Justice minister targets criminals’ assets

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Justice Minister Naomi Long has confirmed she aims to have additional powers targeting paramilitary and criminal finances in place in Northern Ireland this year.

Known as unexplained wealth orders, they were introduced in other parts of the UK three years ago.

But the collapse of Stormont delayed the extension to Northern Ireland.

Naomi Long is now working with Home Secretary Priti Patel on the issue.

She said the target date for implementation was October.

The orders, obtained in court, force an individual to explain the source of funding for assets of more than £50,000.

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Failure to prove they were financed legally can lead to them being seized.

They have been used before against people from Northern Ireland in actions brought by the National Crime Agency (NCA) through courts in Great Britain.

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Naomi Long is now working with Home Secretary Priti Patel on the issue

Last July, a Northern Ireland woman with links to cigarette smuggling had £3.2m worth of properties frozen using one of the orders.

However, giving law enforcement bodies the power to do it in local courts could increase their use.

Mrs Long also intends to extend other powers to Northern Ireland relating to obtaining electronic data from overseas to help investigations.

She said both moves “will enhance the range of tools available” to the police and other organisations such as HM Revenue and Customs.

What is an unexplained wealth order?

An unexplained wealth order is a type of court order issued by a court to compel someone to reveal the sources of their unexplained wealth.

It was introduced to target suspected corrupt foreign officials who have potentially laundered stolen money through the UK.

Persons who fail to account are liable to have assets seized after the National Crime Agency makes a successful appeal to the High Court.

The first unexplained wealth order was issued in 2018, to Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of Jahangir Hajiyev, the former chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan.

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