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Barrister says Unexplained Wealth Orders likely to apply to political rather than criminal elements

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Unexplained Wealth Orders came into force on 31 January, designed to enable law enforcement agencies such as the SFO and NCA to apply to Court for an Order necessitating people, including foreign politicians and their family members, to identify any interest in an asset that is worth over GBP50,000, giving information about how it was obtained without having to give recipients notice.

Publicised with a reference to the just finished BBC TV drama series, McMafia, the new investigative tool is less likely to be of use to those investigating organised crime activities according to barrister Ben Keith from 5 St Andrew’s Hill. Keith specialises in the sort of issues the McMafia TV show has revealed.

He says that it remains unclear what the asset tracing abilities are behind the new order.

“The headlines have been that this will apply to criminals but there are actually quite a lot of powers to catch people who are drug dealers or international fraudsters. This order shows that the focus is changing to politicians, to be able to ask ‘where did your wealth come from’?”

Keith believes that this is much more of a response to foreign investment in London property where a number of people have bought and effectively mothballed London houses all over the capital, from Tottenham to Chelsea.

“These orders will be used as part of other investigative measures,” he says. “You can now say ‘prove where you got the money from and if you don’t prove it in the time you are allowed, you might have to forfeit it as unexplained wealth.”

As the new orders are as yet untried by the courts, Keith says it will be interesting to see how they will be used.

“I think they will be used to cause difficulties to people who are being investigated when the authorities haven’t got any other means available. When they can’t show money laundering or a criminal activity, they will try and leverage them into revealing details.”

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