There’s mounting speculation that “hundreds” of prime properties in the UK could be seized as the government steps up its crackdown on corruption.
Designed to give enforcement agencies some tangible new powers, Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) have been introduced as a key component of the Government’s Criminal Finances Bill, tabled yesterday.
Effectively, this means that the Serious Fraud Office, HM Revenue and Customs and other agencies will soon be able to apply for a high court order to force the owners of jewellery or property worth more than £100k to explain exactly how they paid for it.
If they can’t prove the funds were obtained above board, the agencies will theoretically be able to seize the assets.
UWOs are something anti-corruption organisation Transparency International has been lobbying for since 2015, after convening a taskforce of experts to look into how the UK can be better equipped to freeze and seize the corrupt assets flowing into the country.
Robert Barrington, Transparency International UK Executive Director: “Unexplained Wealth Orders would fill a key gap in the UK’s anti-corruption legislation, and make sure that the UK is no longer seen as a safe haven for corrupt wealth. Money stolen from public funds like health budgets in developing countries and used to invest in UK property and other assets is immensely damaging to the poorest of the poor, and this is a chance for the UK to step back from complicity in crimes of corruption.
“We simply cannot continue to roll out the red carpet to the world’s corrupt elite wanting to lodge their illicit wealth in the UK. The UK has a responsibility to ensure that any stolen wealth flowing into the country is stopped, frozen, and ultimately returned to the people from whom it was stolen.”
According to the Guardian, those targeted won’t need to reside in the UK and the law will apply to property acquired before it is introduced.
Introducing the bill, security minister Ben Wallace said: “We will not stand by and watch criminals use the UK to launder their dirty money or fund terrorism. This legislation will ensure the UK is taking a world-leading role in cracking down on corruption and send a clear message to criminals – we will take your liberty and your money.”
Illustration by Christopher Dombres (CC-BY-SA-2.0)