The U.K. Must Legislate to Combat Money Laundering in Its Universities

Parents from developing countries have long sought to provide their children with a world-class university education in wealthy Western countries, such as the US and the UK. There is nothing inherently wrong with this—indeed, universities ought to take pride in their ability to provide an elite education to talented young people from around the world. There is, however, a dark side. In 2021, media reports revealed that nearly fifty UK universities had accepted upwards of £52 million in direct cash payments for tuition and fees from students hailing from countries known to be “high risk” for money laundering—most notably the West African countries of Ghana and Nigeria. A Carnegie Endowment Report on this topic observed that although “[t]he overwhelming majority of West African students in the United Kingdom pose little or no corruption risk, … many West African [politically exposed persons (PEPs)] appear to be using unexplained wealth to pay for UK school and university fees.” Indeed, many of West Africa’s nouveau riche made their money through illicit channels, and they may view an elite UK education for their children as a way to launder their reputations as well as their wealth. As Matthew Page, the author of the Carnegie Report, explained, any university that accepts tuition and fee payments in cash—especially from PEPs in countries with high corruption risk—is essentially “putting out a welcome mat for the world’s kleptocrats and money launderers.”

Although most UK universities acknowledge that they have basic anti-money laundering (AML) responsibilities under Sections 327 and 329 of the 2002 Proceeds of Crime Act, universities are not clearly covered as “regulated entities” under the UK’s Money Laundering Regulations. And while some universities have responded to recent high-profile scandals and government warnings by adding basic AML provisions to their fee-collection and admissions policies, this is not the sort of problem that is likely to be solved through unilateral action on the part of universities. The incentives to turn a blind eye to the provenance of tuition and fees from international students—which many UK universities have come to rely on as a revenue stream—are simply too strong. (It’s worth noting here that international students typically pay more than three times the fees paid by students from the UK or the European Union, and many UK universities encourage advance cash payments by offering international students discounts of 20-30% if they can pay their fees in advance.) Solving this problem will therefore require the UK to amend its AML legislation to address the particular vulnerabilities in the university sector. Three such reforms would be particularly prudent: Continue reading

The Unfulfilled Promise of the UK’s Anticorruption Innovations

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

Is the United Kingdom a Corrupt Country? Confronting Parliament’s Conflict-of-Interest Problem

Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently declared that he does not believe the United Kingdom is “remotely a corrupt country.” And indeed, international indexes (such as Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index) indicate that most observers perceive the UK as having high levels of public integrity. But while the British state may be free from the routine bribery and embezzlement that is common elsewhere, the UK Parliament is awash in conflicts of interest. Such self-dealing by the political class—what many in the UK press have dubbed “sleaze”—suggests that the country suffers more from corruption (albeit a different kind of corruption) than many observers realize.

The most recent “sleaze” scandal—and the one that prompted Prime Minister Johnson’s defense of the UK’s overall record on corruption—involved Conservative MP Owen Paterson, a former Environment Minister. Paterson received hundreds of thousands of pounds consulting for a clinical diagnostics firm and a meat processor, in violation of the UK’s longstanding ban on MPs acting as paid lobbyists. Even more damning, Paterson pressed the government to act against the meat processor’s competitor, and the government awarded the diagnostics testing company a £133 million pound contract despite the company lacking adequate equipment. While this scandal may have revealed especially egregious conflicts-of-interest, it is not an isolated incident. Consider just a handful of additional examples of instances in which MPs earned outside income from positions that would seem to create a serious conflict:

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Guest Post: Five Observations on the New US Strategy on Countering Corruption

For today’s guest post, GAB is pleased to welcome back Robert Barrington, professor of practice at the University of Sussex’s Centre for the Study of Corruption.

Earlier this week, in the run-up to the Summit for Democracy, the US government launched its first-ever national anticorruption strategy, a move that was widely praised by advocacy groups such as Transparency International and the FACT Coalition. Indeed, the promulgation of this US “countering corruption” strategy document may turn out to be one of the most significant outcomes of the Summit, even though it preceded the Summit itself.

Only time will tell how much of an impact this new strategy document will make, but here are five initial observations: Continue reading

New Podcast Episode, Featuring Robert Barrington

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this week’s episode, I interview Robert Barrington, currently a professor of practice at the University of Sussex’s Centre for the Study of Corruption, who previously served for over a decade as the executive director of Transparency International UK. Over the course of the interview, Professor Barrington and I discuss how is background in the financial sector informed his work as a civil society advocate, the strategies that proved most effective in lobbying for improving anticorruption and corporate transparency laws in the UK (especially the UK Bribery Act, the creation of the “unexplained wealth order” mechanism, and the public registry of companies’ beneficial owners), and the prospects for future progress on fighting corruption in the UK in the post-Brexit world. You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations: KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

Time for the U.K. to Match U.S. Ambitions in the Fight Against Corruption

GAB is pleased to welcome this guest post by Susannah Fitzgerald, Network Co-Ordinator of the UK Anti-Corruption Coalition, which brings together the UK’s leading anti-corruption organisations to tackle corruption in the UK and the UK’s role in facilitating corruption abroad.

