Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

NCA secures first Northern Irish unexplained wealth order

Out-Law News | 06 Aug 2019 | 11:32 am | 1 min. read

The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has secured the first-ever unexplained wealth order (UWO) against properties owned by a Northern Irish person.

The woman has been ordered to explain how she financed the purchase of six properties worth around £3.2 million in total.

The High Court of England and Wales granted the UWO as well as interim freezing orders over the property in late July. The freezing orders means the properties cannot be sold, transferred or dissipated while the NCA continues investigating suspicions that the woman is associated with criminals involved in paramilitary activity and cigarette smuggling.

The NCA has now obtained four UWOs against individuals suspected of obtaining assets through criminal activity, but the case marks the first time anyone from Northern Ireland has been the subject of a UWO.

The order covers four properties in London, where the woman now lives, as well as two properties in Northern Ireland.

Regulatory law expert Laura Gillespie of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “The NCA’s authority extends across the UK and it is clear that it is using its powers to investigate a range of suspected criminal activity.”

UWOs were first introduced in the UK in January 2018, under the 2017 Criminal Finances Act. Once granted by the court, an UWO compels a person to explain the nature and extent of their interest in particular assets worth £50,000 or more; explain how they obtained the assets, especially how they were funded; and to disclose any other information specified in the order. Failure to comply with a UWO creates a presumption that the assets have been obtained through unlawful conduct, and they are therefore vulnerable to civil recovery proceedings.

The NCA secured its first two UWOs in February 2018, but one was challenged in court. The order was eventually upheld by the High Court, which said the NCA had reasonable grounds for suspecting that the property in question was not lawfully obtained.

NCA head of asset denial Andy Lewis said of the order against the Northern Irish woman: “We do not investigate illicit finance based on monetary value alone. This latest order shows that we will act against those who we believe are causing the most harm to our communities”.