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UK's first Unexplained Wealth Order issued

Monday 08 October 2018

The subject of the UK’s first Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) is fighting to keep hold of her property after failing to reveal the source of her wealth, following a High Court Judgement.

The wife of a foreign banker from a non-EEA country, referred to only as "Mrs A", who's claimed to have spent hundreds of thousands on luxury goods from Harrods is at risk of losing her property unless she can prove how she was able to afford £22 million in UK real estate.

The UWO was issued in respect of a property bought in 2009 for £11.5 million via a company in the British Virgin Islands, which had a subsequent £7.5 million mortgage taken out against it from Barclays Suisse.

Unexplained Wealth Orders were introduced earlier in the year, amid escalating concern that the UK housing market was being used to launder cash by corrupt foreign politicians and officials.

The Government passed a law requiring all offshore owners of British property to disclose their true identities to a central register or face property seizures, jail sentences and unlimited fines.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) has previously estimated that £90 billion of criminal funds are laundered through the UK each year, with the London property sector being particularly vulnerable, and campaigners calling London “the money-laundering capital of the world”.

Mrs A appealed against the UWO, but the challenge was dismissed by Mr Justice Supperstone, and she has been given until Wednesday to appeal against the decision and apply for her anonymity to be extended. The assets and property will be frozen until a satisfactory explanation into how the property was purchased can be made.

Donald Toon, the NCA Director for Economic Crime, said: “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.”

Duncan Hames, the Director of Policy at Transparency International UK, welcomed the ruling and applauded the court’s decision to hold the hearing in public.

“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,” he said. “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.”