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Unexplained Wealth Orders: How to catch the corrupt and corrupt money in the UK

On 27 April the UK parliament passed an important provision of the Criminal Finance Bill that introduces a powerful new weapon into the anti-corruption arsenal: Unexplained Wealth Orders. This follows action already taken in Australia and Ireland.

The provision specifically targets red flag situations where a person buying expensive items, like property or jewels, doesn’t appear to be wealthy enough to make the purchase. It could be a politician in Russia or a small business owner in Brussels who buys a multi-million pound property in central London. If the person has links to serious crime or access to public money, then the authorities can act.

The UK law enforcement agencies can now use an Unexplained Wealth Order to investigate the source of that money, and, if it is found to be corrupt money, more easily return it to those from whom it has been stolen.

This is something that Transparency International UK and other anti-corruption groups in the UK have been working hard to bring about since the UK has been identified as one of the key destinations for corrupt money.

Here’s Duncan Hames from TI-UK explaining the importance of the new provisions.

In March 2017, Transparency International research identified London properties worth a total of £4.2billion (US$5.4 billion) that were bought by individuals with suspicious wealth.

Anti-corruption activists came together to push for this landmark resolution and won the support of members of parliament across the political spectrum. Now the law must be followed up with action.

Any law is only as good as its implementation and we now call on law enforcement agencies to use Unexplained Wealth Orders as soon as they are empowered to do so, and the next Government to ensure they are properly resourced. - Duncan Hames, head of policy at Transparency International UK

The team at TI UK were delighted when the Bill finally received Royal Assent in the UK Parliament on the night of 27 April.

The use of Unexplained Wealth Orders in the UK originated following an Illicit Enrichment Taskforce convened by Transparency International in early 2014, that later published its findings here. In November 2016 our research found that a single house, owned by the Gaddafi family, was the only asset the UK had recovered from political elites of Arab Spring states.

Correction: This was updated to reflect the fact that the bill was not voted on but received Royal Assent and to correct the spelling of Gaddafi.

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For any press inquiries please contact press@transparency.org

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