“Unexplained wealth orders” (UWO) and “interim freezing orders” came into force in January 2018.
Essentially, a UWO is an investigation order issued by the High Court once certain criteria are met. They can apply to an individual suspected of involvement in serious crime or to a ‘politically exposed person’ (PEP).
An ‘enforcement authority’ must have reasonable grounds for suspicion that an individual, who is either a PEP or involved in serious crime, has “insufficient legitimate income for the purposes of enabling the individual to obtain specific identified property (of a value over £50,000), which can be shown to be in their possession”.
Watch Matthew Claughton discussing Unexplained Wealth Orders
Politically exposed person
A politically exposed person (PEP) is a person with a prominent position in public life, who may be vulnerable to bribery and corruption. PEPs can include heads of state, government ministers, politicians, judges, ambassadors, diplomats, military officers, directors of international organisations and state-owned bodies.
Connection to ‘serious crime’
A UWO may require a person “reasonably suspected” of involvement in, or of being connected to a person involved in, serious crime to explain an interest in particular property and how it was obtained. The list of offences includes; drug trafficking, slavery, people trafficking, firearms offences, prostitution and child sex, armed robbery, money laundering, fraud, offences in relation to the public revenue, bribery, counterfeiting, blackmail, computer misuse, intellectual property, environment, organised crime, financial sanctions legislation, and certain inchoate offences.
A UWO can be applied to politicians or officials from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), or those associated with them i.e. politically exposed persons (PEPs). For a UWO in relation to a non-EEA PEP there is no requirement for suspicion of serious criminality.
Effect of an Unexplained Wealth Order
Once a UWO is granted the respondent is required provide information on specified matters which require them to prove the legitimate ownership of property and the means by which it was obtained. The UWO is an investigation tool that sits alongside other powers available to prosecuting authorities under POCA.
A UWO can only be applied for by a specified “enforcement authority”, namely; the National Crime Agency, HM Revenue and Customs, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Serious Fraud Office or the Crown Prosecution Service.
Responding to an Unexplained Wealth Order
Care needs to be taken in responding to a UWO. Upon receipt of a response the enforcement authority will decide how best to proceed, this may include civil or criminal action, although evidence obtained under the UWO should not be used in a criminal prosecution, a concept that many will find difficult to grasp.
Failure to respond to an Unexplained Wealth Order
If the prosecuting enforcement authority opts for civil recovery then a failure to respond to the UWO may give rise to a presumption that the property is recoverable. Civil recovery takes place in the High Court (see Part 5 of POCA).
Making a deliberately false or misleading statement in response to a UWO is a criminal offence carrying a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment.
Olliers, specialists in defending allegations of fraud, serious crime and asset recovery
Olliers specialise in defending the full range of criminal offences. If you are subject to an Unexplained Wealth Order then it is important that immediate legal advice is obtained.
Matthew Claughton is the Managing Director of Olliers Solicitors and specialises in defending allegations of fraud. If you require representation in relation to an Unexplained Wealth Order contact Matthew Claughton by telephone on 0161 827 7010 or mobile 07734 388821, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to send us a message.