31 May 2019
The UK National Crime Agency (NCA) has seized three London residential properties under a power granted in 2018 targeting suspicious individuals who can’t explain the origins of their wealth.
In a statement Wednesday, the NCA said that the high-end properties had originally been purchased for £80 million by offshore companies and were tied to a politically-connected individual believed to have committed serious criminal offences. The UK High Court approved the NCA’s unexplained wealth orders (UWOs) last week, marking the second time the agency has formally secured use of the law enforcement tool.
NCA officials, who separately obtained interim freezing orders prohibiting the sale or transfer of the three properties, did not disclose additional details of the investigation.
“The purchase of prime property in London is a tactic used to launder money and we will use all the powers available to us to target those who try to do this,” said Graeme Biggar, director general of the National Economic Crime Centre, in a statement.
Under the 2018 Criminal Finances Act, approved UK agencies can invoke UWOs with court approval in instances whenever there is a clear discrepancy between the income of an investigatory target and the value of that individual’s assets, provided that the assets are worth £50,000 or more.
The NCA previously made use of the orders in February 2018 as part of an investigation into Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of a former chair of the International Bank of Azerbaijan who had been jailed two years earlier on charges of embezzlement, fraud and other criminal violations.
In February, an NCA spokesman told KYC360 that the agency had considered invoking UWOs in 140 cases.
“A significant number of these are against assets believed to be held by Russian invidivuals and we are working to apply for further UWOs as our investigations continue,” the spokesman said at the time.
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