A piece in today’s Times. Surely only a woman could feel entitled to keep the proceeds of apparent corruption, and bring a legal action to enforce her wish.
The wife of a McMafia-style corruption suspect lost her High Court challenge to an unexplained wealth order (UWO) today in a significant victory for the government’s fight against “dirty money”.
The woman, who can be referred to only as Mrs A, lives a luxurious lifestyle in London — spending £16 million in Harrods over ten years — despite the fact that her husband was a modestly paid state banker for more than 20 years.
A judge dismissed eight separate grounds on which the woman, whose husband is in prison for fraud, argued she should not be subject to the asset freezing orders. [J4MB emphasis]
In a detailed ruling, Mr Justice Supperstone concluded: “None of the grounds advanced for discharging the UWO are made out.”
The judge also refused Mrs A permission to appeal but allowed lawyers time to make a direct approach to the Court of Appeal. Anonymity orders preventing identification of Mrs A, her husband, their home country and the state-owned bank he worked for could be lifted next week.
The rejection of the challenge to the first UWO opens the door to the wider use of the orders, which were introduced this year.
The National Crime Agency is poised to act in nine other cases and other agencies, including the Serious Fraud Office and HM Revenue & Customs, have been watching the test case closely.
The orders place a freeze on assets and require their owners to prove that their wealth has been obtained legally.
Mrs A is the subject of two orders on properties jointly valued at £22 million — a central London house and a property in the southeast. She challenged the UWO on her London home, which was bought in 2009 by a company registered in the British Virgin Islands of which she is the beneficial owner.
Mrs A claimed that she could not be called a “politically exposed person”, as required by the legislation behind UWOs, and said her husband’s role had been misrepresented.
The court heard evidence that her husband, a former chairman of a state bank who is serving a 15-year jail term for embezzlement and fraud, had an official salary in the years 2001-08 of between £22,000 and £54,000.
A document prepared by the real estate investment firm Werner Capital in 2011 stated, however, that his net worth was £56 million.
When the London house was bought Mrs A put down a £4 million deposit and later paid off a mortgage of £7.5 million in just five years.
Jonathan Hall, QC, for the NCA argued that Mr A had been a state employee in his homeland from 1993-2015 and “it is very unlikely that such a position would have generated sufficient income to fund the acquisition of the property”.
Between 2006-16, Mrs A spent more than £16.3 million at Harrods using debit cards. Investigators found that 35 of those cards — including American Express, Mastercard and Visa — were issued by and billed to her husband’s bank.
Donald Toon, head of economic crime at the NCA, said that the ruling showed his officers were “absolutely right to ask probing questions about the funds used to purchase prime property.”
He added: “We will continue with this case and seek to quickly move others to the High Court.”
Duncan Hames of Transparency International UK said: “We now hope the National Crime Agency will take confidence from this ruling and make greater use of this important new power. We have previously identified £4.4 billion worth of property across the UK that we consider to have been purchased with suspicious wealth.”
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