Over the weekend it was reported in the Sunday Times that the National Crime Agency (NCA) has scaled up investigations into businessmen linked to Vladimir Putin's regime following the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal. It was reported that the NCA will be using Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWO) to assist in its investigations.

UWOs were introduced under the Criminal Finances Act 2017 and came into force on 31 January 2018.  A UWO is a court order requiring a person to explain the origin of property that appears to be disproportionate to their known income. A UWO may be supplemented by an interim freezing order to prevent dissipation of the asset. Failure without reasonable excuse to comply with the UWO means the property is presumed to be recoverable by enforcement authorities as the proceeds of crime (in proceedings under Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, Part 5). For more information about UWOs, see our previous blog here.

In light of commentary over the weekend, it must be remembered that UWOs cannot be used to target people based on their nationality and the following three statutory conditions must be satisfied before a UWO can be issued:

  1. The respondent holds the property in question and its value is greater than £50,000. 
  2. There are reasonable grounds to suspect that the known sources of the respondent's lawfully obtained income would have been insufficient for the purposes of enabling them to obtain the property.
  3. And either:

    1. the respondent is a Politically Exposed Person; or
    2. there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the respondent, or a person connected with them, is or has been involved in serious crime (in the UK or elsewhere).

Any suspicion that law enforcement agencies are targeting a particular nationality could form the basis of a challenge by way of judicial review. Any individual that receives a UWO and suspects that they are being targeted due to their nationality should consider carefully what legal remedies are available to them. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.