Britain secures first anti-corruption order to freeze businessman’s property assets

National Crime Agency believes the property empire has criminal links

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British police have used anti-corruption powers in a serious organised crime case for the first time.

Authorities have frozen property and assets owned by a businessman in the north of England with suspected links to gangs tied to drug trafficking, armed robberies and supplying firearms.

The National Crime Agency said on Thursday that it had secured an Unexplained Wealth Order to force the man to reveal the source of funds used to kickstart his £10 million (Dh50m) property empire. They suspect that the money came from criminal associates.

The NCA investigated the as-yet-unidentified businessman’s eight properties at locations across England.

The agency has secured UWOs previously, but this is the first time one has been used solely based on an individual’s alleged involvement in serious organised crime.

Interim Freezing Orders have also been granted for the properties, meaning that they cannot be sold, transferred or dissipated while the investigation continues.

UWOs were brought in to force foreign nationals suspected of corruption and their families to account for wealth and also to try to quell the amount of dirty money flowing through Britain.

Earlier this month, the UK said it was cracking down on dirty money, saying it would include action on crypto-assets. The plan is agreed by Chancellor Philip Hammond, Home Secretary Sajid Javid and leaders of law enforcement agencies as well as "major” financial, legal, accountancy and property companies.

"We are pleased to have again successfully secured a UWO to allow us to investigate the source of the funds used to purchase these properties," said Andy Lewis, head of asset denial at the NCA. "These orders are a powerful tool in being able to investigate illicit finance generated within, or flowing into the UK and discourage it happening in the first place.
"The owner of these properties will now have to explain how they were financed," he added.
"The NCA will not shy away from complex and detailed investigations against those suspected of serious crime."
Graeme Biggar, director general of the National Economic Crime Centre, said: "We will use all the powers available to us to target those we believe are trying to launder money through the property market.

“A priority for the NECC is to ensure we explore every opportunity to deny assets linked to illicit finance. Our aim is to prevent misuse of the UK’s financial structures which undermines the integrity of the UK’s economy and institutions."