There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and although I have devoted my working life to AML I am always thrilled to hear of other initiatives that are launched to take the profit out of crime. And recently I have been enjoying two in particular.
The first is the arrival of the UWO – the unexplained wealth order. I have written about these before, but they are now finally available for use, as of 31 January. And – thanks in no small part to “McMafia” on the telly – the UK press has been speculating about the impact these will have on rich Russians living lavish lifestyles in London. In an interview with the Times, Minister for Security Ben Wallace warned that wealthy people who are unable, or unwilling, to explain the source of their money would feel the effect: “We will come for you, for your assets, and we will make the environment you live in difficult.” And in a rather pleasing response, the same newspaper reported days later that at least ten rich Russians have written to Vladimir Putin to ask if they can return to Russia without fear of arrest. I think that’s a fine and pleasing example of a rock and a hard place.
And the second is an announcement at the beginning of the month by the Bulgarian government that their chief prosecutor has ordered that all 435 luxury vehicles registered in the country – including Maybachs, Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Rolls-Royces and Ferraris – be checked to establish where the money came from to purchase them. And that’s not all: the Bulgarian authorities have said that they will look into the financial affairs of the 245 residents who spent over 255,000 euros on a home in 2015 and 2016. The majority of these fancy pads are in Sofia, where the average price for a two-bedroom flat is under 100,000 euros and the average monthly salary is 500 euros. Rossen Bachvarov of the National Revenue agency is certainly optimistic about what they will find, saying that there are some “eloquent cases” in which people had acquired “very expensive property, but at the same time have little or no income”.