Some Countries Fight Organized Crime with a Tool Called Unexplained Wealth Orders

By Carlton Purvis


Unexplained wealth orders (UWO) have been successful at helping Ireland combat organized crime, experts said at a panel exploring ways to counter transnational organized crime at the National Institute of Justice 2011 Conference today.

A UWO forces a criminal to identify the source of wealth that law enforcement suspects is illegitimate. The funds can be confiscated if the source cannot be proven. Researchers from Booz Allen Hamilton, a Washington, D.C., research and technology firm examined laws and applications of existing UWO statutes in Australia, Colombia, and Ireland. Presenting their preliminary findings, they found that in Ireland, UWOs produced significant results in depriving criminals of assets. The full report will be finalized this summer.
UWOs are designed to make it easier to target criminals who have connections to organized crime. It often takes years to build a case against people involved in organized crime because of how hard it can be to connect money to crimes. “[In organized crime,] parts of the crime happen in different places and different accounts. When you consider the scale of the problem and the resources available, we’re lacking from a purely law enforcement perspective," panel moderator Bruce Ohr, chief of the Organized Crime and Gangs section of the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Shifting the burden of proof to the criminal puts another tool in the hands of law enforcement, Duncan Deville, senior associate at Booz Allen Hamilton said. Irish police also use a database of all tax, criminal, and social welfare activity that can be cross-referenced with property records.  “We don’t have anything like that here [in the United States],” he said.
In Ireland, primarily, the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) investigates organized crime. A multiagency team within CAB, which is made up of police, customs, and social welfare workers, investigates possibilities of illegal money and presents the findings to the court, which uses that to issue a UWO. Once the UWO is issued, the person targeted in the order has 21 days to appear in court and provide documentation that the assets were legally obtained or the assets will be seized by authorities.


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