Whilst the rest of the UK has been feeling the cold, the National Crime Agency (“NCA”) has turned up the heat on a Politically Exposed Person (“PEP”). On 28 February 2018 the NCA announced that they had secured two unexplained wealth orders (“UWOs”), the first to be granted under the new powers introduced by the Criminal Finances Act 2017 (“CFA”), in respect of assets totalling £22 million that are believed to ultimately be owned by the PEP. It is understood that the properties include a house and offices in London and the South East.
In addition to the UWOs, interim freezing orders were granted by the court meaning that the assets cannot be sold, transferred or dissipated while subject to the order.
UWOs were one of the most talked about features of the CFA; giving enforcement authorities the ability to apply to court to require the respondent to explain how they obtained certain property. For a UWO to be granted, the court must be satisfied that there are:
- reasonable grounds for suspecting that the known sources of the respondent’s lawfully obtained income would have been insufficient to enable them to obtain the property; and
- that the respondent is a PEP or there are grounds for suspecting that the respondent is involved in serious crime, whether in the UK or elsewhere.
Coming less than a month after UWOs became available to the NCA, their early deployment seems to indicate that the NCA mean business when it comes to UWOs. This is despite the Director of the Serious Fraud Office David Green having previously cautioned against the idea of a flurry of UWOs following their introduction on 31 January 2018.
In response to the announcement of the first UWOs, Donald Toon, the Director for Economic Crime at the NCA, said: “Unexplained wealth orders have the potential to significantly reduce the appeal of the UK as a destination for illicit income…We are determined to use all of the powers available to us to combat the flow of illicit monies into, or through, the UK.”
It’s too early to assess the impact of UWOs but if the NCA continue to seek them, it will send a clear message to those seeking to launder corrupt wealth in the UK: we will find, and freeze, you out.