Tackling suspect wealth: towards an accountable and transparent future?

Published date16 November 2020
Date16 November 2020
Subject MatterAccounting & finance,Financial risk/company failure,Financial compliance/regulation,Financial crime
AuthorSally Junsong Wang
Tackling suspect wealth:
towards an accountable and
transparent future?
Sally Junsong Wang
University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to provide an empirical comparative analysis on cross-border
suspect wealth issuesand international efforts to curb corruption-relatedsuspect wealth. Through the lens of
the United NationsConvention Against Corruption (UNCAC) andthe Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR)
Initiative, this paperillustrates the strength and limitations of currentanti-corruption frames and as a result,
sheds lightson the dilemmasof tackling suspect wealth on the ground.
Design/methodology/approach This paper begins with an overview of the magnitude of suspect wealth;
then it compares the focuses of the UNCAC and the StAR Initiative. The author draws upon lessons from previous
suspect wealth settlement cases to illustrate the limitations of applying the international frameworks. Finally, this
paper takes China as case study to highlight lessons for future anti-corruption efforts.
Findings According to the StAR Initiative, $20$40bn worth of public assets are stolen via corruption
each year, amounting to 20% to 40% of developmentassistance annually. But the most recent data estimate
that the total assetsrepatriated from OECD countries were $423m from 2006to 2012, which was only a small
fraction of estimatedstolen assets. This highlights that tacklingsuspect wealth not only has moral value but
also providespractical benets for countries seeking developmentnance.
Research limitations/implications The UNCAC has brought international cooperation and the
importance of transparency to the forefront of tackling suspect wealth. It creates an international norm for
recovering and repatriatingstolen assets. But due to its loose implementation and enforcement, the UNCAC
has left loopholes in anti-corruption policymaking, particularly in countries lacking the rule of law. By
comparison, the StAR Initiativetakes innovative approach such as using insolvency for asset recovery and
country-based capacity building to strengthen originating countriesability to repatriate assets. Both the
UNCAC and the StAR Initiativeare well-intended, but authoritarian regimesand weak rule of law often create
dilemmafor international collaboration.
Practical implications This paper providesrecommendations on how to further tackle suspect wealth
with existinginternational frameworks.
Social implications Reducing suspect wealthcontributes to society equity and restores public trust by
recoveringmuch needed public assets and developmentresources.
Originality/value This paper illustrates the effect of UNCAC and the StAR Initiative through a
comparative lens. It demonstrates how rising authoritarianism can create dilemmas for work against
corruption and suspect wealth. Finally, it provides potential policy prescriptions for navigating such
dilemmasvia shared international efforts.
Keywords China, Corruption, Suspect wealth, The Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative,
United Nations Convention against Corruption
Paper type Research paper
The notion of suspect wealth can range from proceeds of criminality to proceeds rendered
suspect by the law and morality. This article tackles suspect wealth associated with
corruption to highlight its detriments to public trust, economic development, and
governance. The Asset RecoveryWatch estimates that $20$40bn worth of public assets are
stolen via corruption eachyear, amounting to 20 to 40% of development assistance annually
Journalof Money Laundering
Vol.24 No. 2, 2021
pp. 244-254
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JMLC-08-2020-0091
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