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UK needs new powers to freeze stolen assets and more proactive action to help victim countries

As public concern grows over the need for urgent UK action on the stolen assets of corrupt Middle East leaders, the UK’s leading anti-corruption watchdog has today called on the UK Government to implement a four-point action plan:

1. Introduce a new law, which, as in Switzerland, would allow the Government to unilaterally freeze stolen assets without waiting for formal requests from governments in victim countries, or joint action by the EU or UN. With several Middle East countries still in turmoil after the recent uprisings, court orders and mutual legal assistance requests are unlikely to appear in the short term. Meanwhile deposed leaders have the scope to hide their illicit gains beyond the reach of the UK authorities.

2. Enhance due diligence procedures by UK financial and other institutions to ensure they avoid doing business with people from victim countries who may want to transfer more illegally acquired assets to the UK.

3. Proactive action by the UK’s criminal investigation authorities (Serious Fraud Office and the Metropolitan Police’s Proceeds of Crime Unit) to start investigating assets that may be the proceeds of corruption and other unlawful conduct, and to share that information with victim countries.

4. Encourage the victim countries to institute their own investigations into assets that have been corruptly misappropriated and sent overseas – and to start criminal proceedings against those holding the stolen assets. This would allow the victim countries to request mutual legal assistance from the UK - paving the way for legal proceedings in the UK to restitute stolen assets.

Chandrashekhar Krishnan, Executive Director of Transparency International UK, said:

‘Recent events in the Middle East have thrown into sharp relief the need for urgent action by the UK to freeze stolen assets and help to return them, as well as prevent more dirty money from entering the UK. The UK has a moral obligation to co-operate in freezing and repatriating such illicit assets, because they should never have found a safe haven here in the first place. Our plan, and coordinated action with other jurisdictions, will show the citizens of victim countries that we have moved beyond rhetoric and are doing something concrete to help them’.

Note to editors

More information on the legal and technical aspects of the UK’s money laundering defences are in TI-UK’s 2009 report Combating Money Laundering and Recovering Looted Gains - Raising The UK’s Game on the 2009 publications page of TI-UK’s website

About Transparency International UK

Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It hurts everyone whose life, livelihood or happiness depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority.

Transparency International UK is the UK Chapter of the world's leading non-governmental anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International.

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