On Wednesday the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced that it had used its first listed asset order (LAO) to seize £500,000 of jewellery, including necklaces, Rolex watches and rings, from a fraudster who fled the country in the 2000s. The LAO was granted by Westminster Magistrates’ Court and was obtained with the consent of the individual’s former partner.
Last year we commented on the SFO’s first use of an account freezing order against the same individual, in order to recover approximately £1.5m from the sale of two properties. This use of an LAO is another interesting example of the SFO utilising a wider range of more recently introduced powers. The National Crime Agency has previous experience in using an LAO, which we commented on in January 2019, however this is the first instance of the SFO obtaining one.
As a reminder, LAOs were introduced under the Criminal Finances Act 2017 and were incorporated into the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA). Under section 303J POCA a relevant officer may seize a “listed asset” if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that it is recoverable property (meaning property that has been obtained through unlawful conduct) or intended by any person for use in unlawful conduct. The assets seized under an LAO can then be detained and subsequently forfeited. A “listed asset” in this context includes precious metals and stones; watches; works of art; face-value vouchers; and postage stamps. Such assets may only be seized if they exceed a minimum value, currently set at £1,000.
In its announcement the SFO signalled that it will continue to use all means available to it in order to seize the proceeds of crime. Its first use of an LAO reinforces the notion that enforcement agencies will look to be more proactive in using the full range of powers available to them. It will be interesting to see if this announcement will be followed by greater use of LAOs by the SFO in future.
“This case reinforces our determination to use every tool available to us to prevent those who would bribe, cheat and steal from resting easily on their illicit gains,” said Liz Baker, head of the SFO’s proceeds of crime and international assistance division.