Account Freezing Order success: NCA agrees to unfreeze £685,000 in multi-jurisdictional case
Our four High Net Worth clients are members of a prominent family currently facing protracted criminal proceedings overseas. The highly contentious proceedings have also been brought against a number of other individuals, including a former Head of State of that country.
For over a year, the National Crime Agency conducted a wide-ranging frozen funds investigation that included an examination of the clients’ extensive central London property portfolio. Some £685,000 was frozen across eleven bank accounts, with most of the initial applications to freeze the accounts brought on an ex parte basis.
We instructed and assisted our clients in co-operating with the NCA’s investigation whilst at the same time providing measured and reasoned responses that alerted the NCA to the glaring deficiencies in the information obtained from overseas sources. Our clients responded constructively to all reasonable requests made of them, including promptly providing mandates that allowed the NCA to analyse the frozen accounts.
At the end of April 2021, we provided robust written submissions opposing the NCA’s application for production orders for extraneous banking material relating to three of our clients’ UK companies. Having received our submissions and with the hearing of the production order applications imminent, the NCA reconsidered its position.
On 20 May 2021 at the City of London Magistrates’ Court, upon the application of the NCA, District Judge Ezzat set aside all eleven account freezing orders. The Court also endorsed a consent order that set out our clients’ assistance, made clear there were no extant civil or criminal proceedings in the UK and confirmed the NCA’s intention to withdraw its outstanding production order applications.
As this case illustrates, it is essential that individuals or corporates served with such applications seek legal advice from practitioners with experience in the field of asset forfeiture. Account Freezing Orders (AFOs), introduced by the Criminal Finance Act 2017, have made civil recovery in the magistrates’ court increasingly popular with UK law enforcement agencies: the NCA froze, for example, some £64.2m in 2018-19 and over £145m in 2019-20.
With our assistance, access to our clients’ bank accounts has now been restored.