February 28, 2018 / 4:55 PM / 18 days ago

Prosecutors investigate owners of two luxury British properties

LONDON (Reuters) - British prosecutors are using new powers to crack down on illicit cash laundered through the country’s luxury real estate, launching investigations into the owners of two properties worth around 22 million pounds.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said on Wednesday it had secured the country’s first unexplained wealth orders (UWO) to examine one property in London and another in southeast England, worth more than 11 million pounds each, and believed to be owned by overseas politicians, officials or their associates.

The NCA did not disclose further details of the properties or identify the suspected owners on Wednesday.

UWOs came into force in January. They allow prosecutors to ask owners to explain the source of funds used to buy assets worth more than 50,000 pounds. If the owners cannot show the assets were acquired legally and in good faith, the property can be seized.

Anyone making false or misleading statements can be fined and jailed for up to two years.

UWOs could significantly reduce the appeal of the UK as a destination for illicit income by enabling Britain to target those who launder money through prime real estate, said Donald Toon, the NCA director for economic crime.

London has long been seen as a favoured destination for corrupt cash. Transparency International, an anti-corruption group, says it has identified 4.4 billion pounds worth of property in Britain that should be considered as possible candidates for UWOs.

It is unclear how much money is laundered through Britain in total, but the National Crime Agency has said calculations of 36 billion to 90 billion pounds are “a significant underestimate”

“This landmark moment is a positive statement of intent from law enforcement and sends a clear message to those seeking to launder corrupt wealth through the UK that their assets will no longer be safe here,” said Rachel Davies Teka, head of advocacy at Transparency International UK.

Reporting by Kirstin Ridley, editing by Larry King

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