Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWO’s) are a controversial new type of investigation Order which are aimed at legally recovering proceeds of crime. An Unexplained Wealth Order requires defendants to explain how they lawfully acquired property that would usually be beyond their means. In criminal cases the person applying for an Order will usually have to prove that the defendant is guilty. The introduction of UWO’s effectively reverses the burden of proof by requiring defendants to prove that they obtained a property legitimately.
The bodies that can apply for an Unexplained Wealth Order are limited to HMRC, Crown Prosecution Service, Serious Fraud Office, National Crime Agency and the Financial Conduct Authority.
When making an application to the High Court for a UWO these bodies must prove that there is a genuine reason to believe that the proposed defendant owns the property in question, and it has a value of more than £50,000. They must also satisfy the Court that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the proposed defendant’s lawful income would not be sufficient to acquire the property.
The final criteria that must be satisfied is that the proposed defendant is believed to be involved in serious crime or is a Politically Exposed Person (PEP). A PEP can include someone who holds a public position and at a higher risk or corruption or bribery because of their role.
UWO’s apply internationally, so if property is based abroad it can still be subject to investigation. An Interim Freezing Order will usually accompany a UWO. This prevents defendant’s from disposing, transferring or dissipating their property before a response is made to the UWO.
If you are served with an UWO you must explain the nature and extent of your interest in the property which is being investigated and explain how the property was acquired. Failure to make a response to a UWO may result in the property being recovered in accordance with the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Making a deliberately false or misleading statement in response to a UWO is a serious offence which can result in imprisonment.
The high stakes nature of defending a UWO means it is vitally important that you seek legal assistance as soon as possible. The best legal remedy to a UWO is simply to put forward a well prepared and detailed Defence to the Order that is being made against you. One of our experienced criminal law solicitors will consult with you and prepare a statement on your behalf.
Depending on the facts of your case your Defence may comprise of various elements. A challenge may be brought on the grounds that the defendant is not a PEP or there are no grounds for suspecting the defendant of being involved in serious crime. A challenge can also be brought on the grounds that the defendant did, in fact, have sufficient and lawfully obtained means to afford the property under investigation.
Further challenges may arise on the basis that the Court should not have allowed the UWO based on the criteria being misapplied or on the basis that it interferes significantly with the defendant’s right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
An UWO has been most recently used against Donna Grew, a County Armagh woman, who has been ordered to explain how she obtained properties valued at £3.2 million. She was also served with an Interim Freezing Order to ensure she did not transfer or dissipate any property. The National Crime Agency brought the UWO on the basis that Ms. Grew has suspected links to paramilitaries and smuggling.
At PA Duffy and Company our expert criminal solicitors can advise on the most appropriate approach to take if you are served with a UWO. Our criminal department are vastly experienced in high level cases which include defending proceeds of crime matters and alleged VAT fraud.
As this legislation was only introduced in January 2018 it is yet to be seen how widely it will be used in practice, however, the potential risk to procedural fairness and the defendant’s human rights is significant. Our aim is to ensure that the interests of our clients are protected, and they are afforded a fair trial.