Second-use of Unexplained Wealth Order as NCA investigates how owner afforded £80m London homes

With this morning’s news that the NCA has launched an investigation into how owner afforded £80m London homes, Aziz Rahman, of business crime solicitors Rahman Ravelli, said this second Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) case may prove to be a turning point for the NCA and its use of the orders.

He said: “It is coming up to a year since the NCA’s director of economic and cybercrime Donald Toon said his team was examining between 120 and 140 individuals to see if they could be suitable for UWOs.

“Since that comment there has been the high-profile 2018 case of UWOs against two London properties believed to be owned by Jahangir Hajiyev, the jailed former chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan, and his wife Zamira Hajiyeva; whose lavish spending in Harrods has just been the subject of headlines. And now we have this latest case.

“It will be interesting to see whether this latest UWO case represents an opening of the floodgates for the NCA; the first of many as the Agency works its way through its list of up to 140 potential targets.

“On the other hand, if this case is followed by another equally long wait until the next one, the effectiveness of UWOs could well be called into question. After all, with only two cases since UWOs were introduced in January 2018, they have hardly proved to be a game changer in targeting the proceeds of crime – at least, so far. It is interesting to note that the Serious Fraud Office, HM Revenue and Customs and Crown Prosecution Service are yet to use UWOs, even though they have this tool at their disposal.

“It is also worth considering that while these latest UWOs have been secured by the NCA, this is really only the start of the process. The person being targeted by them will now begin the process of challenging them. And while UWOs are a new tactic, the seizing of the assets that they target relies on civil recovery proceedings – and they are nothing new.

“For the target of these UWOs, the real battle begins now. Civil recovery is the battleground where the success or failure of these UWOs will be determined.”