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Lancaster House Ukraine conference: what next?

Written by Robert Barrington on Monday, 5 May 2014

Last week, the government co-hosted with the US government a conference on Ukraine, in London’s Lancaster House. The focus was on how to get back the money stolen by corrupt officials in the former regime – and their cronies among the oligarchs.

Last week, the government co-hosted with the US government a conference on Ukraine, in London’s Lancaster House. The focus was on how to get back the money stolen by corrupt officials in the former regime – and their cronies among the oligarchs.

It is no surprise that the government is finding this a difficult task. The UK’s money laundering defences do not seem to be working, which means that corrupt money can flow in with surprising ease. It can easily be hidden through opaque ownership structures, often located in offshore centres like the British Virgin Islands, many of which are within the UK’s sphere of influence as Overseas Territories. And even if the money is identified and located, our legal structure and the resources allocated to enforcement make it very hard to freeze and recover corrupt assets. These issues were highlighted in our recent report onClosing Down the Safe Havens.

At the same time we know that the UK, and London in particular, is an attractive destination for corrupt individuals and their funds. In London, you can but a luxury property, educate your children, purchase fine art and live with your peers, while at the same time laundering your reputation through employing London’s world class PR companies and law firms. You might even acquire a sports club or other resources-resources-business, and rub shoulders with global celebrities and politicians.

How does this go on, and how much? The answer is we don’t know – but TI is about to launch a research project looking into the issue more thoroughly than ever before.

The good news is that the Home Secretary announced at Lancaster House that there would be a new law on asset recovery. We need laws that are fit for purpose in the modern age when money can be moved at the touch of a button and funds may originate from any one of dozens of countries where corruption thrives.

What we don’t know is what the new law will look like. It is rumoured that it will be based on the Beloff Review – an internal report that the Home Office has not published. This lack of transparency is a concern, and raises the spectre that something might be cooked up by a small number of officials and rushed through, without the rigour of external scrutiny or the benefit of external expertise. That’s what happened with the government’s shockingly poorly drafted Lobbying Bill last year which looked like action but did nothing to solve the problem that had rightly been identified. In the case of asset recovery, a bit of administrative tinkering will not work. The government needs the courage to examine the issue properly and take bold action where it is merited.

TI wrote to the Home Secretary last week, welcoming the idea of new legislation, expressing our concerns, and offering our help. We look forward to the government’s response.


Read 5392 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 11:47

Robert Barrington

Robert is TI-UK's Executive Director. You can view his full bio here, and tweet him @TIukED.

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