High Court Reject First UWO Discharge Request

Zamira Hajiyeva, the first person subject to an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO), has had her attempt to overturn the decision rejected by the Court of Appeal.

This week, the court upheld the decision made last year by the Hon Mr Justice Supperstone in the High Court refusing to discharge the UWO obtained in 2018.

The Criminal Litigation team at Kingsley Napley LLP, commented:   

“This decision provides a real boost to the NCA and other agencies in their fight against suspected illicit assets and will likely whet their appetite for more UWOs. Since their introduction in 2018, UWOs have not been widely used and this appeal was a test case for whether they could withstand a concerted challenge. We can undoubtedly now expect to see more UWO applications in the coming months and years against HNW individuals with connections to funds of questionable origin.”

David Rundle, Counsel in WilmerHale’s UK White Collar Defence and Investigations practice, said:  

“The dismissal of the appeal is hardly surprising. The decision may clarify the scope of ‘politically exposed’ persons and bolster the NCA’s confidence in using these powers effectively.”

John Dobson, Chief Executive of leading RegTech firm SmartSearch, commented: 

“The property market has increasingly been targeted by money launderers. High-value transactions such as this are particularly attractive as they enable large quantities of dirty cash to be ‘washed’ through seemingly legitimate channels in one go.

“This ought to have been picked up at the time but nowadays those involved in the transaction would have nowhere to hide. The money-laundering regulations (MLR) require banks, accountants, estate agents and conveyancers not just to verify the ID of transacting parties but to screen them against Sanction and PEP lists. Where there is a positive match, they are under an obligation to carry out enhanced due diligence and report any suspicions to the relevant authorities.

“By far the best way to carry out all the necessary checks effectively is by using sophisticated online screening systems which will clearly flag up when further action is required. Too many are continuing to rely on old-fashioned document checks and in many cases simply turning a blind eye to illicit activity that can support terrorism, people-trafficking, drugs cartels, or as in this case simply the luxurious lifestyles of corrupt businessmen and their families.”

Sarah Pritchard, Director of the National Economic Crime Centre, said: 

“This is a significant result which is important in establishing Unexplained Wealth Orders as a powerful tool helping us to investigate illicit finance generated in, or flowing through, the UK. As a new piece of legislation we anticipated that there would be legal challenge – we are pleased that the court has upheld the case today. It will set a helpful precedent for future UWO cases.

Andy Lewis, Head of Asset Denial at the NCA, said: 

“Unexplained Wealth Orders, and other asset denial tools such as Account Freezing Orders, are hugely powerful tools that are enabling us to investigate illicit finance and discourage it happening in the first place. We will continue to seek opportunities to use these orders to tackle illicit finance and fight serious and organised crime. We are ultimately looking for Mrs Hajiyeva to comply with the original order of February 2018 to explain the source of the funds used to purchase her property, pending any further right of appeal that may be granted.”

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