Today, Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) come in to force. They are a new investigative power designed to help law enforcement act on corrupt assets. This is something that Transparency International has been advocating for since 2014.
For more on what UWOs are and how they work in practice, see our brief guide here.
They are particularly useful where there is no realistic prospect of cooperation or conviction in the country of origin, but there are sufficient grounds for suspicion that an asset has been acquired with the proceeds of corruption. Based on open source information, we have pulled together five cases where we believe law enforcement should consider using UWOs in forming a case for civil recovery proceedings against potentially illicit wealth.
1. KENWOOD GATE, HAMPSTEAD LANE, LONDON
Suspected owner: First family of Azerbaijan
Estimated Value: £18 million
In 2015, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) uncovered an £18 million mansion on Hampstead Lane, North London, belonging to the First family of Azerbaijan. According to Land Registry documents the mansion is owned by Beckforth Services Limited – an Isle of Man company. Official company documents from 2000 state that Beckforth was controlled by Ilham Aliyev, the country’s current President, and his wife Mehriban, who is his now Vice President. In 2012 the registered shareholder was recorded as Leyla Aliyeva, Ilham and Mehriban’s eldest daughter. Since then it has been recorded as a British Virgin Island company, Sonymore Limited, and then another Isle of Man company, Locki Limited, of which Leyla was the sole shareholder until 2014. Since then Locki’s registered shareholder has also been Sonymore and its current shareholder is itself as a trustee of another company.
At the time the property was bought Ilham Aliyev was Vice President of the country’s state-owned oil company, SOCAR, and his father was the country’s President. There is no public documentation about Ilham’s wealth or income at the time when the house was purchased. However, the First family of Azerbaijan are alleged by the OCCRP to have collected vast amounts of personal wealth by abusing their positions of power. Ilham Aliyev has been the country’s President since 2003 and currently has an official annual salary of £75,000. Although elected officials are not yet required to publish the details of their assets, latest estimates by the OCCRP claim the Aliyev family hold a global property portfolio worth at least £100 million, including £41 million in London real estate.