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International Advice & Assistance Services

International Advice & Assistance

Unexplained wealth orders

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Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) give UK law enforcement an opportunity to confiscate criminal assets without ever having to prove that the property was obtained from criminal activity.

The UK government alleges that property in the UK is attractive to both foreign and domestic criminals seeking to conceal large amounts of illicit funds, disguise their ownership, and realise the proceeds of their criminal activity. A UWO requires a person who is a Politically Exposed Person (PEP) or reasonably suspected of involvement in, or of being connected to a person involved in, serious crime to explain the origin of assets that appear to be disproportionate to their known lawfully obtained income. These assets can be anywhere in the world and must have a minimum combined value of £50,000.

If a UWO is made, the respondent or the subject of the order is given a limited amount of time in which to respond. A failure to do so can be relied upon in civil recovery proceedings. The law reverses the burden of proof; the respondent must show that the property is not the proceeds of crime otherwise it will be presumed that the property can be forfeited. Regardless of whether civil recovery proceedings are commenced, the response can be used to inform other investigations, including UK and foreign criminal investigations.

UWOs are intended partly to demonstrate that the UK is committed to seizing the benefit of crimes, especially corruption committed overseas. Their potential weakness stems from their politically charged nature. The UK courts will be concerned to ensure that they are not exploited in order to either harass or as a means to satisfy an overseas political enemy of the respondent.

Whilst no UWO has yet been used against an alleged Putin crony, we anticipate that it is likely that the National Crime Agency will seek to use this tool in support of a sanctions breach investigation.