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National Crime Agency targets London property in money laundering hunt

John Fitzsimons
Written By:
John Fitzsimons

The National Crime Agency (NCA) has secured three ‘unexplained wealth orders’ (UWOs) against prime residential properties in the capital which they believe are linked to serious crime.

The three properties were originally bought for more than £80m and held by offshore companies. The NCA is investigating the funds used to purchase the properties.

In addition, the courts have granted interim freezing orders which means the properties cannot be sold, transferred or dissipated during the investigation.

UWOs are a relatively new tool at the disposal of the agency, and can force a person suspected of involvement in serious crime to explain the source of their wealth or how they have come to own an expensive asset which might not fit with someone with their income.

The first UWOs were issued last year against Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of a now-jailed Azerbaijani banker. The orders were related to two properties worth a total of £22m.

The NCA did not name the person these latest orders were secured against, stating only that it was a “politically exposed person believed to be involved in serious crime”.

Andy Lewis, head of asset denial at the NCA, noted that UWOS are a “powerful tool” in investigating “illicit finance flowing into the UK”.

He added: “The NCA will not shy away from complex and detailed investigations against high profile individuals and professional enablers.”

Graeme Biggar, director general of the National Economic Crime Centre, noting that the purchase of prime property in London is a tactic used in order to launder money.

“A priority for the NECC is to ensure we explore every opportunity to deny assets linked to illicit finance. Our aim is to prevent misuse of the UK’s financial structures which undermines the integrity of the UK’s economy and institutions,” he continued.