National Crime Agency secures first Unexplained Wealth Orders

The National Crime Agency has secured two Unexplained Wealth Orders ("UWOs") in relation to assets totalling £22million. This follows the introduction of UWOs on 31 January 2018. The UWOs have been granted to investigate two properties in the UK which are believed ultimately to be owned by a politically exposed person. 

Our leading Private Wealth and Disputes teams are well placed to provide advice on the steps to take when faced with a UWO.

What is a UWO?

A UWO is an investigation order which requires a person to provide certain information relating to the ownership of assets and how they were acquired in circumstances where serious crime is suspected and, in particular, the person's income would seem insufficient to have enabled them to acquire the assets in question. A failure to provide a satisfactory response to the UWO may enable the assets to be confiscated amongst other potential consequences.   

Who can apply for a UWO?

Only 'enforcement authorities' including the National Crime Agency, HMRC, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Serious Fraud Office or the Crown Prosecution Service can apply for a UWO.

When can enforcement authorities apply for a UWO?

A UWO can be applied for, and issued, without notice to the respondent. The High Court can issue a UWO in the following circumstances:

  • the value of the assets in question held by the respondent is more than £50,000;
  • there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the respondent's lawfully obtained income would have been insufficient to purchase the property; and 
  • the respondent is a politically exposed person (e.g. a person in a prominent public position who is likely to have increased exposure to bribery/corruption) or there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the respondent, or a person connected with them, has been involved in serious crime (whether inside or outside of the UK).

How can we help?

A UWO may relate to assets held by individuals outright or by trustees holding property subject to the terms of a trust. We can advise individuals or trustees who are affected.  

There will be a number of points to consider when responding to a UWO. We will advise on the appropriate way to respond. It is important to act promptly within the required timeframes. 

As a trustee, you may be required to provide information relating to the relevant trust in addition to the assets which it owns. We can advise on the extent of disclosure necessary in view of your obligations and duties as trustee.     

In addition, a UWO may relate to assets outside the UK but only UK enforcement agencies such as the National Crime Agency and HMRC may apply for an order. The enforceability of the order in the relevant jurisdiction may therefore also be a relevant consideration.

If you would like to discuss this with a member of our team, please do contact us.