A banker’s wife has lost an appeal to overturn unexplained wealth orders brought by the UK’s National Crime Agency, which challenged her to explain how she could afford British properties worth £22m.
A High Court judge dismissed her attempt to discharge the NCA’s first ever unexplained wealth order (UWO) — new powers to combat international corruption requiring owners of assets worth £50,000 or more to explain how they can afford the assets when their income appears too low.
The banker’s wife was challenging the NCA’s order that she reveal the source of her wealth or risk losing the properties.
UWOs are a new tool in cracking down on the £90bn tide of “dirty money” flooding into London. Donald Toon, director of the NCA’s economic crime unit, has said the agency was preparing to expand the use of unexplained wealth orders to freeze assets in the UK.
Mr Justice Supperstone, who heard the appeal, dismissed on Wednesday the wife’s attempt to discharge the order.
Details of the luxury lifestyle of the banker’s wife, who cannot be named and is being referred to as Mrs A, were aired at a hearing earlier this year when it emerged she allegedly enjoyed a private jet, fine wines and luxury homes and spent £150,000 on jewellery at Harrods in one day.
The court was told of Mrs A’s “enormous expenditure”, including spending amounting to £16.3m over the course of a decade on luxury items at the department store. At one point the family’s net worth was reported to be $72m, the court was told, and a few years ago, Mr A applied for a type of UK visa that is available to wealthy investors.
The NCA claims that the woman bought the properties using funds embezzled by her husband when he was employed at a state bank in their home country, which also cannot be identified but is outside Europe.
Mrs A had applied to have the UWO against her dismissed and argues that her husband was not a state employee but his wealth came from his work as a commercial banker.
Her failure to overturn the order means she will have to explain how she came to afford the properties or face having them seized.
The judge was hearing arguments on Wednesday about whether the wife should continue to be anonymised.