New powers under the Criminal Finances Act 2017 came into force on 31 January 2018 relating to unexplained wealth orders (UWOs).
The purpose of such an order is to require the designated person to account for the origin of their assets.
This new power has been designed to target suspected corrupt foreign officials who have potentially laundered stolen money through the UK.
Investigators from the National Crime Agency believe there are billions of pounds of dirty money invested in British property – but it is almost impossible to charge the owners with a crime or seize the assets because of a lack of evidence.
Only the High Court can issue an Unexplained Wealth Order when it is satisfied that there is reasonable cause to believe that the respondent is a “politically exposed person” who has been involved in serious crime or that a person connected with the respondent is, or has been, involved in serious crime.
A “politically exposed person” means an individual whose prominent position in public life may make them vulnerable to corruption. This category includes heads of state, heads of government, members of parliament and members of the boards of central banks.
The enforcement agencies with the power to apply for these orders are the Financial Conduct Authority, Serious Fraud Office, the National Crime Agency , HM Revenue and Customs, and the Crown Prosecution Service.
The First Unexplained Wealth Order
Originally from Azerbaijan, she is the wife of an ex-state banker, Zamira Hajiyeva is the first person named on an Unexplained Wealth Order.
She risks losing her £15m home near the London store and a Berkshire golf course if she fails to explain the source of her wealth to the High Court. Mrs Hajiyeva must now provide the National Crime Agency with a clear account of how she and her husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, could afford to buy their large home in the exclusive London neighbourhood of Knightsbridge.
Jahangir Hajiyev is the former chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan and his wife Zamira wil have to explain amongst other expenditure spending £16 million in Harrods using 35 credit cards issued by her husband’s bank.
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