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Unexplained Wealth Orders

It’s vital that anyone made subject to an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO), or who fears this development, seeks immediate, specialist advice.

We have unparalleled experience in dealing with asset seizure and forfeiture. We know how to navigate this complicated landscape where the burden of showing legitimacy is put on the Respondent.

We understand the challenge of having to prove that property isn’t earned through crime, and what’s required in managing such cases. We can also assist with dealing with any international dimension such cases may have.

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“Hodge Jones & Allen are possibly the best firm of criminal solicitors conducting publicly funded work, and also offer an excellent service to privately funded clients. They have a large team that has continually prospered through recruiting excellent trainees and investing in people.” – Legal 500, 2024

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    Unexplained Wealth Orders

    The passing of the Criminal Finances Act 2017 allowed agencies to apply for Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWO).

    There was a growing concern that the UK was becoming a safe haven for criminals to store and move their assets. It was often quoted that around £90 billion of criminal money had been laundered through the UK. Prior to the passing of this law, an assessment of the state of serious and organised crime by the National Crime Agency (NCA) expressed concern this figure was a “significant underestimate”. UWO was created as a response. The authorities can apply for these Orders from the High Court. The Order requires a person to confirm their interest in specified, identified property and explain in detail how it was obtained.

    "Laura O’Brien, Jessica Murray and Caroline Liggins aided me perfectly with my court case. I highly recommend them as they were swift and professional."

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    Who can be made subject to an Unexplained Wealth Order?

    The Court can only make these Orders against certain people. Two categories of person are specified:

    1. A Politically Exposed Person (PEP) outside of the European Economic Area.
    2. A person where there’s reasonable grounds to suspect is, or has been, involved in ‘serious crime’. This includes money laundering, bribery and corruption, major fraud and drug trafficking.

    If a person fits into either category, then an UWO can be made if their assets are valued over £50,000. There must be reasonable cause to believe a person has an interest in the property and it couldn’t have been obtained with legitimately obtained funds. These Orders are directed at high value assets. The Order forces the person named to set out how the asset was acquired and show it was obtained lawfully.

    unconvincingly, then applications can be made for forfeiture of the assets. A Respondent will wish to take great care in how they manage this. Their response can be used to inform criminal proceedings against them and others.

    At the moment, UWOs have been used quite sparingly. But it is clear that the NCA has many people of interest in their sights, and we must expect that many more people will be made subject to such Orders. The Director of Economic Crime at the NCA was quoted as saying, “We have a number of other cases which we’re currently developing, involving both PEPs and people with links to serious crime. We have live investigations into professional enablers.”

     

     

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    What do UWO’s direct?

    Accompanying the power to obtain UWO, is the ability to apply for temporary freezing or seizure of these assets. This is to ensure the asset isn’t gone before it’s established how it was acquired and whether it’s lawfully owned.

    Those subject to UWO’s are often shocked by the process. The authority doesn’t have to prove that the asset was obtained unlawfully. The responsibility is on the Respondent to show they’re above suspicion. They must convince the Court that funds used to acquire the asset didn’t come from criminal conduct and were legitimately obtained.

    The stakes are high. If you don’t respond, or have responded inadequately or unconvincingly, then applications can be made for forfeiture of your assets.

    You must be extremely careful as your response can be used to inform criminal proceedings against you and others.

    At the moment, UWOs have been used quite sparingly. But it’s clear that the NCA has many people of interest in their sights. We must expect that many more people will be made subject to such Orders. The Director of Economic Crime at the NCA was quoted saying, “We have a number of other cases which we’re currently developing, involving both PEPs and people with links to serious crime. We have live investigations into professional enablers.”

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    Why choose Hodge Jones & Allen?

    What sets us apart, is our great range of experience in defending complex, serious criminal proceedings. In advising on UWO – and all forms of asset seizure and forfeiture – we understand the wider landscape and how responses to such civil orders can impact a broader criminal case. We’ll move quickly, assembling if necessary a team to guide and assist you through the process. We have the expertise to develop an expert strategy and manage such cases wisely.

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