Unexplained Wealth Orders

"They are a really outstanding firm - their POCA and asset forfeiture work is absolutely first-class."

Chambers and Partners, 2019

Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) were introduced to bolster the proceeds of crime regime, by making it easier for law enforcement agencies to seize assets suspected of representing criminal property.

Who can a UWO be used against?

A UWO can be made against politically exposed individuals or those suspected of being involved in serious crime in the UK or elsewhere. A UWO requires that individual (“the respondent”) to prove that a particular asset was obtained through legitimate means, e.g. that it was purchased with legitimately earned income or inherited from a legitimate source. Failing to respond satisfactorily to a UWO will give rise to a presumption that the asset is recoverable by means of civil forfeiture. It may also constitute a separate criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment.

How are UWOs obtained?

To obtain an order, the prosecuting agency must satisfy the court of the following:

  1. That the targeted asset is worth at least £50,000; and
  2. That there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the respondent’s lawfully obtained income would not have been enough to purchase the asset; and
  3. That the respondent is a “politically exposed person” (PEP) or a family member, “close associate” or “otherwise connected to” a PEP; or
  4. There are reasonable grounds to believe that the respondent (or someone “connected with” the respondent) is or has been involved in serious crime anywhere in the world.

Categories 3 and, in particular, 4 are broad:

  • A PEP is anyone who is, or has been, entrusted with prominent public functions by an international organisation or by a State other than the United Kingdom or another EEA State.
  • Family members extends to parents, offspring, spouse/partner, uncles and aunts and even in-laws.
  • “Close associates” and people “otherwise connected to” a PEP includes joint owners of businesses or properties, or those who have “close business relations”.
  • “Serious crime” covers a large number of offences including fraud, money laundering, tax evasions and computer misuse.  It is not necessary to prove that the respondent is involved in such offences, or even that the respondent is suspected of involvement. So long as a person associated with the respondent is (or has been) involved in serious crime, then an order can be made against the respondent.

Specialist UWO solicitors

Kingsley Napley’s expert team of UWO lawyers  can advise on the following:

  • Protective/preventative measures in advance of a UWO being  made
  • Liaising with law enforcement authorities
  • The lawfulness of a UWO
  • Challenging or responding to a UWO
  • Third party rights

There are potentially dire consequences for anyone targeted by a UWO.  You should seek specialist legal advice if you are concerned that you, a family member or someone you advise might be of interest to the National Crime Agency, Serious Fraud Office or other agencies with the power to obtain a UWO.

Unexplained Wealth Orders: Frequently Asked Questions 

See our related blog: Unexplained Wealth Orders – can you prove the legitimate provenance of all of your significant assets?

For more information please contact our specialist UWO solicitors


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