Several countries have in recent years introduced the unexplained wealth order (UWO) as a tool to improve recoveries of the proceeds of crime—particularly kleptocracy, the fruits of corruption by government officials. While it is too early to be able to draw any definite conclusions as to its effectiveness in curbing corruption, the UWO contains novel ideas that are worth examining in more depth.
UWOs oblige persons suspected of corruption or other serious crimes in these countries to explain the origin of their wealth and discrepancies between their legitimate sources of income and the value of their assets. UWOs are a civil, not criminal action and can be an invaluable tool in asset recovery cases in which cross-border identification and tracing of criminal and corrupt assets is a challenge for relevant investigative agencies and prosecutors. The report provides suggestions on approaches to develop similar policies and makes recommendations for future efforts to use UWOs to combat money laundering and corruption.
The purpose of this study is to provide policy makers with an overview of UWO systems by placing them in the context of other asset recovery tools and drawing lessons for countries contemplating the introduction of UWO-type legislation. While the design and implementation of UWO systems are very much in a state of evolution, they may fill a gap in asset recovery systems. UWO systems, like other legal tools, depend on other legal and institutional aspects in each jurisdiction. If a country considers implementing a UWO system, it should form part of a more comprehensive whole of policies and must be adapted to the specific legal context. For example, countries that have established a strong forfeiture system based on value confiscation or civil confiscation, not requiring prosecutors to show a link between assets and a crime, may not need UWOs as much as other countries that have not.