Northern Ireland news

Unexplained Wealth Orders in place by October, justice minister hopes

Justice Minister Naomi Long. Picture Mal McCann.

Justice Minister Naomi Long has said she hopes to have legislation covering unexplained wealth orders in place in Northern Ireland by the end of this year.

The minister said she aims to have additional powers targetting paramilitary and criminal finances in place by October, bringing the north's criminal confiscation orders into line with Britain.

The orders, while still sparingly used, were introduced in other jurisdictions two years ago.

 

The have to date mainly been used against people suspected of committing huge fraud or embezzlements abroad and then laundering that through property or other assets.

The orders are used in cases where the burden of proof would not be sufficient to prosecute in a criminal court.

They were to be introduced locally in the hope that they could target paramilitary organised criminality, however, the collapse of Stormont delayed the extension to Northern Ireland.

Ms Long said she is currently working with Home Secretary Priti Patel on the new legislation,with a target date for implementation sometime in October.

The orders, obtained in court, reverse the burden of proof, forcing an individual to explain the source of assets of more than £50,000.

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

Failure to prove wealth was legally obtained can lead to assets being permanently removed by the state.

They will run alongside current, existing confiscation legislation.

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

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

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.

To date the orders have been used on just four occasions.

They are not intended to be used in the targetting of low level criminals or paramilitary figures.

Use in Northern Ireland is expected to be limited to targetting assets believed to be held on behave of organisations by individuals.

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