Unexplained Wealth Orders: What are they? Will they affect you?
On 31st January 2018, regulations bring into force sections of The Criminal Finances Act 2017 dealing with Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs), along with various other related provisions. This is the latest in what can often be seen to be a draconian set of powers aimed at interrupting criminal activity by the back door. However, as with other financial legislation, there is a risk that ordinary law-abiding people can find themselves subject to an order.
What are Unexplained Wealth Orders?
The purpose of this new order is to allow for certain people who obtain property which would ordinarily be beyond their obvious means, to be required to prove that it was acquired lawfully. This is in effect a reverse burden of proof.
Law enforcement agencies often have reasonable grounds to suspect that identified assets of such persons are the proceeds of serious crime. However, they are often unable to freeze or recover the assets under existing provisions in the Proceeds of Crime Act due to an inability to obtain evidence (often due to the inability to rely on full cooperation from other jurisdictions to obtain evidence).
The authorities which may apply for an Unexplained Wealth Order are:
- The National Crime Agency.
- HM Revenue and Customs.
- The Financial Conduct Authority.
- The Director of the Serious Fraud Office.
- The Director of Public Prosecutions.
What to do?
If you are subjected to an order of this kind, you must provide a statement which does the following:
- Sets out the nature and extent of your interest in the property.
- Explains how you obtained the property, particularly how it was paid for.
- Provides details of any settlement if the property is held by trustees.
- Sets out any other information about the property specified in the order.
In addition to a statement, the order may require you to supply documents connected to the property.
Before it can make an order, the High Court must be satisfied that the following criteria are met:
- There is reasonable cause to believe that the person in question holds the property and that it is worth over £50,000.
- There are reasonable grounds for suspecting that this person’s known income (from lawful sources) would not be enough to obtain the property.
- The person in question is a politically exposed person (see definition below) or there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that they are or have been involved in a serious crime or someone connected to this person is or has been so involved.
A politically exposed person (PEP) is someone who is or has been entrusted with prominent public functions by an international organisation, a State other than the UK or another EEA State, a family member of such a person, a close associate or someone connected to them in another way.
Make sure you provide all the information required
It is a criminal offence to knowingly or recklessly make a statement that is false or misleading in response to an unexplained wealth order. Doing so can result in two years’ imprisonment and/or a fine. This offence can be tried in either the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court.
Failing to provide the information, in full or part, may prejudice any civil forfeiture proceedings.
In some cases, a UWO will be accompanied by an interim freezing order. This prohibits the respondent to the UWO and any other person with an interest in the property from in any way dealing with the property.
Where the property is thought to be in a country outside the UK, the Secretary of State may forward a request for assistance to the government of the receiving county. This can be a request to prevent anyone in that country from dealing with the relevant property and provide assistance in managing it as required.
We Can Assist
John Howey, Senior Solicitor
Please note that the information contained in this article was correct at the time of writing. There may have been updates to the law since the article was written, which may affect the information and advice given therein.