High Court dismisses challenge from first Unexplained Wealth Order respondents

By agency reporter
October 4, 2018

A legal challenge lodged by the respondents to the UK’s first ever Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) was dismissed by the High Court in London on 3 October 2018. This means the respondent – the wife of a banker from a non-EEA country (Mrs A) – must now explain to the National Crime Agency how she was able to afford £22 million worth of UK property.

The properties in question remain frozen, and if she either fails to respond or provides an inadequate response this can be used as grounds to pursue confiscation of the properties through civil proceedings.

Donald Toon, National Crime Agency (NCA) Director for Economic Crime, commented “I am very pleased that the court dismissed the respondent’s arguments today. This demonstrates that the NCA is absolutely right to ask probing questions about the funds used to purchase prime property. We will continue with this case and seek to quickly move others to the High Court. We are determined to use the powers available to us to their fullest extent where we have concerns that we cannot determine legitimate sources of wealth."

Transparency International has welcomed the continuation of this landmark investigation that may prove to be a turning point in the UK’s fight against dirty money. This should now give confidence to the National Crime Agency to widen its pursuit of billions of pounds of suspicious wealth used to buy luxury property across the UK. In 2017, TI-UK identified £4.4 billion worth of property bought with suspicious wealth, many of which could be the subject of  UWOs.

UWOs – an investigative tool to help law enforcement act on corrupt assets – came into force earlier this year after TI-UK successfully campaigned for their introduction in the Criminal Finances Act of 2017. The powers are intended to help UK law enforcement tackle illicit wealth being hidden in the UK.

Duncan Hames, Director of Policy at Transparency International UK, said: “We’re delighted that this investigation will continue and Unexplained Wealth Orders are proving to be a valuable tool in the fight against corruption. This decision to hold this hearing in public is a welcome step that should reassure the public that action is being taken against dirty money in our economy.”

“We now hope the National Crime Agency will take confidence from this ruling and make greater use of this important new power. We have previously identified £4.4 billion worth of property across the UK that we consider to have been purchased with suspicious wealth.

“The UK has been long identified as a safe haven for corrupt money and despite successive governments recognising this, money-launderers have continued to hide their ill-gotten gains here. Only firm enforcement action, as initiated with this case, will make a reality of Ministers’ ambitions to create a hostile environment for dirty money in the UK.”

* National Crime Agency http://www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/

* Transparency International UK http://www.transparency.org.uk/

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