When it comes to the fight against global corruption, the United Kingdom presents a paradox. On the one hand, the UK has long enjoyed a reputation as relatively “clean.” The country gets good marks on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, and the Financial Action Task Force considers the UK a world leader in preventing money laundering. Yet, at the same time, the UK—and London in particular—is well-known as a popular laundromat for dirty money and a haven for kleptocrats.
It would be tempting to say that the UK cares about suppressing corruption at home but is indifferent (or worse) to how its nationals and its policies affect corruption abroad. But that is too simple, because in some respects the UK has been an innovator in the fight against transnational bribery and illicit wealth, and has often taken the lead in enacting new and more powerful anticorruption and anti-money laundering tools. Over the past dozen years, three such innovations are especially notable: the 2010 UK Bribery Act (UKBA), the 2016 legislation mandating a public registry of the beneficial owners of all private companies registered in the UK, and the 2017 Criminal Finances Act authorizing unexplained wealth orders (UWOs)—court orders that require the owners of UK assets to prove that the funds used to purchase those assets came from legitimate sources, with the assets frozen and eventually seized if the owner is unable to do so.
Yet the paradox continues: While the UK received well-deserved praise for enacting these measures, in practice all three have been far less effective than proponents hoped. The reasons for these failures are different, but they share common threads. Continue reading