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Three properties frozen in serious crime investigation

Three properties frozen in serious crime investigation

The National Crime Agency has secured three residential properties linked to a "politically exposed person" believed to be involved in serious crime.

In its second ever use of anti-corruption orders the agency froze residential properties in prime London locations originally bought for more than £80m and held by offshore companies.

The unexplained wealth orders, which are a measure to stop foreign investors laundering cash in the UK, were obtained at the High Court last week.

According to the NCA, investigators are looking into the funds used to purchase the properties.

Interim freezing orders have also been granted which means that the properties cannot be sold, transferred or dissipated while the investigation continues.

Andy Lewis, head of asset denial at the NCA, noted this was the second time the NCA has successfully secured UWOs since the new legislation was enacted, having obtained UWOs against two London properties believed to belong to a jailed Azerbaijani banker and his wife in February last year.

He said: "They are a powerful tool in being able to investigate illicit finance flowing into the UK and discourage it happening in the first place.

"The individuals behind these offshore companies now have to explain how the three properties were obtained.

"The NCA will not shy away from complex and detailed investigations against high profile individuals and professional enablers."

Introduced in January 2018, UWOs are an investigative tool obtained in respect of property, which, if granted by a court, can be used alongside other civil recovery powers to strip individuals of the proceeds of their alleged crimes.

They can be obtained by an enforcement authority such as the NCA, HM Revenue & Customs or Serious Fraud Office where there is reasonable suspicion that someone could not have bought the property with their lawful income. 

According to Graeme Biggar, director general of the National Economic Crime Centre, the purchase of prime property in London is a tactic used to launder money, vowing that the organisation will use all its powers available to target those who try to do this. 

He said: "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."

maria.espadinha@ft.com

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