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Tackling suspect wealth: towards an accountable and transparent future?

Sally Junsong Wang (University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK)

Journal of Money Laundering Control

ISSN: 1368-5201

Article publication date: 16 November 2020

Issue publication date: 31 July 2021




The purpose of this paper is to provide an empirical comparative analysis on cross-border suspect wealth issues and international efforts to curb corruption-related suspect wealth. Through the lens of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) Initiative, this paper illustrates the strength and limitations of current anti-corruption frames and as a result, sheds lights on the dilemmas of tackling suspect wealth on the ground.


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.


According to the StAR Initiative, $20–$40bn worth of public assets are stolen via corruption each year, amounting to 20% to 40% of development assistance annually. But the most recent data estimate that the total assets repatriated from OECD countries were $423m from 2006 to 2012, which was only a small fraction of estimated stolen assets. This highlights that tackling suspect wealth not only has moral value but also provides practical benefits for countries seeking development finance.

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 repatriating stolen 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 Initiative takes innovative approach such as using insolvency for asset recovery and country-based capacity building to strengthen originating countries’ ability to repatriate assets. Both the UNCAC and the StAR Initiative are well-intended, but authoritarian regimes and weak rule of law often create dilemma for international collaboration.

Practical implications

This paper provides recommendations on how to further tackle suspect wealth with existing international frameworks.

Social implications

Reducing suspect wealth contributes to society equity and restores public trust by recovering much needed public assets and development resources.


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 dilemmas via shared international efforts.



Wang, S.J. (2021), "Tackling suspect wealth: towards an accountable and transparent future?", Journal of Money Laundering Control, Vol. 24 No. 2, pp. 246-256.



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Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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