The UK National Crime Agency Obtains its First Unexplained Wealth Orders.

Back in February 2018, I wrote an a blog about the UK implementing legislation designed to attack those whose assets are likely borne from crimes such as grand corruption. The legislation, known as the Criminal Finances Act (CFA), introduced ‘Unexplained Wealth Orders’ (UWOs) designed to streamline and improve UK law enforcement’s ability to combat those who would pillage their home country’s financial resources for their own ends. As anticipated, the National Crime Agency (NCA) – the UK’s equivalent of the FBI – has been overseeing the administration and execution of these new powers. The first UWO were used to seize possession of a diamond ring worth £1.2m, purchased in Harrods by an Azerbaijani banker. The ring forms part of an ongoing investigation into his unexplained wealth. The ring was bought by jailed banker Jahangir Hajiyev in 2011, and was seized from the high-end jewellers where it had been taken in for repair. The investigators are now seeking to establish how Mr. Hajiyev paid for this piece of jewellery. This development shows that the relatively new UK law could form a meaningful bar to those criminals bringing their Fructus Corruptio (fruits of corruption) to the shores of the UK. The NCA has stated that Mr Hajiyev’s wife, Zamira Hajiyev is also subject of further UWOs. These are related to properties totalling £22m, under what have now been nicknamed the ‘McMafia Laws’, after a popular BBC TV drama. The CFA is intended to stem the tide of “dirty money” spilling into London, by placing the burden of proof onto suspected corrupt government-connected officials to prove the legitimacy of their wealth. The legislation enables law enforcement to target the wealth and assets of individuals who are considered to be politically exposed persons (PEPs). These PEPs tend to originate from outside of the EU, where they are vulnerable to bribery and corruption, due to their positions of power, and links to organised crime. In my original opinion of last year, almost 12 months ago, I alluded to the likelihood that any UWO investigations were likely to be slow to materialise, given the way in which austerity measures have eaten into the numbers of law enforcement specialists, capable of taking on these types of investigations. The fact that these are the first such orders would appear to vindicate my initial position. My observation regarding the length of time it has taken for the first UWOs to materialise is tempered by the acknowledgment that complex cases such as these are inherently slow-moving investigations from a law enforcement perspective, so no criticism is implied or intended in regard of the NCA’s ongoing investigation. Indeed, the NCA is to be congratulated regardless, if their suspicions against the Hajiyevs are as well founded as they would suggest. The UWOs are powerful tools in the fight against globalized fraud, corruption and money laundering. In regard of potential targets, the NCA will be stuck for choice moving forwards. The UK is awash with dubious money, originating (for example) from former Eastern Bloc oligarchs who know and appreciate that UK investments, particularly in London, are safe and likely to increase in value. In addition, there is no dubious government likely to simply relieve you of your assets as could happen in other ‘banana republic’-type locations. The fact that the UK is at least making the effort to chase said oligarchs out of their backyard is excellent news for those of us who investigate international fraud, grand corruption and cross-border asset recovery. The UK’s UWO format should be copied and mirrored elsewhere. Any legislation designed to frustrate those who would use your property and financial systems as safe-haven for dirty money stolen from their home nation, should be welcomed. With thanks to Tony McClements, Senior Investigator at Martin Kenney & Co, for his assistance with this post. Martin Kenney Managing Partner, Martin Kenney & Co.