The officials will be soon using the new unexplained wealth orders (UWOs) to crack down on the assets of oligarchs suspected of corruption and criminal links, said Ben Wallace, Security and Economic Crime Minister, on Saturday.
UWOs, an investigative tool to help law enforcement act on corrupt assets, came into force on January 31. It is a key element of the Criminal Finances Act 2017, which aims to tackle asset recovery and money laundering in the UK. It enables the officials to to seize suspicious assets and hold them until they have been properly accounted for.
Those on the suspect list will be forced to to explain their wealth and the full force of the government will come down on corrupt politicians and international criminals using Britain as a haven, Wallace told The Times.
“When we get to you, we will come for you, for your assets and we will make the environment that you live in difficult,” he said.
Government would use the power to freeze and recover property if individuals cannot explain how they acquired assets over £50,000, he explained.
It is unclear how much money is laundered through Britain. The National Crime Agency has described calculations that range between £36 billion and £90 billion as “a significant underestimate”. Transparency campaigners have questioned the provenance of some of the funds that pour into London by investors from Russia, China and the Middle East.
Speaking of Russian involvement, Wallace highlighted the so-called Laundromat case in which in which $22.3 billion passed through Moldova using Russian shell companies and fictitious loans from offshore companies based in Britain in 2011-2014.
“What we know from the Laundromat expose is that certainly there have been links to the (Russian) state. The government’s view is that we know what they are up to and we are not going to let it happen any more,” Wallace said.
With inputs from agencies.