Unexplained Wealth Order

An Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) is a relatively new investigative Order issued by the High Court.

What is an Unexplained Wealth Order?

An Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) is an investigative Order issued by the High Court, first introduced in the Criminal Finances Act 2017 as an amendment to the somewhat draconian Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

Since the Order came into force, the National Crime Agency (NCA) announced its first successful application for a UWO in October 2018, regarding a property in Knightsbridge, one of London’s most exclusive neighbourhoods. The NCA also stated that “more are in the pipeline”, suggesting it is serious about using this tool.

It has also been put forward that property in the UK worth a total of £4.4 billion could be subject to UWOs over time. This is an attempt by the NCA, and other organisations, to force recipients of a UWO into disclosing the source of their wealth because, otherwise, it is almost impossible to charge the properties’ owners with a crime or seize the assets due of a lack of evidence.

A UWO may be linked to a serious fraud or money laundering investigation

Investigators can make an application for an Unexplained Wealth Order without giving notice to the High Court. In practice, it is commonplace for this UWO application to go hand-in-hand with an Interim Freezing Order (IFO), which stops assets being sold or transferred.

This means investigators can apply for a UWO and an IFO, without giving the intended recipient any prior knowledge of the application. If the application is successful, not only will the recipient be required to provide evidence of the legitimate source of their wealth, it is also likely that access to their assets will be restricted, by way of the accompanying Interim Freezing Order.

The ability to apply for an Unexplained Wealth Order is limited to those agencies defined as an ‘enforcement authority’, namely:

  • National Crime Agency
  • Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs
  • Financial Conduct Authority
  • Serious Fraud Office
  • Crown Prosecution Service

The authority making the application must demonstrate a “reasonable suspicion” that the recipient is involved in, or is connected to a person involved in, serious crime. Not only does it require the recipient to explain how the property/assets were obtained, but also the nature and extent of their interest in the property or assets.

You must seek legal advice if you have any concerns about a UWO. As specialists in financial law, Holborn Adams will be able to discuss any worries you might have. An Unexplained Wealth Order carries serious consequences and may be the first step towards prosecution. Call us on +44(0)207 205 2303 or email law@holbornadams.com

UWO controversy

However, UWOs are controversial because the authorities do not have to prove the person’s assets are the proceeds of crime; they only need to assume criminal activity, and then it is the responsibility of the recipient to prove that it not the case.

Such an Order can be imposed upon an individual, a company, trustees and a non-EEA Politically Exposed Person such as a politician or official (however, in this case, the test for granting an Unexplained Wealth Order has a lower threshold).

If a recipient of the Order is unable to explain the source of assets, as required, the civil recovery powers of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 are likely to be engaged. Previous case examples have already demonstrated how draconian these powers are. Furthermore, this can fuel an organisation’s desire to investigate, and potentially prosecute, the recipient for more serious offences such as money laundering, fraud or corruption.

How can Holborn Adams help?

Holborn Adams specialises in financial crime, and the civil powers of recovery linked to the investigation of such crimes. We are able to use this expertise to help those who are concerned they may be made subject to an Unexplained Wealth Order.

Bear in mind, a recipient does not have to be guilty of a criminal offence to be made subject to such an Order. In this situation, prior to the involvement of investigators, Holborn Adams would conduct a forensic interrogation into the source of wealth, similar to that which would be carried out by an investigator. We would therefore be able to provide tailored advice in relation to the explanation of wealth and produce a bundle of evidence that could readily be provided to investigators, if an Unexplained Wealth Order was imposed.

Remember, a recipient will have no notice that such an Order is being sought by an investigator and the Unexplained Wealth Order is likely to be accompanied by an Interim Freezing Order—which when in place restricts any appropriate assets. All of our investigative discoveries and advice is subject to Legal Professional Privilege; therefore, our clients do not need to be concerned that the product of our work will end up in the hands of investigators.

We can help after the fact

If it is too late for the proactive assistance above and an Unexplained Wealth Order has already been made, then Holborn Adams can still help. We can look into the issuing of the Order, to ensure that the application and granting of the Order was correct in law.

Often, investigations on which the application is based will be erroneous, which can mean the Order is invalid. The Court needs to be satisfied that there is “reasonable suspicion” that the recipient is involved in, or is connected to a person involved in, serious crime. Legally, there needs to be intelligence or evidence which gives rise to this suspicion. Holborn Adams has already been engaged to explore such suspicion in civil recovery cases.

Finally, if the Order has been made and it cannot reasonably be challenged, then Holborn Adams can work with the recipient to comply with the Order. These Orders can be intrusive, and it is important that information provided does not go beyond the scope of the Order. Complying with the Order can also be time consuming. Holborn Adams works to ensure that this daunting process is dealt with as quickly as possible, so that life can return to normality without delay.

