Hundreds of British properties suspected of belonging to corrupt politicians, tax evaders and criminals could be seized by enforcement agencies under tough new laws
Huge amounts of corrupt wealth is laundered through the capital’s banks. The National Crime Agency believes up to £100bn of tainted cash could be passing through the UK each year. Much of it ends up in real estate, and in other assets such as luxury cars, art and jewellery.
The criminal finances bill, published on Thursday, is designed to close a loophole which has left the authorities powerless to seize property from overseas criminals unless the individuals are first convicted in their country of origin.
It will introduce the concept of “unexplained wealth orders”. The Serious Fraud Office, HM Revenue and Customs and other agencies will be able to apply to the high court for an order forcing the owner of an asset to explain how they obtained the funds to purchase it.
The orders will apply to property and other assets worth more than £100,000. If the owner fails to demonstrate that a home or piece of jewellery was acquired using legal sources of income, agencies will be able to seize it.
The law targets not just criminals, but politicians and public officials, known as “politically exposed persons”. Depending on how quickly it passes through parliament, the bill could come into force as early as spring 2017.
“There are some hundreds of properties in the UK strongly suspected to have been acquired with the proceeds of corruption,” said the campaign group Transparency International, which has been pressing for the new measures. “This will provide low-hanging fruit for immediate action by law enforcement agencies, if those agencies are properly resourced.”