The Missing Piece in UK’s Unexplained Wealth Order Mechanism

All of a sudden politicians, public figures, and oligarchs – such as Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Ignor Shuvalov and former Nigerian Oil Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke – have to explain how they are able to afford the swanky apartments in London’s posh Mayfair neighborhood on their modest official salaries. This is due to the UK’s new Criminal Finances Act (CFA), which came into force in February and is meant to crack down on the flow of dirty money into the UK—a flow that has given London in particular a reputation as a “Death Star” of global kleptocracy. Most notably, the CFA adds a new investigative tool, the Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO), into the civil recovery regime. Originally proposed by Transparency International UK a few years ago, a UWO is an order granted by the High Court in cases where there are reasonable grounds to believe (1) the respondent owns some property worth more than £50,000; (2) either the respondent is a politically exposed person (PEP), or the respondent or a person connected to the respondent has been involved in a serious crime; and (3) respondent’s lawfully earned income would not be sufficient to obtain the property in question. If there are reasonable grounds to believe that each of these three conditions is satisfied, the High Court may issue an order requiring the respondent to provide information regarding the nature of her interests in the property in question and how she was able to lawfully obtained such property. If the respondent is unable to provide a reasonable explanation, the UK Government can subsequently initiate the civil forfeiture process and seize these assets.

Lauded as “a powerful new weapon in[] the anti-corruption arsenal,” UWOs are expected to be particularly helpful when there is no conviction against the respondents in their countries of origin, or when efforts to get a corrupt foreign government to cooperate with investigations have led to naught. Moreover, even though UWOs are a civil enforcement mechanism, the information they uncover may be useful in pursuing criminal investigations, and if respondents recklessly or knowingly make false statements or mislead the enforcement body in responding to an order, they may be criminally prosecuted. There’s already some evidence that the new law will make a difference: In March, a month after the promulgation of the CFA, two UWOs were issued requiring a tycoon in Central Asia to explain how he is able to afford real properties in the UK totaling £22 million.

Yet notwithstanding the enthusiasm for UWOs in some quarters, the effectiveness of the UFO mechanism is likely to be hampered by an important missing piece in the UK’s anticorruption framework, namely an effective means for ensuring genuine transparency regarding the beneficial ownership of real and movable property. Without knowing who really owns what, the new law is unlikely to realize its full potential, and indeed may not make much difference outside of a handful of cases involving particularly careless criminals.

Continue reading

Guest Post: Transparency International UK’s Pledge Tracker–Amateur Research or Different Objectives?

Last week, GAB Editor-in-Chief Matthew Stephenson published a post sharply criticizing Transparency International UK’s new “Pledge Tracker,” which evaluates how well countries are living up to the pledges they made at the May 2016 London Anti-Corruption Summit. GAB is delighted to have the opportunity to publish the following reply from Robert Barrington, the Executive Director of Transparency International UK:

“A slapdash, amateurish collection of arbitrary, often inconsistent judgements, unsupported by anything that resembles serious research.” Not since I was taken to task over an undergraduate essay by an eminent professor at Oxford have I had work for which I was responsible receive quite such a stinging critique.  On that occasion, I could not escape a sense that my world view differed from that of the professor, and that—irrespective of the detail—was the root of our misunderstanding.

So is Professor Stephenson’s assessment of TI-UK’s Pledge Tracker merited? Here is my overall assessment: he is right on some but not all of the detail; he is wrong on most but not all of the big picture. At the root of the difference is the question of whether this is an index in which countries are compared with each other according to a consistent global standard, or whether it is the presentation of individual country assessments by local civil society organizations of their own country’s progress against their own country’s commitments. Continue reading

Transparency International’s Anti-Corruption Pledge Tracker Is Badly Flawed. It Needs To Be Redone from Scratch.

In May 2016, at the London Anticorruption Summit sponsored by then-Prime Minister David Cameron, participating countries issued declarations announcing a variety of commitments—some new, some continuations of existing policies—to further the fight against international corruption. Of course, all too often governments fail to follow through on their grandiose promises, so I was heartened by Transparency International’s announcement, in September 2016, that it had gone through all the country declarations, compiled a spreadsheet identifying each country’s specific promises, and would be monitoring how well each country was following through on its commitments.

Last month, a year after TI published the spreadsheet documenting the list of summit commitments, TI released a report and an interactive website that purport to track whether countries have followed through on those commitments. So what do we learn from this tracking exercise?

Alas, the answer is “almost nothing.” TI’s “Anti-Corruption Pledge Tracker,” in its current form, is a catastrophic failure—a slapdash, amateurish collection of arbitrary, often inconsistent judgments, unsupported by anything that resembles serious research, and (ironically) non-transparent. This is all the more surprising—and disappointing—given the fact that TI has done so much better in producing similar assessment tools in other contexts. Indeed, at least one such recent tool—TI’s Government Defense Anti-Corruption Index—provides a model for what the Pledge Tracker could and should have looked like. Given the importance of tracking countries’ fulfillment of their summit pledges, and TI’s natural position as a leader on that effort, I dearly hope that TI will scrap the Pledge Tracker in its current form, go back to the drawing board, and do a new version.

I know that sounds harsh, and perhaps it seems excessive. But let me explain why I don’t find the Pledge Tracker, in its current form, worthy of credence. Continue reading

Guest Post: 43 Government Reps Walked Into a Summit…. What Next?

