"Diamonds are forever", sang Shirley Bassey in 1971. The National Crime Agency would disagree, having seized a diamond ring worth £1 million from the subject of its first Unexplained Wealth Order.
Following its introduction in the Criminal Finances Act 2017, the first Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) has been used to seize further assets of its subject, Zahira Hajiyeva, notably a Cartier diamond ring. Mrs Hajiyeva became the first person against whom a UWO was made in 2018 and under the terms of the order she was required to provide the NCA with a clear account of how she and her husband, Jahangir Hajiyev (an Azeri ex-state banker currently jailed for corruption in Azerbaijan) were able to purchase a home in Knightsbridge worth £15m.
UWOs require that their subject be a person reasonably suspected of involvement in, or of being connected to a person involved in, serious crime to explain the nature and extent of their interest in particular property, and to explain how the property was obtained, where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the respondent’s known lawfully obtained income would be insufficient to allow the respondent to obtain the property. A UWO made in relation to a non-EEA 'Politically Exposed Person' does not require suspicion of serious criminality
The ring, valued at £1,190,000, was purportedly bought by Mr Hajiyev for his wife was confiscated by the NCA when it was taken into a jeweller for repairs. Westminster Magistrates Court granted an order for its detention for 6 months to allow further investigation in order to determine whether the ring is recoverable. This followed the seizure of jewellery worth £400,000 from an auction house in November 2018. UWOs are not intended for use in criminal proceedings and are for civil recovery only. If Mrs Hajiyeva is unable to explain the source of her wealth it is presumed that her assets constitute recoverable property for the purposes of a civil recovery order.
The latest confiscation demonstrates that the NCA is not resting on its laurels by continuing to seize further assets apparently owned by Mrs Hajiyeva after the UWO was made in September 2018. However, there have been no further UWOs issued against any other individuals since those against Mrs Hajiyeva. It may be that this is seen as a 'test case' which the NCA will see out until conclusion before embarking on further investigations, but if the NCA and other enforcement agencies are serious about cracking down on 'dirty money' in the UK they must be expected to obtain further UWOs against more individuals.