UK: Home Secretary proposes ‘illicit enrichment’ offence aimed at public officials

Theresa May
Theresa May

MPs, civil servants and councillors who may be involved in corruption will be the target of a new law proposed by the UK Home Secretary.

Theresa May would like to establish a new offence of illicit enrichment” for situations in which a public official’s assets have risen significantly without good explanation.

The move is part of a range of measures to fight money laundering, although Ms May denied it is a “knee-jerk” response to the Panama Papers.

Rather, she said the economy risked being undermined by illicit finance and money laundering.

Her proposals will go out for consultation for six weeks before being launched in the House of Commons. They would see the civil courts given powers to hand out “unexplained wealth orders”.

People unable to satisfactorily declare their wealth to the authorities would risk having their cash and other property seized.

The UK government called the plans “aggressive” as well as “the most significant change to the UK’s anti-money laundering and terrorist finance regime in over a decade”.

Ms May said: “The laundering of proceeds of crime through UK institutions is not only a financial crime, it fuels political instability around the world, supports terrorists and extremism and poses a direct and immediate threat to our domestic security and our overseas interests.

“We will forge a new partnership with industry to improve suspicious activity reporting, deliver deeper information-sharing and take joint action on enforcement.

“And we will act vigorously against the criminals and terrorists responsible, to protect the security and prosperity of our citizens, and safeguard the integrity of Britain’s financial economy.”

Under the proposals, an administrative power to declare an entity “of money laundering concern” is also being considered. Banks and other bodies dealing with such entities would have to take “special measures” when dealing with them.

An official national risk assessment last year found that money laundering “represents a significant threat to the UK’s national security”.

Robert Barrington, executive director of Transparency International UK, said: “There are some excellent ideas here, but the proof of the pudding will be in whether they are put into action.

“The powers that are envisaged could make a real difference and, while it is important they are properly debated in Parliament to allay any concerns over civil liberties, it is equally important that they are not watered down by self-interested lobbying during the consultation process.”

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