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The first Unexplained Wealth Orders

Member: Nifa

A politician from central Asia has become the first person to fall foul of the new “Unexplained Wealth Order’ (UWO) regulations brought in to stem the flood of laundered money that allegedly washes through London. 

The National Crime Agency (NCA) has secured UWOs, which came into force on 31 January this year, to look at two properties, one in London and one in South East England. The properties, worth a total of around £22 million, are believed to be “ultimately owned” by a ‘politically exposed person’, which is a term used to describe people with prominent positions in public life who are vulnerable to bribery and corruption.

The new Orders allow investigators to force a so-called politically exposed person, someone in a position of power that makes them liable to bribery; or someone with suspected links to organised crime, to explain the source of their wealth. While the investigation is being carried out, the owner of the two properties is barred from selling or transferring them.

After the High Court issues an order, the respondent is required to explain the extent of their interest in the specified property and how it was obtained, thereby shifting the burden of proof from investigators to suspects.

A failure to comply can spark attempts to seize it under civil proceedings, on the assumption it has been obtained through unlawful conduct. In addition, anyone who provides false or misleading information in response can be punished with up to two years’ imprisonment.

As with any forensic investigation, evidence and information are key to finding out the provenance of cash. The investigators will interview key players, follow the money trail and look at how cash has been earned. With the onus on the accused, the politician will no doubt be employing forensic investigators to prove that he came by the money used to buy the properties lawfully.

Author: Roger Isaacs, 7 March 2018

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