth for suspicious UK assets or transactions, provided there is enough initial suspicion of criminality. An inadequate response to a UWO – or no response whatsoever – together with the initial grounds for suspicion, could then be grounds to kick-start a civil recovery process against the assets in question.
The UK passed Unexplained Wealth Orders into law on 27 April 2017, and issued the first of these orders in February 2018. In October 2018 the identity of the first Unexplained Wealth Order respondent was revealed. A second case using Unexplained Wealth Orders was announced in May 2019, involving £80 million worth of property belonging to a Politically Exposed Person believed to be involved in serious crime.
TI-UK continues to call for UWOs to be used on the £4.4 billion worth of UK property bought with suspicious wealth identified in our 2017 report, Faulty Towers.
As UK law enforcement continue to use UWOs to pursue corrupt assets – and as these are challenged in the courts – Transparency International UK continues to monitor their progress. According to the UK Anti-Corruption Strategy Year 2 Update, the National Crime Agency has obtained 15 UWOs relating to four cases, worth an estimated £143 million.
For more up to date information on UWOs in the UK, see our press releases.
Read more about Unexplained Wealth Orders here:
Unexplained Wealth Orders “As significant in fighting corruption as the Bribery Act”
Empowering the UK to recovery corrupt assets
A Kick in the Assets: Proposals to Help Recover Corrupt Assets