On August 14, the United Kingdom National Crime Agency (NCA) announced that it had obtained Account Freezing Orders (AFOs) on eight bank accounts containing a total of more than £100 million, which the NCA said “is suspected to have derived from bribery and corruption in an overseas nation.”
The NCA stated that the AFOs, which it obtained on August 12, “represent the largest amount of money frozen using AFOs since they were introduced under the Criminal Finances Act 2017.” It also noted, without further explanation, that “[a]pproximately £20m held by a linked individual was frozen following a hearing in December 2018.”
Note: Under section 362J of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (as amended by the Criminal Finances Act 2017), when the High Court makes an unexplained wealth order (UWO) with respect to any property, on application of the enforcement authority that applied for the UWO, the court may make an interim freezing order. That order “prohibits the respondent to the unexplained wealth order, and any other person with an interest in the property, from in any way dealing with the property.” The court may issue the order “if the court considers it necessary to do so for the purposes of avoiding the risk of any recovery order that might subsequently be obtained being frustrated.”
While the NCA release indicates that these AFOs represent the largest amount of money frozen via the AFO process, they are evidently not the first AFOs that the NCA has obtained. The NCA briefly mentioned that previously in 2019,
in unrelated cases, the NCA secured an account forfeiture order against more than £400,000 held in frozen bank accounts belonging to a Moldovan national. Another forfeiture order was granted on money held in an account belonging to the niece of Syrian ruler, Bashar al-Assad.
The latter reference is to a forfeiture order that the NCA announced in May 2019, pertaining to 22-year-old Aniseh Chawkat. During 2017 and 2018, while Chawkat was studying in London, the NCA stated that 56 six cash deposits totaling more than £150,000 were paid into Chawkat’s account at Barclays branches across England, even though Chawkat reportedly had no identifiable source of income. In addition, the NCA found that Chawkat had rented a London flat for more than £60,000 per year.
As her uncle and both of her parents were subjects of international sanctions, the NCA obtained an AFO on her account in November 2018, and the forfeiture order in May 2019. With regard to the forfeiture order, the NCA asserted that the financial activity connected to Chawkat “is consistent with the use of an informal value transfer system which may result in the laundering of criminal cash and, in this particular case, had the effect of circumventing EU financial sanctions designed to restrict the use and availability of Syrian regime funds.”