The woes of UWOs

Unexplained Wealth Orders are now three years old.  Although many would like to see their reach expanded – divorce lawyers are particularly interested – they remain available only in cases involving PEPs or those suspected of serious criminality.  And indeed, we’ve seen successful examples of both: the PEP contingent has been ably represented by Zamira Hajiyeva (wife of the former chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan, and perhaps better known as the woman who spent £16 million in Harrods), while the serious criminals have put forward Leeds businessman Mansoor Mahmood Hussain (ordered to hand over 45 properties and various other assets believed to be the fruit of his connections with murderers, fraudsters, armed robbers and money launderers).  Others wait in the wings, including Donald Trump (whose purchase of two Scottish golf courses might stand a little source of funds enquiry).  But what is the UWO to the MLRO – apart from a pleasing bit of Schadenfreude?  I can see two reasons for MLROs to take a more professional interest in UWOs and their operation and scope.

First – perhaps surprising, given my propensity to assume GUILT when confronted with any sniff of financial misdoings – you might be asked by a client to help them meet the demands of an UWO, thereby allowing them to explain their unexplained wealth.  For instance, they might ask you to confirm to the court that yes, they are your client, and yes, they supplied all CDD information as required, and yes, it all seemed fine to you, and yes, they have conducted themselves with dignity and uprightness throughout their relationship with you.  (They might also ask you to confirm that you have never had the slightest suspicion of any whiff or taint of money laundering in their activity, but of course, this you cannot do.)

And second – which will be more common, I fear – is that UWOs will reveal financial structures, relationships and connections that investigators will then be able (indeed, eager) to unpick.  They will look at every institution and professional involved, and wonder whether they did their AML stuff properly – did they ask the right CDD questions, did they monitor the relationship, and did they report any suspicions promptly (remember, the standard is not “did you suspect”, but “should you have suspected”).

So make sure you keep track of the UWOs that are granted and what happens in response to them.  And if you were involved in selling a golf course to an orange-hued former US president, it might well be your turn next.

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