If you’re worried about a UWO or any other financially-sensitive legal problem, Holborn Adams can review your case and answer any questions you may have. Call us on +44(0)207 205 2303 or email law@holbornadams.com

Recent case studies

Supporting and guiding individuals, both in the UK and beyond, to secure results.

R v N

Outcome: No further action

Following the submission of pre-charge representations to the police after the client was accused of perverting the course of justice, the client was granted a no further action. This no further action was appealed, and the client was then investigated for an accusation of perjury. After repeated liaison and pressure upon the officer in case on evidential grounds, the client was granted a further no further action.

R v M

Outcome: No further action

The client was accused of torture and battery abroad. The client and the alleged victim were citizens of the United Kingdom. While criminal proceedings against our client took place abroad, we drafted a crisis management bundle for the client consisting of a chronological statement, full binders of complex evidential material and an index referring to the same, which outlined the client’s innocence to pre-empt the matter proceeding to the United Kingdom. After liaison with the client and his international lawyers, the criminal case abroad halted and the client’s interests in the United Kingdom were protected against the unproven accusations.

R v B

Outcome: Significantly reduced sentence

The client was charged with a motoring offence involving alcohol and speeding. After a close inspection of the case, we advanced mitigation alongside Counsel in reference to strong medical and psychiatric evidence. This secured the client a favourable sentence in which the aggravating elements of the offence were set aside, with the client subject to a fine and a driving disqualification.

R v K

Outcome: Removal of Caution and Settlement

We provided advanced written representations challenging the process by which a client was awarded a simple caution by West Mercia Police. We identified that the officers in the case had bartered with the client in his police interview while he was experiencing suicidality and a severe depressive episode. The officers informed the client they would provide him with his personal and work devices back if the client accepted a caution. We successfully argued that the client was cautioned for an offence he did not commit, prompting the removal of his caution by the relevant Police and Crime Commissioner. We then entered into pre-litigation negotiations with West Mercia Police, securing a pecuniary settlement the client.

R v ZH

Outcome: Client released

Following representation at the police station, the client was accused of perverting the course of justice. The evidence relied upon by the police was rightfully identified as circumstantial. Client was later released under investigation.

R v A

Outcome: Acquitted

Client accused of murdering his former girlfriend. We formed a Defence team that secured the acquittal of the client with specialist Counsel.

R v L

Outcome: Acquitted of rape

Client attempted murder and accused of raping his wife following the incident. We formed part of Defence team alongside Counsel.


Outcome: Successfully brought action against prison staff

We formed part of legal team who successfully brought action against a British prison on behalf of client following injury and discrimination they faced. The client was an elderly Jewish prisoner who was discriminated against for wearing his kippa in canteen areas, who was denied Kosher meals, regularly facing anti-Semitic abuse from prison staff and was denied medical attention after his diverticulosis worsened, which partially immobilised him.


Outcome: Claim Settled

Claim settled with the Government Legal Department for the unlawful detention of a client who, if deported to their country of origin, would have had an extreme risk to their life as a transgender individual. The client had gained a recognised status in the United Kingdom, making the extent of their detention unlawful and their (potential) removal impossible.


Outcome: Ongoing

Retained to defend a client with allegations of VAT and income tax fraud. We have prepared written submissions to the CPS to the effect that criminal charges would not be in the public interest

S v HO & Others

Outcome: Ongoing

Holborn Adams is retained by two clients in a vast cross-border human trafficking and a multi-million pound fraud investigation by both UK and Polish authorities. Our Senior Partner, Adam Rasul travelled to Poland to liaise with the clients’ Polish lawyers as part of a coordinated legal response. Written representations have been submitted to the CPS that the investigation failed to follow proper procedures and that the case should be reviewed at the highest level.

United States v EL

Outcome: Ongoing

Holborn Adams is retained to assist and advise on an international drug trafficking investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Our Senior Partner, Adam Rasul, travelled to Washington DC and Virginia to represent the interests of a British Citizen implicated in a large-scale drug trafficking conspiracy. Adam is working jointly with United States Attorneys in preparation of the client’s case.


Outcome: Ongoing

Retained to make enquiries into the police handling and conduct of an historic incident.

Q v I

Outcome: Ongoing

Instructed in relation to an appeal against sentence and Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 confiscation order in relation to conspiracy to supply Class A and Class B drugs to the value of £5,000,000

W v LA

Outcome: Ongoing

Retained to advise on an appeal against conviction for murder (‘Joint enterprise’) where we did not act at trial. This involves detailed review of ‘what went wrong’ in the trial and investigating evidence and legal errors that may be used to overturn the conviction

S v KE


Represented a client in a wave of Operations by Greater Manchester Police of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. This case involved consideration of a voluminous amount of telephone evidence and a large investigation across the North West.

