Dec 08

The UK’s kleptocracy problem

This Chatham House paper was published on 8 December, 2021, with Exeter authors John Heathershaw, Tom Mayne, and Tena Prelec with Jason Sharman (Cambridge), Alexander Cooley (Columbia), Ricardo Soares de Oliveira (Oxford) and Casey Michel (author of American Kleptocracy). It was a product of the Global Integrity Anti-Corruption Evidence project on international architecture and beneficial ownership.

The growth of London as a centre for financial and professional services coincided with the collapse of the USSR and the rise of post-Soviet kleptocracies in the 1990s. These states and their elites have since become a major source of clients for UK-based services firms and of investors in UK assets.

In keeping with global standards, the UK has officially adopted a risk-based approach to anti-money laundering. However, failures of enforcement and implementation of the law – plus the exploitation of loopholes by professional enablers – have meant that little has been done in practice to prevent kleptocratic wealth and political agendas from entering Britain.

Based on extensive research on the laundering of money and reputations by elites from the post-Soviet successor states, this paper details how the UK is ill-equipped to assess the risk of corruption from transnational kleptocracy, which has undermined the integrity of important domestic institutions and weakened the rule of law. It concludes by calling for the UK government to adopt a new approach to this problem focused on creating a hostile environment for the world’s kleptocrats.