A UK businessman with links to convicted criminals has had his £10 million ($12.88m) property empire seized by Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA).
Using blackmail and violence, Mansoor ‘Manni’ Mahmood Hussain obtained 45 properties across the country, including exclusive homes in London and Cheshire, the NCA said.
Mr Hussain, from the northern English city of Leeds, had been living a luxurious life and was often seen posing with celebrities, including Beyonce and Meghan Markle.
But using its latest tool in the fight against money laundering, the NCA went to court to obtain an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) to force him to show that he had obtained the property legitimately.
When he was unable to do so, Mr Hussain was forced to hand over 45 properties in London, Cheshire and Leeds, four tracts of land, as well as other assets and £583,950 in cash, with a combined value of £9,802,828.
Since the UWOs came into force two years ago, the NCA has applied for four orders, totalling millions.
This is the first case to result in the recovery of assets. Others, which include a woman who spent £16m in Harrods, London, are ongoing.
The NCA had initially applied for a UWO against Mr Hussain in July last year but when he submitted a 76-page statement to explain how he funded his property portfolio, he inadvertently gave investigators clues to mount a stronger case against him.
“Mansoor Hussain thought he had hidden the criminality associated with the source of his property empire, but he did not count on our tenacity,” said Andy Lewis, head of civil recovery at the NCA.
“Far from taking his UWO response at face value, we studied what he had and had not divulged. We could then use that information to look far enough back to uncover the hidden skeletons in his financial closet.
“Ultimately the wealth of evidence in this case has led to a settlement which not only meets our operational goals, but frees up our investigators and legal team to pursue other cases.”
A freezing order was obtained, preventing the sale or transfer of 17 homes.
The NCA argued that Mr Hussain, 40, had failed to fully comply with UWO requirements, which in turn suggested that several of the properties were funded by criminal associates.
Mr Hussain, who has links to a murderer jailed for 26 years, an armed robber, and a convicted fraudster who acted as his accountant, used threats of violence and blackmail to buy his properties, the NCA claims.
Last week, the UK’s High Court sealed the recovery order to seize the assets.
“This case is a milestone, demonstrating the power of Unexplained Wealth Orders, with significant implications for how we pursue illicit finance in the UK,” said Graeme Biggar, NCA crime chief.
“This groundbreaking investigation has recovered millions of pounds worth of criminally-obtained property. It is crucial for the economic health of local communities such as Leeds, and for the country as a whole, that we ensure property and other assets are held legitimately.
“I am determined to bring together all the resources of the public and private sector to protect the UK economy from the corrosive impact of illicit finance.”
Mr Hussain’s association with criminals included Mohammed Nisar Khan, who is currently serving 26 years for murder.
In 2016, Mr Hussain paid a £134,000 confiscation order for Khan’s brother Shamsher, who had been convicted of fraud and money laundering.
He also allowed convicted armed robber Dennis Slade to stay rent-free in his seven-bedroom house in Leeds.
Later, following Slade’s release from prison, he also allowed him to stay rent-free in a penthouse apartment he owned in Leeds city centre.
For the past 15 years, convicted fraudster Stephen Farman has managed Mr Hussain’s accounts.
UWOs have also been obtained on Jahangir Hajiyev and his wife Zamira Hajiyeva and a Northern Irish woman, who has not been named, who faces seizure of six properties in London and Ireland worth £3.2m.
In another case, the daughter and grandson of Nurali Aliyev, former president of Kazakhstan, successfully appealed their UWO, and it was overturned in April.
They had been asked to explain how they financed £80m ($103.6m) of property in London, including a mansion on north London’s so-called Billionaire’s Row with an underground swimming pool and cinema.
The NCA has also used Account Freezing Orders to obtain more than £180m.
Jahangir Hajiyev and his wife Zamira Hajiyeva
NCA secured the first UWO against £30m worth of assets held by Zamira Hajiyeva and her husband.
Mr Hajiyev was jailed in 2016 of fraud and embezzling the state-owned International Bank of Azerbaijan.
While he languished in a prison cell, she continued to live in London where she spent £16m in the upmarket Harrods store over a decade.
The UWO covers a £15m mansion near Harrods and a golf course in Berkshire.