LONDON (Reuters) – British police said on Thursday they had used anti-graft powers in a serious organized crime case for the first time after freezing assets owned by a businessman with suspected links to gangs involved in armed robberies and drug trafficking.
The National Crime Agency said it had secured an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) to force the man to reveal the source of funds used to kickstart his 10 million-pound ($12.5 million)property empire, suspecting that the money came from criminal associates.
Interim freezing orders mean eight properties he had bought across the country cannot be sold or transferred while the police carry out their inquiries.
UWOs were brought in mainly to force foreign officials suspected of corruption and their families to account for their wealth, in a bid to stem dirty money flowing through Britain.
The anti-corruption powers were used for the first time last year against Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of the jailed former chairman of Azerbaijan’s largest bank, to seize a property and a golf course worth about 22 million pounds.
“These orders are a powerful tool in being able to investigate illicit finance generated within, or flowing into the UK and discourage it happening in the first place,” said Andy Lewis, Head of Asset Denial at the NCA.
Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Costas Pitas