The UK must up its game on asset recovery to tackle corruption and kleptocracy

15 September, 2023 | 4 minute read

Just how much does the UK recover from corruption? Annual asset recovery statistics published last week show some modest progress in the UK’s asset recovery performance, with a strong showing on the 6-year average. 

However, the £339.1m recovered last year represents just 0.34% of the £100bn the NCA estimates is laundered through the UK annually. The vast majority of funds recovered in relation to grand corruption meanwhile were based on US rather than UK enforcement action. And despite the overall increase in recovered assets, the amount of assets returned to the countries from which they were stolen as a result of corruption is at a three year low.

To really ramp up asset recovery and tackle corruption we need to see far greater reinvestment into law enforcement of:

While those funds need to be ring-fenced for multi-year investment in key law enforcement agencies, more money will only go so far. We also need a comprehensive review of salaries, training pathways, recruitment and retention to create an attractive asset recovery career path in law enforcement.

What has the UK committed to do on asset recovery?

The UK has made extensive commitments to target the finances of criminals and kleptocrats through asset recovery. A priority of the Integrated Review refresh 2023 is to “reinvigorate progress” towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including by ensuring that revenues and assets lost to illicit finance are identified and recovered (SDG 16.4). 

Meanwhile, one of three pillars in this year’s Economic Crime Plan 2023-26 (ECP) is toreduce money laundering and recover more criminal assets”. Under the ECP, the government is committed to: 

Is the UK on course to meet these commitments? 

The latest Asset Recovery Statistical Bulletin indicates that while the UK is making some modest progress there is a lot more to do when it comes to recovering the proceeds of corruption and kleptocracy.

In a very welcome move, the government for the first time published data on asset recovery relating to “grand corruption”, defined by the government as “acts of corruption involving the misuse or abuse of high-level entrusted power by senior public officials”. 

According to the bulletin:

While it’s useful to have this breakdown, it would be even better if the government:

Returning corrupt assets

Recovering corrupt assets is only half the job – these assets should also be returned to the country from which they were stolen in an accountable and transparent way to compensate victims of corruption.

Only a small amount of assets recovered from international corruption have been returned to their countries of origin:

To sum up

To ensure the UK prioritises the recovery and return of stolen assets, we need to see:

Related Items