British Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal against Unexplained Wealth Order

22nd December 2020 Commercial Litigation

In the latest chapter of a saga that has been ongoing since February 2018, the Supreme Court will not be considering the appeal of Zamira Hajiyeva to overturn the Unexplained Wealth Order (“UWO”) obtained against her by the National Crime Agency (“NCA”). 

Mrs Hajiyeva’s case caught the public imagination when she reportedly spent £16m in Harrods, but the case was also legally significant, being the first case to be brought under sweeping powers introduced by the Criminal Finances Act 2017.  Mrs Hajieyva's husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, was the chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan, now serving 15 years' in prison for fraud and embezzlement.

Mrs Hajiyeva has now exhausted her rights of appeal against two orders obtained by the NCA against her £12m London home and a Berkshire golf course worth £22m. 

The NCA, and other enforcement agencies, such as HMRC, use UWOs to target individuals who do not have an obvious explanation for their wealth.  If a satisfactory explanation is not given, then the property affected by the UWO may ultimately be confiscated. 

You do not have to be a defendant in civil or criminal proceedings to be the recipient of a UWO.  The authorities can apply for an order in respect of any property valued over £50,000, if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the owner does not have sufficient, legitimate resources to have obtained the property. 

If a judge is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to do so they will order the suspected individual to provide details of the nature and extent of their interest in the property, including how they purchased it, the costs involved, and any other information that the judge specifies. 

The result of not satisfactorily complying with the court’s order is that the property will become recoverable property for the purposes of a civil recovery order.  In other words, it can be confiscated.

Dealing with UWOs

To prevent this happening, UWOs must be responded to and/or challenged.

Responding to a UWO will involve preparing a satisfactory response in writing.  What amounts to ‘satisfactory’ will vary depending on the circumstances and that is where specialist legal advice can help.  The response has to be right first time.  As in so many situations, changing or ‘clarifying’ details as the case goes on will only damage the person’s credibility and lead to a poor result.

Challenging a UWO involves looking at the legalities of the way in which the order was granted.  There are many examples of different types of orders falling away due to the government agency not being completely open with the judge when making the application.  Remember that UWOs are applied for without the owner of the property being present in court, so no one is present to represent just their interests.  If it subsequently turns out that the government agency kept key facts from the judge, or misrepresented the available information, then the order will be vulnerable to challenge.

JMW fields an expert team of business crime and commercial litigation lawyers who are ready to deal with your queries regarding UWOs.  If you wish to discuss the contents of this article or any related issues please contact Lee Adams or Matthew Wescott in our London Office.

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Lee Adams is a Head of London located in London in our Business Crime & Regulation department

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Matthew Wescott is a Partner located in London in our Commercial Disputes department

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