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The Party’s Over: Confiscating Proceeds of Crime and Corruption in the UK

With the Biden administration spotlighting the role of asset confiscation in its new anti-corruption strategy, how can the UK step up its response against criminal assets during the ‘year of action’?

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After years of rich, developed countries such as the US and UK ingesting the proceeds of global crime and kleptocracy into their financial and high-end property markets, the penny (or multi-million-dollar condo) has finally dropped.

President Joe Biden’s new robust stance on anti-corruption – set out in the US anti-corruption strategy and the Summit for Democracy launched in December 2021 – recognises that harbouring the proceeds of crimes committed elsewhere is an action not without domestic consequence , ‘tilting the economic playing field’, corrupting democratic institutions and ‘contributing to pricing out families from home ownership through real estate purchases’. The new strategy sets out a bold blueprint for getting to grips with this problem, including through the bolstering of efforts to confiscate and repatriate the proceeds of corruption.

With the full weight of the US machine behind this effort, there is a clear expectation that others will follow suit during the ‘year of action’. Officials ‘on the hill’ who have been privately frustrated by the UK’s slow progress in tackling its role as a safe haven for corruption proceeds have now been given top cover to give the UK a diplomatic blast.

In his statement to the Summit for Democracy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed to taking ‘even stronger measures against the illicit finance that undermines democracy everywhere’. However, how far does this extend to tackling the proceeds of crime sequestered in the UK economy?

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