The UK’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has suggested that UK authorities could use unexplained wealth orders to target Russian individuals suspected of corruption following an attack on a former Russian agent who spied for the UK.
David Corker at Corker Binning in London said that judges will be “scrupulous” to ensure that the law is being applied impartially. He added that authorities may have a more difficult time acquiring UWOs against Russian individuals following Johnson’s comments.
“Judges normally react hostilely to this kind of political intervention, so authorities will ironically have a harder time acquiring a UWO against a Russian individual,” he said.
UWOs beef up the UK’s extraterritorial powers, as they can be granted to investigate individuals and companies worldwide. Targets who are suspected of being connected to a crime do not have to reside in the UK, and nor does the property in question. Authorities can also request orders to investigate politically exposed persons (PEPs) outside of the European Economic Area.
Lawyers say that Russian individuals may be preparing to fight back. Corker said that Johnson’s comments could help Russian suspects to make a convincing argument that they are being investigated for political reasons.
Those facing UWOs risk having their assets seized if they fail to provide a sufficient response to an order. Authorities can seize suspects’ assets through the Proceeds of Crime Act, which provides for the confiscation or recovery of illicit funds.
However, UK authorities may be able to target individuals suspected of wrongdoing before a UWO is approved, through freezing orders.
“Freezing orders often have more bite than the UWOs themselves,” Corker said. He added that a suspect’s assets could be frozen indefinitely until a decision over the UWO is made, and could cause reputational damage to individuals.
Please find the full article in Global Investigations Review here (behind paywall).