UK Prime Minister David Cameron has made the fight against global corruption a high priority for his government, declaring that corruption is the cancer that is at the root of many of the world’s problems. But as much as we should applaud the UK’s efforts to support anticorruption measures and good governance abroad, it is equally important that the UK ensure that it is not a safe haven for the proceeds of corruption stolen throughout the world. Yet here the UK has fallen short: We have only seen limited asset restraint and recovery against the proceeds of corruption, especially against those currently associated to power. While estimates of total extent of the problem vary, it is generally agreed that large amounts of unexplained suspicious wealth enter the UK each year and are invested in the British financial system, in property, in luxury goods or in other areas of the economy. And despite the fact that UK law enforcement has the necessary expertise on this issue, the rate of asset recovery by UK agencies of the proceeds of grand corruption is undeniably very low compared to the scale of the problem.
Given the scale of the problem and the inadequacy of the government’s response to date, Transparency International’s UK chapter (TI-UK) established a taskforce of experts to review the legislation in place to deter grand corruption and recover stolen assets that have made their way into or through the UK. The results of the taskforce’s deliberations were published last month as a discussion paper entitled Empowering the UK to recover corrupt assets: New approaches to illicit enrichment and asset recovery; the paper sets out a new proposal for UK law enforcement: the use of an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO), which would allow UK law enforcement to start proactively questioning suspicious unexplained wealth associated with foreign public officials, and to start civil recovery proceedings against the relevant assets.