May 29, 2019 / 9:20 AM / 5 months ago

UK secures anti-graft orders on three London homes

LONDON (Reuters) - British police said on Wednesday they had used tough anti-graft powers for the second time to freeze three London properties believed to be linked to a person involved in serious crime.

The National Crime Agency said it had obtained the Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWO) at London’s High Court for three houses in prime locations in the British capital which had been bought for more than 80 million pounds and were held by offshore companies.

No details of the properties or the person involved in the case could be made public, the NCA said. While officers investigate the funds used to buy the three properties, freezing orders were granted which mean the houses cannot be sold, transferred or dissipated.

Last year, the NCA used UWOs for the first time against Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of the jailed former chairman of Azerbaijan’s largest bank, to seize a property and a golf course worth about 22 million pounds.

The anti-corruption powers were brought to force foreign officials suspected of corruption and their families to account for their wealth, in a bid to stem dirty money flowing through Britain.

“This is the second time the NCA has successfully secured UWOs since the new legislation was enacted,” said Andy Lewis, the force’s Head of Asset Denial.

“They are a powerful tool in being able to investigate illicit finance flowing into the UK and discourage it happening in the first place.”

Police say about 100 billion pounds of dirty cash moves through or into Britain each year, buying everything from luxury London homes to whole companies. They say they are focussed on cracking down in particular on suspect money from Russia, Nigeria, former Soviet states and Asia.

When a UWO is used the onus is on the owner to show that any asset worth more than 50,000 pounds was obtained legitimately.

“The purchase of prime property in London is a tactic used to launder money and we will use all the powers available to us to target those who try to do this,” said Graeme Biggar, Director General of the UK’s National Economic Crime Centre.

“Our aim is to prevent misuse of the UK’s financial structures which undermines the integrity of the UK’s economy and institutions.”

Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Guy Faulconbridge

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