Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) were introduced to bolster the Proceeds of Crime regime by extending the powers of law enforcement agencies to seize assets suspected of representing criminal property.
UWOs require an individual or respondent party to prove that a particular asset was obtained through legitimate means.
The wide range of parties that can be targeted by UWOs, the reverse burden of proof that applies and the pressure on UK authorities to be seen to do more to stamp out suspected dirty money, means that many people may find themselves fighting to retain their assets.
How do UWOs work?
UWOs are High Court orders that can be sought by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), National Crime Agency (NCA), HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in respect of assets valued at more than £50,000 – where there are reasonable grounds for these authorities to suspect that the asset was purchased with funds of illegitimate provenance. Crucially the onus is on the respondent to prove otherwise.
A UWO can be made against a politically exposed person (PEP) or individuals suspected of being involved in serious crime (fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and so on) in the UK or elsewhere, as well as those associated with them, be they business associates or family members. Companies can also be the subject of a UWO whether the company is registered in the UK or abroad.
How we can help
There are potentially dire consequences for parties targeted by a UWO, so speed and effectiveness of response are of the essence.
Our expertise includes:
- Considering the lawfulness of a UWO and any grounds for mounting a potential challenge;
- Preparing robust responses to a UWO to explain how the target asset was legitimately acquired and to establish rightful ownership;
- Coordination of evidence from wherever in the world is necessary;
- Advice on third-party rights, for example how any information used in a UWO defence process may be shared with other international law enforcement agencies and applied to the detriment of a connected person.
Sometimes the prosecuting authority may seek an interim freezing order over the asset in question before a proper response to the UWO has been given. See our expertise in this area.
Failure to respond satisfactorily to a UWO may give rise to a presumption that the asset is recoverable by means of civil forfeiture. False or misleading statements may also constitute a separate criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment.
We understand this process can be stressful and have the right experience to bring matters to their proper conclusion in our clients’ best interests.
We act for all parties who may need to challenge a UWO – both individuals and companies – and where there are third party considerations.
We have also acted for those who fear they may be at risk of a UWO-based investigation and advised on preventative measures to ensure parties can successfully demonstrate the legitimate provenance of their assets.
If you are concerned that you, a family member or someone you advise might be at risk of investigation by a prosecuting agency with the power to obtain a UWO, please contact our specialist lawyers.