Cost will not deter us going after dirty money, UK police say

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will not be deterred from using anti-graft powers to target foreign oligarchs’ suspected dirty money despite the large cost risk and a recent court setback, a senior police officer has said.

Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) were introduced in 2018 to help the authorities target the illicit wealth of foreign officials suspected of corruption and those involved in serious crime.

However, in April, London’s High Court dismissed UWOs against Nurali Aliyev, the grandson of the former president of Kazakhstan, and others in one of the first cases where the powers had been used, leading to a demand for 1.5 million pounds ($1.94 million) in costs.

Graeme Biggar, the National Crime Agency’s Director General of the National Economic Crime Centre, said that decision was a setback and a surprise, but “in no way” meant they would shirk from using the orders.

Police say about 100 billion pounds of dirty cash moves through or into Britain each year, buying everything from luxury London homes to whole companies.

However, a report by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee published in July said it appeared UWOs might not be that useful in targetting corrupt Russian oligarchs who moved to Britain, citing comments from the NCA’s own head about the potential budget impact from costly court battles.

While UWOs appeared to give “more clout”, the reality was “the oligarchy will have the financial means to ensure their lawyers ... find ways to circumvent this legislation”, it said.

“It’s not just Russian oligarchs, it’s anyone with considerable means behind them, and people can choose to fight us in court,” said Biggar, adding the Aliyev case had been resolved for “much, much less” than 1.5 million pounds. “It doesn’t mean that we don’t take forward cases.”

Biggar was speaking as the NCA announced on Wednesday its first successful use of an UWO against an individual suspected of links to serious organised crime.

The NCA said Mansoor Mahmood Hussain had agreed to hand over 45 properties in London and northern England, along with land and 600,000 pounds ($778,000) in cash, altogether amounting to almost 10 million pounds.

Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison