There’s nothing new under the sun, they say, and Unexplained Wealth Orders certainly comply with that dictum. On 21 April 2016 the UK government announced its action plan (these days a simple plan is not enough: it must be galvanised and girded with action) to tackle money laundering and terrorist financing. As part of the action, there are now two live consultations – one on the UK’s AML supervisory regime (which came in for much criticism from Transparency International) and the other on AML legislation. (Of course I will be sending in my comments. Have you ever known me to ignore a call to express my view on anything to do with money laundering?) One of the proposed changes to the legislation is the introduction of UWOs, to (as the consultation has it) “require individuals to declare their sources of wealth”.
Of course MLROs and their staff have been making, or trying to make, enquiries into their clients’ (or at least, their high risk clients’) source of wealth for years. But this would be a court order – a legal compunction. UWOs already exist in a few jurisdictions, including Ireland (where they are known as POCA Orders, as they are provided for in the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996) and Australia. They have been very successful in the former country and rather a damp squib in the latter. And I know this because the Americans have very thoughtfully done a lot of research into UWOs and published their findings. Transparency International has also had a think about them, and they consider that – with “guarantees to avoid the mechanism to be abused and to ensure constitutional guarantees, such as due process and presumption of innocence, are respected” – UWOs could be a useful anti-corruption tool.
No doubt Mrs May and her advisers are alert to all of these deliberations and discussions, and will address all concerns in a timely fashion. MLROs, meanwhile, will probably smile indulgently and wish her the best of luck with what has proven, in their experience, to be very much easier said than done.