Unexplained wealth order law placed on backburner

Law that gives State executive powers to seize assets and property when there is reasonable suspicion they are the fruit of ill-gotten gains

An attempt to introduce an “unexplained wealth order” law by the justice minister has been placed on the backburner, according to a Cabinet source.  

Although the reason is unclear, the legal proposal for executive powers to clamp down on unexplained wealth and the accumulation of assets such as cars, boats and property without properly justifying the origins of the money, was not met with unanimous favour inside the Cabinet.

The law was being spearheaded by Edward Zammit Lewis.

Unexplained wealth orders (UWO) are used to tackle money laundering and corruption, aimed specifically at accessing evidence to justify large purchases made by alleged high-risk individuals.

The UWO is intended to give law enforcement a tool to freeze or recover assets when there is not yet enough evidence to bring a charge, but when there is reasonable suspicion to conclude that someone’s assets were the fruit of ill-gotten gains.

In the UK, UWOs can be issued when a person is suspected of being involved in criminal activity, and when a person’s assets are disproportionate to their in come. The first covers not only individuals involved in or connected to serious crimes, but also ‘Politically Exposed Persons’ (PEPs), as well as their family members and close associates.

UWOs work in the same way as warrants obtained by the courts for the police’s extraordinary powers.

Once a UWO is issued, it requires the respondent to explain how they obtained the property or asset in question. If the respondent fails to reply to the UWO, the property is “presumed” to have been obtained through ill-gotten gains.

A recent attempt to freeze the alleged properties and assets of one-time Malta exile Rakhat Aliyev, the former deputy chief of Kazakhstan’s security service who faced criminal charges of money laundering before dying in prison was kicked out by the UK’s High Court.

Police there sought to seize three properties his family owned in London, claiming they were acquired as a means to launder the money Aliyev had obtained illegally. But the High Court found that links between RA and the properties were insufficient to justify the UWOs.