The National Crime Agency has secured its first Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWO’s), claiming they are a vital new tool in the battle against dirty money.
But a leading legal expert in the field has argued that UWO’s, which can see assets being seized, are not a cure-all for the problem. He believes that they can be challenged, amended and even overturned if the subject of one seeks the right legal representation.
Aziz Rahman, founder of award-winning business crime solicitors Rahman Ravelli, made his claim as the NCA said it had secured UWO’s on two properties valued at £22M; whose ultimate owner is a political figure from Central Asia.
UWO’s only came into force on January 31 this year. They are an order of the High Court that can be used by the NCA and other authorities to force an individual to disclose their interest in a property, explain how they obtained it and reveal details of any trust in which it is held.
A UWO can only be granted if an individual is:
* A politically exposed person (or connected to a politically exposed person) from outside the European Economic Area or suspected of involvement in serious crime.
* Believed to hold property worth more than £50,000.
*Possessing property that their lawfully-earned income would have been insufficient to acquire.
If an individual fails to comply with a UWO without reasonable excuse, the property can be considered for civil recovery – meaning seizure - under Part 5 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA). Mr Rahman’s firm has years of experience of civil recovery POCA cases. It took one such case to the European Court Of Human Rights – making it the only firm to do so.
He said: “It is important for anyone who is the subject of a UWO to remember that this is not the end of the world. The authorities can, and do, get it wrong.
“The correct approach is vital for anyone faced with a UWO. They need representation from solicitors who can swiftly assemble and analyse all the potential evidence, use appropriate industry experts to contest the authorities’ claims and make robust, intelligent challenges to the allegations.’’
Mr Rahman, was called “one of the foremost financial crime solicitors in the UK’’ by this year’s Chambers and Partners Legal Guide; which named his firm as among the elite for handling UWO-related matters.