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‘Clean Skin’ no protection against Unexplained Wealth Orders

A ‘businessman’, who investigators suspected of being a major money-launderer, has been forced to hand over 45 properties worth around £10 million by virtue of an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO).

According to allegations brought by the National Crime Agency (NCA), Mansoor Mahmood Hussain was the conduit for money made through the trafficking of drugs and firearms.

As a ‘clean skin’, or supposedly legitimate businessman with no convictions, Mr Hussain was believed to be the perfect front for a property empire bought through suspected ill-gotten gains.

However, NCA investigators were unable to obtain sufficient detailed evidence to bring money-laundering charges against Mr Hussain.

To aid their investigation the NCA decided to use an UWO, which compels those served with them to prove the origins of their assets and income or face the potential seizure of the assets.

Following the issuing of the order, a forensic investigation of his financial transactions revealed to the NCA that little of his property empire, which included office developments, homes and businesses, could be proven to have come from legitimate sources.

In fact, 77 of the companies purportedly being run by Mr Hussain were dormant and he had paid virtually no income tax for several years.

Initially, Mr Hussain tried to mount a defence against these accusations but has now agreed to a settlement in which he has handed over 45 properties worth an estimated £10 million.

A spokesman for the NCA said that the case demonstrates the power of UWOs and how they can be used to investigate criminally-obtained income.

UWOs were first employed in 2018 against Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of a former chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan.

Their power lies in their reverse onus principle, which requires the accused to provide evidence of their income and assets.

However, investigators and prosecutors lose the benefit of the order as soon as a defendant can explain the source of their wealth.

Roger Isaacs, Forensic Partner at Milsted Langdon, said: “The use of UWOs is slowly increasing, as is the demand for the services of forensic accountants and investigators in complex cases such as these.

“Many people still believe that English law is founded on the principal that an accused is innocent until proven guilty but UWOs are the latest in a string of provisions including many under the Proceeds of Crime Act, that impose a presumption of guilt.  Those accused therefore have to prove their innocence and forensic accountants have an important role to play in these types of financial cases.”

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