Britain’s investigators now have a new weapon at their disposalby Oliver Bullough / February 20, 2018 / Leave a comment
The charge aimed at Britain is serious: we welcome corrupt foreign money, because we need their dirty cash to keep our economy afloat. There is enough truth in the accusation for it to sting, and enough sensation in it to make a dozen more McMafia-style television dramas.
The police officers tasked with investigating the source of corrupt fortunes know very well that dirty money pays for luxury houses throughout West London. They know too that the money was stolen and laundered. But they haven’t been able to prove any of it to a court’s satisfaction. They cannot convict someone of money laundering on a hunch. They have had to show the money was illegally obtained and that requires evidence from overseas, which is a problem.
Getting useful evidence out of a corrupt jurisdiction is all but impossible, and the property’s owners can employ the best lawyers in the world to discredit what little evidence is gathered. That has meant that, for years, even if we wanted to confiscate the illegally acquired property of these oligarchs, kleptocrats and crooks, we weren’t able to. Everyone enjoys the protection of the law, even those who systematically violate it.
Fortunately, Britain’s investigators now have a new weapon at their disposal—the Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO). Claims that are made for new legal powers should often be regarded with some scepticism, but when it comes to the so-called UWO, it may be time to believe the hype. If UWOs work the way they’re supposed to, they will stop the UK being a safe haven for dirty money, and will cost corrupt officials the investments they’ve made here.
I am part of a team that runs “Kleptocracy Tours” around West London. We invite people onto a bus, then drive through the streets of Knightsbridge and Belgravia, pointing out the assets of the mega-rich and the infamous. Our ambition is limited only by the traffic. If we wanted, we could take the bus up into Highgate and Hampstead, down into Surrey, out to Henley-on-Thames, without running short of lavish properties owned by nasty crooks.
The UK has a very poor record of confiscating this property, and returning the money to the peoples of the countries from which it was stolen. Although the Cameron family name got caught up with off-shore wealth in the Panama papers, David…