The Criminal Finances Bill brings with it the most fundamental changes to proceeds of crime legislation for many years. Many may be unprepared for the extent to which the new Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWO) will entitle authorities to freeze assets of above £100,000 without notice, and if a sufficient explanation for their provenance is not provided, to forfeit them.
While the proceedings take place in the High Court, the requirements are simply that the relevant person holds property worth more than £100,000, and that the High Court is satisfied there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the known sources of lawfully obtained income would have been insufficient to obtain that property. Another requirement would be that the person is either a PEP or there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that he, or a person connected with him, has been involved in serious crime.
This extraordinarily draconian measure will place renewed pressure on a very broad group of people who currently qualify as PEPs. PEPs who are independently wealthy may be unprepared for the idea that they will have to disclose the provenance of their wealth if it exceeds what they could have obtained using their income from their current position.
“Further information notices” will entitle the NCA to require persons who have made suspicious activity reports (SAR)s under the Proceeds of Crime act to provide further information in relation to anything in that report. This is enforceable by court order. Similar provisions will apply to terrorism-related disclosures.
Swingeing new powers to search for, and to seize “seizable listed assets” of a minimum value of £1000 such as precious metals, stones, watches, art, vouchers and stamps, are included. The authorities can then apply to forfeit such assets in magistrates’ court proceedings, in much the same way they currently can do with cash. Similar provisions relating to money held in a bank account are now included, and thus funds in an account will be subject to forfeiture proceedings in the same way that cash currently is.