R v NP

Outcome: No further action

Acted for a client cleared of attempted murder in the course of a ‘drive-by shooting’ in Birmingham following a successful submission of no case to answer.

S v KA


Acted for a Czech national facing multiple rape charges and false imprisonment. A case that involved Czech translators and hundreds of hours of defence preparation.

U v I


Assisted in the preparation and defence on a 14 handed corruption and perjury case, surrounding the notorious prosecution of the ‘Cardiff 3’ for the murder of Lynette White. This was the largest ever case of police corruption in legal history. The £30,000,000 prosecution ended in the collapse of the case and not guilty verdicts.

I v BI


Represented a client charged with conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. This case was a multi-million pound international drug trafficking and confiscation case. Investigated by the SOCA and involved international jurisdictions and surveillance.

Y v E


Acted for the main defendant charged with Conspiracy to Murder. This involved extensive defence preparation of cell site analysis extending over 20,000 pages of evidence at the initial stages of the case.

S v RH


Acted for the main defendant in a conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, possession of firearms and human trafficking. Extensive surveillance evidence and hundreds of hours of audio product from probes placed in vehicles.

B v ND


Instructed to act for the main defendant in a conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. Prosecution and investigation brought by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). Extensive preparation and review of hundreds of hours of covert surveillance and detailed disclosure applications to the Court.

T v DE & Others


Represented a client charged with conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and firearms offences.



Instructed to draft an advice on UK law in respect of the use of cannabis for the United Arab Emirates Courts. The advice was translated into Arabic and was presented to the UAE courts on behalf of an overseas client.

N v PX


Represented the lead defendant on the largest commercial cannabis cultivation and supply conspiracy in UK History. Stock value estimated at £20,000,000 by the prosecution authorities.



Represented a client (pre-charge) facing alleged offences, including fraudulent evasion of VAT contrary to the VAT Act 1994, investigated by the HMRC Criminal Team. We obtained medical evidence and other defence evidence as part of a pre-charge representations package.

R v LC


Acted for a client facing multi-million pound money laundering allegations. This prosecution arose from a previous case (‘Operation Shoot’) into this case known as ‘Operation Echogramme’. The case involved analysis of evidence from conveyance material stemming over tens of thousands of pages.

R v GY & UH


Successfully defended clients charged with conspiracy to defraud to the value of £25,000.000. This case involved over 10 months of full-time preparation to test the allegations presented by HMRC.

S v EB


Successfully defended a client charged with multi-million pound money laundering. This case involved criminal proceeds that had allegedly been transferred from Latvian bank accounts into UK-based companies. Due to the level of the client’s business activity, all aspects of his lifestyle were financially interrogated.

R v ND


Acted for a Chartered Accountant charged with false accounting. After intense defence preparation with the assistance of expert forensic accountants, the client was acquitted after trial. The defence successfully exposed that the Inland Revenue staff were dishonestly taking bribes to process claims.

A v D

Outcome: Significantly reduce sentence

Represented a husband and wife investigated for mortgage fraud. Forensic defence preparation led to lesser charges being brought against by both clients and a non-custodial sentence.

U v V


Acted for the main defendant in a prosecution investigated by Trading Standards. The client was charged with 400 separate offences which involved thousands of pages of evidence on behalf of Nike, Adidas, Hugo Boss and other high-profile clothing brands.

S v L


Acted for a client charged with Copyright Fraud – prosecution by F.A.C.T (Federation Against Copyright Theft). The preparation for this matter involved taking instructions on over 4.2 million pages of evidence with a large defence team. One of the largest private prosecutions ever undertaken.

S v BD


Acted for a Director investigated for fraud related offences involving a Professional Football Club. A case brought by the Football Association (FA) from events dating back to March 2001. The SFO took over the investigation, leading to 19 charges including false accounting, furnishing false information and theft.

W v YU


Acted for a Senior Dentist charged with false accounting. The proceedings attracted wide media attention and was prosecuted by the NHS Counter Fraud Team.

Q v J


Acted for a Company Director facing serious money laundering allegations in relation to alleged criminal property. A multi-handed conspiracy at an alleged value of £4.2 million.

A v LD

Outcome: Significantly reduced sentence

14 handed corruption and fraud case involving Trafford City Council in Manchester. One of the largest ever investigations into alleged fraud by Senior Council employees. Client received a suspended sentence and walked free after an investigation that lasted 8 years.

E v YG


Successfully defended a businessman against a European Arrest Warrant (EAW). The client was alleged to be a significant figure in a money laundering conspiracy in the Netherlands. The case outlined procedural errors in the EAW and continuous defence preparation revealed significant flaws in the investigation.

K v MJ


(‘Operation Euripus trial 5’) – represented a former Times Rich List client accused of money laundering from the proceeds of multi-million VAT fraud. The case involved prosecution and defence enquiries in Spain, Gibraltar, Dubai, Hong Kong, China and the Caribbean.

