Danny McCance 15 Aug 2019 11:37am

NCA freezes £100m of suspected corrupt funds

The National Crime Agency (NCA) has frozen £100m over eight bank accounts connected to individuals suspected of being involved in corruption overseas

The agency used account freezing orders (AFOs) that will now allow it to investigate whether the funds have been derived from bribery and corruption as it suspects.

These latest AFOs, granted by Westminster Magistrates Court on 12 August, represent the highest sum frozen since the introduction of the tool in the Criminal Finances Act 2017.

According to the NCA approximately £20m of the frozen assets were linked to an individual from a hearing in December 2018.

Ben Russell, deputy director of the National Economic Crime Centre, said that the department brings the capabilities of multiple agencies.

“In the last year, the NCA has used new powers such as unexplained wealth orders [UWOs] and AFOs to target suspected illicit assets, and we are already seeing some far reaching impact of this activity,” Russell said.

In May, the authority announced it had seized £24,668 from Aniseh Chawkat, the niece of Syrian ruler Bashad Al-Assad following a forfeiture order.

A separate case has also had a forfeiture order granted against £400,000 from frozen bank accounts belonging to a Moldovan national.

Syed Rahman, legal director at Rahman Ravelli, said that the NCA is taking greater advantage of the tool and as other agencies are likely to follow then more “headline-grabbing activity” is likely.

AFOs, which present a “balance of probabilities” before the magistrates court to determine if assets in frozen accounts are from unlawful activity, are attractive to enforcement agencies “as it is less burdensome than initiating criminal proceedings before the Crown Court,” Rahman said.

“This is likely to become an increasingly common occurrence,” he added.

In May, the NCA secured a further three UWOs amounting to more than £80m to investigate properties it suspected of being associated with a “politically exposed person believed to be involved with serious crime”.