The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has said that it is already looking through its caseload to identify the first targets for unexplained wealth orders (UWO’s).
Under UWO’s, which came into effect at the end of January, the authorities can freeze and recover property of those who cannot explain why they own assets worth more than their income and cannot prove they acquired them legally.
A UWO can be obtained against any non-EU politically exposed person or any person where there is “reasonable grounds’’ to connect them to serious crime. This includes corporates and individuals. The property concerned must have a value of £50,000 or more.
Under the new rules, individuals can be fined and jailed if they make misleading statements.
SFO Director David Green said his staff “have been combing through all existing case work and intelligence and have matters of interest’’ that may develop into UWO’s, which he called an “extremely useful tool’.
Transparency International has said it has pinpointed property in the UK worth a total of £4.4 billion whose owners could be suitable targets for UWO’s. It believes UWO’s could be effective in preventing the flow of “dirty money’’ into the UK, as they make it easier for the authorities to investigate how people have obtained their wealth.
Aziz Rahman, founder of Rahman Ravelli, said that UWO’s will be a big help to the authorities by making it much easier for them to target those they suspect of handling the proceeds of crime. But he added that the authorities are unlikely to have it all their own way.
He explained: “A UWO places the responsibility on a person to explain how they gained their wealth. But the authorities can and do get it wrong when it comes to the issuing of orders. It has happened with restraint orders and it can happen with UWO’s.
“There will always be the potential to question the validity of a UWO or its precise terms. Anyone facing one will have scope for challenging it – if they take the correct approach.
“If UWO’s are to be used regularly by the authorities, it is likely that those targeted will need specialist help.
“Such help will be essential for anyone who is – or is about to be – the subject of a UWO. They will need to explain to the authorities, in the clearest possible terms, that the sources of their wealth are legitimate - and be able to prove that that is the case.
“This may prove difficult for those who are not used to dealing with the likes of the SFO. For that reason alone, they should take specialist legal advice.’’
Read our page: UNEXPLAINED WEALTH ORDERS