What Is “Unexplained Wealth”?

The prime minister’s bodyguard who lives luxuriously in a dual-wing, classically designed, multi-million-dollar mansion. The son of a railway official who sits on the throne of a real estate empire spread across an entire continent. The city mayor whose offshore holdings control some of his home country’s most lucrative construction firms.

Why do these public servants and their families have so much money? Amid the ongoing fight for global financial transparency, a new concept has emerged: unexplained wealth.

It refers to valuable assets belonging to officials — or others in positions of power and influence — that are clearly incommensurate with their publicly-declared earnings or known business interests.

Investigative journalists, including us at OCCRP, have been digging into this issue for years. Law enforcement agencies have taken notice — especially in the United Kingdom, which has become a favored destination for people from around the world looking to stash their money in high-end real estate. In 2018 the country’s government introduced “Unexplained Wealth Orders” as a means of investigating those with suspect cash and inexplicably high-value holdings.

On this page, OCCRP examines the impact of those measures in the U.K.’s uphill battle to fix its reputation as a favored spot to launder ill-gotten gains, and presents some of our best “unexplained wealth” investigations from recent years.