R v ZY

Outcome: No further action

Senior Partner, Adam Rasul successfully defended the largest VAT fraud recorded in UK history (£330,000,000). After extensive case preparation and a six-year investigation, the client was discharged from criminal proceedings and the matter was discontinued.

R v TC

Outcome: No further action

Successfully represented a Doctor pre-charge in relation to an allegation of domestic violence. Representations made on behalf of the client resulted in no further action being taken and no General Medical Council intervention.

R v DN

Outcome: No further action

Represented a client investigated for an alleged serious assault. After extensive pre-charge preparation, which entailed collating witness evidence and early representations, no further action was taken.

D v JS

Outcome: No further action

Successfully represented client on allegations of racial and threatening behaviour. Following pre-charge representations to the Reviewing Lawyer at the CPS and collating witness evidence, we persuaded the CPS that there was insufficient evidence to make a formal charge and no further action was taken.

S v EX

Outcome: No further action

Successfully represented client on allegations of racial and threatening behaviour. Following pre-charge representations to the Reviewing Lawyer at the CPS and collating witness evidence, we persuaded the CPS that there was insufficient evidence to make a formal charge and no further action was taken.

R v L

Outcome: No further action

Instructed to represent invididual arrested in relation to cohersive and controlling behaviour. Submitted pre-charge representations and due to the comprehensive nature of the representation, no further action was taken by the Crown Prosecution Service.

R v K

Outcome: Significantly reduced sentence

Represented professional individual in relation to a third drink driving offence and driving whilst disqualified. Holborn Adams successfully mitigated on the clients behalf, resulting in a stand alone suspended sentence order.

R v O

Outcome: No further action

Instructed to represent a client in relation to an allegation of rape. Holborn Adams put forward pre-charge representations which resulted in no further action being taken by the Crown Prosecution Service.

R v B

Outcome: Early release from prison

Successful representation at Parole Hearing, securing clients early release from custody.

Q v IL

Outcome: No further action

Successfully represented a high-net-worth client on allegations of racism and threats to kill. Following our early intervention, which included gathering key defence material, the client avoided police arrest and we persuaded the police and CPS not to make formal criminal charges. The client was able to retain his right to travel to the United States and Canada without restriction.


Outcome: No further action

Holborn Adams successfully defended a serious pension fraud investigation. The DWP/CPS accepted Holborn Adams’ pre-charge representations. The client avoided criminal prosecution and further investigation.


Outcome: No further action

Represented a vulnerable adult in a DWP criminal fraud investigation. Following negotiations and pre-charge representations, we persuaded the DWP to discontinue the criminal investigation and not to press formal charges against the client.

N v ON

Outcome: No further action

Successfully represented a Senior Doctor pre-charge in respect of an alleged multi-million pound fraud against the NHS. After intense defence preparation and preparation of a full bundle of defence evidence, no further action was taken against the client. The client faced a joint regulatory and police prosecution, and both investigations were discontinued.


Outcome: No further action

A substantial and lengthy investigation into a multi-million pound VAT fraud case was discontinued against Holborn Adams’ client. Following years of investigation, the CPS and HMRC accepted Holborn Adams’ detailed pre-charge representations and discontinued their investigation. As a result, the client no longer faced criminal prosecution or Confiscation proceedings.

HMRC v B & C

Outcome: Significantly reduce charges

An investigation that commenced in 2011 was brought to a successful conclusion by the Holborn Adams’ Serious Fraud Team. Extensive pre-charge representations at interview and powerful client statements resulted in an extensive list of charges being ‘dropped’ against our client by HMRC investigators. These included conspiracy to cheat the public revenue, conspiracy to undertake fraudulent activity, and making and supplying articles for use in fraud and money laundering. The value of the alleged crimes was estimated at £5,000,000.


Outcome: Ongoing

Retained to bring a Civil claim agianst the Metropolitan Police for various failings on their behalf, including malicious prosection and unlawful racial discrimination.

T v E

Outcome: Property returned to our Client

Holborn Adams successfully worked on behalf of the client to secure the return of property considered as chatells under British Law.


Outcome: Ongoing

Holborn Adams are instructed on a retained basis to manage all legal affairs and PR related issues for a high-profile former premier league footballer.


Outcome: Ongoing

Retained to negotiate sporting contracts in relation to sponsorship deals and team contracts. Also involved in the management of all legal affairs and PR related issues


Outcome: No further action

Retained to deal with an ongoing criminal investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, lasting over two years.

Holborn Adams - Why choose us

Holborn Adams has a phenomenal success rate of pre-charge defence, meaning that individuals can avoid criminal charge altogether.

We provide legal advice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with direct access to some of the country’s leading specialist counsel and Queen’s Counsel.

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