LONDON, Oct 3 (Reuters) - The wife of an unidentified banker has lost an appeal against a British High Court ruling attempting to seize properties worth more than 22 million pounds ($28.5 million) allegedly illegally acquired, in the first use of new powers to combat corruption.
Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWO), which came into effect earlier this year, are designed to make it easier for police to seize property and assets.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) had ordered the woman, who is known as Mrs A and cannot be named for legal reasons, to reveal the source of her wealth or risk losing two properties.
On Wednesday, Justice Michael Supperstone at London’s High Court dismissed the woman’s attempt to overturn the order after her lawyers argued that a fraud conviction against her husband in his home country was unjust.
The NCA alleges that the woman bought two properties using money embezzled by her husband when he worked as a senior official at a state bank in their home country outside the European Economic Area.
The hearing was being seen as a test case for the UWOs, which aim to force suspected corrupt foreign officials and their families to account for their wealth.
Earlier hearings had heard about the woman’s extravagant habits, including using a private jet and spending more than 16 million pounds at London apartment store Harrods.
Lawyers for the woman asked for the bulk of the hearing to be held in private. The judge rejected that application but maintained his earlier order that blocked anything that would help identify the family.
Britain’s focus on cracking down on illicit wealth has intensified because of concerns over the activities of Russian businessmen with suspected links to President Vladimir Putin in the aftermath of the March poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England.
Britain blamed the poisoning on Russia but the Kremlin has denied any involvement.
The new wealth orders were introduced because of the difficulties for police in proving how suspects obtained their wealth overseas.
The onus is now on the owner to show that any asset worth more than 50,000 pounds was obtained by legitimate means, rather than for police to have to prove it was obtained illegally.
Editing by Stephen Addison