Of the tools developed to assist investigators in recovering supposedly ill-gotten gains, the Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) are a favourite of the press as they allow salacious reports of cases involving eye-watering sums of money.
Here, we look at what UWOs are and what is needed before the authorities can try to secure them.
What exactly is an Unexplained Wealth Order?
In a 2018 circular, the Government described UWOs as a type of ‘investigation order.’ It is a civil power, but there has to be suspected criminal activity to begin with.
There must be reasonable grounds that a person, or someone they are connected with, has been involved in ‘serious crime’ and whom holds specified property (such as houses, art or jewellery.)
The authorities’ attention may be drawn to an individual if- like the recent case of Zamira Hajiyeva- their spouse, partner, or even close friend has been prosecuted in relation to financial crime.
The individual will be asked to serve a statement which confirms the nature and extent of their interest in the property, and how they came to obtain it.
Is it the same as a prosecution?
No- there is no requirement for criminal proceedings to have taken place or even be in progress.
It is an offence for a person to make a false or misleading statement if they are complying with a requirement imposed by a UWO.
Non-satisfactory responses – or no response at all: what happens?
A response will need to be ‘adequate.’ If it is not, or indeed if no response is given at all, assets can be deemed ‘recoverable.’ This means that the asset will end up in the hands of the relevant authority.
In common with statements required in confiscation proceedings, any gaps in a response, or unrealistic explanations, will create problems. In cases like these, there can be a lot to lose.
In Part Two, we will look at recent cases to examine how UWOs are operating in practice.