A prison cell in Uzbekistan is a far cry from Surrey’s luxurious Wentworth Estate. For years, Wentworth’s £30 million Gorse Hill Manor belonged to Gulnara Karimova, whose father was dictator of the country that put her behind bars.
She served as Uzbekistan’s ambassador to Spain, finding minor fame as a pop star, with lyrics such as “life’s a dance and you don’t have to fake it”. Ironic, given the true source of her wealth.
In reality, this klepto-baby was responsible for orchestrating an elaborate web of corruption and deceit. She stole millions from her homeland, using the proceeds to buy her Surrey mansion and properties across Mayfair and Belgravia.
Thanks in part to the efforts of the UK and our international partners, Gulnara has been sentenced to 13 years behind bars.
Her crime, however, is far from unique. The UN estimates that between 2 and 5 per cent of all global finance is laundered criminal money. That’s about £1.6 trillion – roughly equivalent to the GDP of Italy.
Having looted their own people, despots and kleptocrats will often try and hide their ill-gotten gains in more stable countries. That includes the UK. These aren’t victimless crimes. Nor are they someone else’s problem. Global corruption threatens our economy, society and national security.
The effect of corruption on the economies of developing nations is obvious. It drains them of their wealth, leaving people trapped in destitution and poverty. The effect on our own economy can be more insidious. Corruption is the enemy of trade, adding as much as 10 per cent to the cost of British firms doing business overseas. And when criminals abuse our financial system, it can deter others from investing here.
High profile corruption cases erode the public’s trust in domestic and international institutions. They undermine the rule of law. And they’re a betrayal of Britain’s reputation for fair play and integrity.
And corruption is a threat to our national security. It helps finance organised crime. It fuels conflict and instability. And it creates space for terror groups to operate by hollowing out the state institutions needed to tackle them.
This week, I was in India for the G20 anti-corruption working group. It was not controversy free. The Russian delegation walked out after I explained how the nation’s kleptocratic elite are continuing to use corrupt means to capture the state, steal from its people and evade justice.
But it was clear from conversations with our friends and partners that they’re serious about helping to build our collective resilience. Global problems require global solutions. This will be no different.
In the aftermath of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, we moved swiftly to crack down on dirty money, freezing Russian assets worth more than £18 billion in the UK. We legislated to crack down on foreign criminals using property here to launder dirty money and strengthened the unexplained wealth order regime. We brought in measures to ensure criminals can’t hide behind chains of shell companies.
Our Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, currently on the floor of the House, will improve transparency around corporate entities and give law enforcement new powers to seize cryptoassets. We’re tightening up lobbying rules to help protect the integrity of government. And recent free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand will set a new global standard with the strength of their anti-corruption provisions.
These are important changes, but there is still a long way to go. The recent conviction of a UK-based commodities giant for paying bribes worth more than £22 milion to secure access to oil in Africa demonstrates that the UK isn’t immune from the effects of corruption. We do not yet have a clear enough understanding of its pervasiveness in our country. Meanwhile, our adversaries are increasingly weaponising corruption to undermine democratic institutions and shape political narratives to serve their interests. The threat is growing. So too must our ambition.
That’s why I’m currently working on a new anti-corruption strategy. It will help defend our economy, strengthen our society and safeguard our national security. It will demonstrate our values, what we stand for, and who we are as a country.