President Biden’s June 3 commitment “to prevent and combat corruption at home and abroad” is welcome news to corruption fighters around the globe. Five years ago, then U.K. Prime Minster David Cameron outlined similar ambitions at the International Anti-Corruption Summit in London. Yet, despite a promising start in the years after the Summit, the U.K. anti-corruption agenda now looks alarmingly close to stalling.

It is time reinvigorate that agenda, and not only for the sake of British citizens. Like the United States, the United Kingdom is an important financial center, and the measures it takes to curb corruption, fight money laundering, and ease the return of stolen assets will benefit populations around the world.

Here is what the UK has done so far do to tackle corruption, why it matters, and what more the Coalition believes it needs to do.

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Wickedly, Willfully, Fraudulently, Knowingly, and Corruptly

These are the words the court used in convicting Charles Bembridge of the criminal offense of misconduct in public office. Bembridge, an accountant in the receiver and paymaster general’s office of the British armed forces, had failed to report that certain entries in the account books had been omitted. While his conduct didn’t match up with any crime on the statute books, it was, the court said, “contrary to his duty” in an “office of trust,” and thus constituted a crime at common law “misconduct in public office.”

Bembridge appealed, arguing the unfairness of convicting him of the heretofore unknown crime. But with concern about corruption in government growing, then Chief Justice Mansfield had no trouble finding what he had done wrong criminal:

“Here there are two principles applicable: first that a man accepting an office of trust concerning the public, especially if attended with profit, is answerable criminally to the King for misbehaviour in his office: this is true, by whomever and whatever way the officer is appointed […]

Secondly, where there is a breach of trust, fraud or imposition, in a matter concerning the public, though as between individuals it would only be actionable, yet as between the King and the subject it is indictable. That such should be the rule is essential to the existence of the country.”

The 1783 decision in King v. Bembridge creating the offense is a prosecutor’s dream. It is also civil libertarians and human rights defenders’ nightmare.

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New Podcast, Featuring Samuel Power

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this week’s episode, my collaborator Christopher Starke interviews Samuel Power, a Lecturer in Corruption Analysis at the University of Sussex, about his research on the relationship between political party financing and corruption. The conversation focuses on his comparative research on political funding in Denmark and the United Kingdom, as well as several related topics, including the corruption risks associated with social media  and also touches on his more recent work on social media advertising by political parties.

You can find links to this episode on various platforms here. You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

Guest Post: Lessons from the Campaign for the UK Bribery Act

Today’s guest post is from Robert Barrington, who is currently Professor of Anti-Corruption Practice at the University of Sussex’s Centre for the Study of Corruption, and who previously worked for Transparency International’s UK chapter (as Director of External Affairs from 2008-2013, and as Executive Director from 2013-2019).

The United Kingdom Bribery Act (UKBA) was enacted into law just over a decade ago, on April 8th 2010. This overhaul of UK law on transnational bribery was the culmination of a dozen years of vigorous campaigning by civil society advocacy groups, including Transparency International’s UK chapter (TI-UK). I was TI-UK’s Director of External Affairs for the final couple of years of that campaign, and I thought it might be helpful to reflect on some of the key lessons we learned in the course of the campaign for the UKBA. I explored these issues at greater length in a lecture marking the tenth anniversary of the UKBA, but in this post I want to focus on three of the most important lessons that we learned from the campaign for the UKBA, lessons that I hope will be useful to other civil society organizations engaged in similar campaigns elsewhere. Continue reading

Guest Post: Fighting Police Corruption in London, and Beyond

Today’s guest post is from Matt Gardner, who previously served as the Head of Anti-Corruption at New Scotland Yard, Metropolitan Police, and who is currently covers police-related issues or CurbingCorruption.Com (whose launch in October 2018 GAB covered here).

The Metropolitan Police in London (the “Met’) is a large city force, with 30,000+ officers policing a city of over 10 million on any working day. Even in a well-trained professional force like this one, keeping police corruption down to low levels is a constant challenge. The ordinary difficulties of tackling corruption are compounded by the authority that the police are entrusted with: If you are a thief, a sexual predator, a bully, or lean towards corruption and criminality, joining the police service in any country is an excellent career choice. You can hide behind your warrant card, police ID, or uniform.

So what can police departments do to keep corruption within their own ranks in check? In this post, I want to highlight the four most important tools for keeping police corruption at low levels, using the Met’s experience to illustrate each of these elements: Continue reading