09. June 2021

Illicit Enrichment: A Guide to Laws Targeting Unexplained Wealth – new book published today

Illicit Enrichment book cover
Illicit Enrichment by Andrew Dornbierer, an open-access book published by the Basel Institute on Governance

A new open-access book published by the Basel Institute on Governance explores the rapid growth of illicit enrichment legislation around the world and its use to target corruption and recover illicitly obtained assets.

What does illicit enrichment mean for combating corruption?

An increasing number of countries are introducing mechanisms to target people who enjoy an amount of wealth that can't be explained by their lawful income.

These mechanisms - known as illicit enrichment laws or unexplained wealth laws - allow investigators and prosecutors to recover assets that have clearly not come from lawful sources without having to prove the specific criminal action that gave rise to these proceeds. As such, they are particularly useful to target corruption offences, where it is often difficult to point to an obvious victim or to a specific criminal act.

Why are illicit enrichment laws sometimes controversial?

As a comparatively underdeveloped area of law, the concept of illicit enrichment sparks debate. Critics argue that certain characteristics of these types of laws contravene longstanding legal rights such as the presumption of innocence.

The vast majority of courts that have considered these laws, however, disagree with these claims and have instead ruled that they justifiably fit within established rights and procedures. Consequently, in many countries, illicit enrichment laws are currently playing a vital role in the recovery of proceeds of crime and corruption.

To support practitioners and policy makers in this emerging field of law, Illicit Enrichment by Andrew Dornbierer provides a comprehensive guide to both criminal and civil-based illicit enrichment laws and how they have been applied by investigators and prosecutors to target unexplained wealth and recover proceeds of crime.

Analysis of laws and cases from 103 jurisdictions

Covering relevant laws from around the world, the book explains the different approaches that legislators have taken to define, codify and sanction unjustifiable and unexplainable increases in wealth. The scope ranges from laws that take the form of criminal offences to those based solely in civil procedure, such as unexplained wealth orders.

Through an extensive examination of jurisprudence, the book further explains the different approaches and interpretations that judiciaries have taken when applying these laws, particularly in the context of existing legal rights.

Aimed at investigators, prosecutors, legislators and academics, the open-access book features:

  • Extensive analysis of jurisprudence and cases around the world
  • Tables, flow charts and graphics explaining key concepts
  • Discussion of common questions and challenges
  • A collection of laws from 103 jurisdictions, also as an online database
  • A step-by-step guide to financial investigation and source and application analysis to support illicit enrichment cases

Illicit Enrichment was developed and published by the Basel Institute on Governance through its International Centre for Asset Recovery, with research support from the NYU School of Law.

Open-access and peer review

This book is freely available and shareable as an open-access research publication under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence.

In line with accepted practice for open-access research, the book has undergone an open peer review with three diverse and highly qualified reviewers. Find the reviews and author comments in the introductory notes.

Where to find it

30 June webinar

If you're interested in hearing from the book's author Andrew Dornbierer and practitioners experienced in applying this legislation to recover stolen assets in their countries, join us on 30 June at 13:00 CET for a virtual event on Illicit enrichment laws – an underused tool to target corruption and recover stolen assets?