Maggie Murphy, Senior Global Advocacy Manager for Transparency International, contributes the following guest post:

International summits come and go, and all too often the promises made at these summits are quickly forgotten, lost in an online catacomb or otherwise hard to track. We at Transparency International are determined that the commitments made by government representatives at last May’s London Anticorruption Summit (648 total commitments by 41 of the 43 participating governments) must not slide into oblivion in this way. That’s why, as Matthew announced in a post earlier this month, we’ve gone through every single country statement and compiled all commitments into one central database, sortable by country, theme, and region. Our goal is for this database to be used by anticorruption advocates and activists to monitor what their countries have committed to, and whether and where they are making progress.

We’ve done our own preliminary analysis of the commitments, assessing the extent to which each commitment is (1) “concrete” (i.e measurable), (2) “new” (i.e., generated by the Summit), and (3) “ambitious” (according to country partners). We found that more than half of the commitments were concrete, about a third were brand new, and about a third seen to be ambitious by our country partners. That’s encouraging, and certainly better than I would have expected.

We’ve put together a more formal analysis here, including a description of how we came to our conclusions. Let me highlight some of the most interesting ones: Continue reading

Brexit and Anticorruption

So… Brexit. I don’t know nearly enough to weigh in on what this startling development means for European politics, British politics, macroeconomics, Donald Trump’s chances in the U.S. presidential election, or the price of tea in China. But since Brexit is such a major development, I felt like I should say something about the implications for anticorruption, even though that probably wouldn’t be on most people’s top-ten lists of important Brexit implications.

Fortunately, in coming up with something to say about Brexit and anticorruption, I don’t have to work too hard, because two excellent recent posts—one from Robert Barrington at Transparency International UK, another from Corruption Watch—have very nice, clear discussions of the issue. I don’t really have much to add, but let me highlight three of the key worries raised in both posts, and then throw in one more, somewhat more speculative and longer-term question: Continue reading

The Roles of Anticorruption Academics and Advocates: Insights from the NGO Side

One of the purposes of this blog (as noted in our mission statement) is to promote the interchange of ideas across disciplinary boundaries, including–indeed, especially–between researchers and practitioners. It turns out that despite our shared interests in understanding and fighting corruption, there’s often quite a gulf between the academic and advocacy communities. I’ve commented this difference in perspectives in the past (from the perspective of an Ivory Tower academic), both in general terms, and with respect to some particular topics, such as the optimal degree of simplification, the role of university education, and the use of eye-catching statistics. While I recognize that discussion of these issues may seem like navel-gazing, I actually think these conversations are quite important, given the complementary but distinct roles that academic research and advocacy work have in the overall anticorruption project.

I was therefore delighted to read a recent speech by Robert Barrington, the Executive Director of Transparency International UK, on precisely this topic. It’s one of the best discussions of this issue that I’ve come across. (And I’d say that even if he didn’t reference one of my posts on this blog!) Whereas I come at this issue from an academic perspective, Mr. Barrington is a leading voice in the advocacy community, and he has some good advice for all of us. The speech is very short, so instead of attempting to summarize it I’ll just encourage interested readers to click on the link above. But let me close here by quoting Mr. Barrington’s summation, with which I wholeheartedly concur:

We should be two communities that work closely together. There is little excuse not to. As an advocate, this is my message: our subject is too important for academics to be obscure or self-referential, or for NGOs to be ill-informed, misguided or unchallenged. Our choice is not whether to work hand-in-hand, but how we should do so.

Guest Post: Civil Society, Big Ideas, and the 2016 London Anticorruption Summit

Ben Cowdock of Transparency International UK (TI-UK) contributes the following guest post:

Earlier this year, UK Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech in Singapore in which he vowed to take a stand against corruption at home and abroad, and announced that London would host an International Anticorruption Summit in 2016. We at TI-UK are optimistic that this summit will provide an expanded opportunity for civil society to contribute, and indeed we are hopeful that we may be entering a period of unprecedented involvement of the wider anticorruption community in the formulation of national and global policy. This would signify an exciting new direction for policymakers—one which the anticorruption community has long advocated. A more open and inclusive process is beneficial for society as a whole; policy is increasingly built on consensus and shared learning, resulting in choosing the right path to tackling corruption.

More concretely, in response to the Prime Minister’s announcement and in preparation for this global summit, Transparency International UK (TI-UK) has been assembling a database of the current “big ideas” on anticorruption policy from the academic, activist, business and policy communities. The database, currently contains over 100 “game-changer” policy proposals (including a number of suggestions put forward and debated on this very blog (such as truth commissions and the potential benefits of expanding UNCAC article 35). To enhance academic, public, and policy awareness of the range of current policy proposals, the database will be published in the near future with full attribution to authors and researchers. We hope this will lead to further debate on which ideas have the potential to significantly improve anti-corruption efforts and deter corruption. We also hope that the summit will provide an opportunity to showcase the growth of “anticorruption hacking”, a collective action phenomenon in which civil society generates pioneering technological approaches to fighting corruption.

The London summit represents a chance for new ideas to come to the fore and be at the heart of UK and global effort against corruption. Civil society has already made a huge contribution in the overwhelming response to TI-UK’s call for big idea policies, which we hope will be influential in shaping the agenda of the summit and demonstrating an international commitment to making a change for the better. If you have any big “game-changing” ideas that you believe would further UK or international anti-corruption efforts, we encourage you to leave an overview in the comment!