I commented in November on the National Crime Agency (NCA) seizing some £400,000 worth of jewellery from Christie's auction house in connection with the first Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO).
On Monday, the Financial Times reported that the NCA has now seized a £1m diamond ring belonging to a private individual using new powers to search for, seize and get forfeiture of "listed assets" under the amended Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA).
This is not just an interesting development in the story of the first UWO and its target. It is also a significant example of the NCA using its new statutory powers introduced by the Criminal Finances Act 2017, which are now contained in POCA. This is something we can expect to see more of throughout 2019, especially as the number of active UWOs increases.
The listed asset powers are not that well known, so by way of brief explanation:
· s303B POCA sets out the definition of "listed assets", which includes precious metals and precious stones (hence the targeting of a diamond ring). These listed assets become "seizable listed assets" under s303C(10) if they are "recoverable property" (see below) and are worth more than £1,000. An SFO officer may carry out a search of premises, vehicles or people for seizable listed assets (s303C).
· "Recoverable property" broadly means property that is obtained through unlawful conduct (s304(1)). Significantly, property that is the subject of a UWO is presumed to be recoverable property if the UWO is not complied with (for example, if a person refuses to respond to it within the specified period of time) (s362C). This is one of the key consequences of non-compliance with a UWO.
· Relevant officers have powers to seize listed assets that are recoverable property (s303J). Once seized, the property may be detained for up to 6 hours, unless authorisation is given to detain it for a longer time (s303K). This can be extended to 6 months by a magistrates' court (s303L), which appears to have been successfully applied for by the NCA in relation to the seized ring.
· An application may then be made in due course for the forfeiture of the property under s303O. It remains to be seen if the NCA will make such an application in this case.
We will watch with interest as the NCA continues to take action in connection with its first UWO and, more importantly, utilise an ever-wider range of the new powers available to it. The high profile use of these listed asset powers is perhaps a signal of intent at the start of the year.