People smuggling kingpins are being targeted by crime fighters in cases where ‘McMafia orders’ could be used to seize their assets, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
The National Crime Agency – dubbed Britain’s FBI – has revealed that its ‘asset denial’ unit is currently building dozens of cases to ‘cut the head of the hydra’ off organised crime.
The unit’s chief Andy Lewis said people smuggling gangs and Covid-19 fraudsters were on the agency’s radar for the recovery of assets including extensive property portfolios.
People smuggling kingpins are being targeted by crime fighters in cases where ‘McMafia orders’ could be used to seize their assets. Pictured: Mansoor Hussain, who boasted of his A-list connections including Meghan Markle in 2013, laundered vast sums for criminal networks, investigators say
The NCA was able to seize £10million of assets from Hussain, including this gated seven-bedroom family home in Leeds worth £1.25million
He vowed to increase the use of anti-corruption Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs), dubbed ‘McMafia orders’ after the hit BBC drama, to target the ‘so-called untouchables’ of organised crime.
What is an unexplained wealth order (UWO)?
Asked whether the NCA is actively looking to build asset seizure cases against people smuggling gangs and fraudsters, Mr Lewis said: ‘Yes we are, we will use UWOs where they are the best tools to use.
‘That could be against people smuggling gangs, and could be against fraudsters, against anybody where we have reasonable grounds to suspect the property they have purchased has been derived from unlawful conduct.
‘We decide whether it’s best to take civil action against them and will decide whether a UWO is the best way to go – we target where it will have the greatest effect.
‘We’re looking at many tens of cases at the moment and yes, absolutely, right across the spectrum.’
The NCA and other authorities have recorded an explosion of people trafficking gangs trying to bring people into the UK illegally.
More than 8,000 migrants are estimated to have crossed the Channel this year.
UWOs were first introduced in 2018 to stem the flow of cash being laundered by crime gangs and corrupt foreign officials in the UK.
They allow authorities to act in cases where bringing a criminal prosecution may not be viable and are civil orders asking suspects to explain how they paid for assets with a value over £50,000.
Hussain was the director of a set production company which ran shows for Beyonce (pictured), Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls and Take That
Last month the agency was able to seize £10million of assets from Mansoor Hussain, a businessman who enjoyed a jet-set lifestyle and is suspected of laundering money for drug gangs.
‘It’s about going after the highest levels of criminality, cutting the head off the hydra’, added Mr Lewis.
‘We want to be able to take away the assets of the biggest criminals, with the biggest bang for our buck.
‘Some of them are the so-called untouchables from a criminal point of view that may be susceptible to attack by civil recovery means.’
Mr Lewis also made clear that networks linked to Bounce Back Loan fraudsters could be targeted by the orders where criminal prosecutions were not possible.
The NCA obtained unexplained wealth orders against properties, including one high-security mansion in Bishop’s Avenue, Hampstead, referred to as London’s ‘Billionaires’ Row’ (pictured), last May
But he conceded that the anti-corruption orders were ‘limited in their utility’.
The agency suffered a setback earlier this year when orders on £80m of London properties owned by the family of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the former president of Kazakhstan, were rejected by a High Court judge.
The NCA failed in its appeal against the ruling over orders demanding Nurali Aliyev and his mother Dariga Nazarbayeva explain their wealth, forcing the agency to settle the case against the pair.
NCA financial investigators have privately told the MoS that they believe targeting corrupt businessmen with access to ‘expensive QCs and claims of private wealth’ is a ‘waste of time’.
One investigator added that the agency should continue targeting ‘mid to high level organised criminals’ with assets but no legitimate income, where they would have more success.
But Mr Lewis said: ‘We haven’t stopped doing PEP (politically exposed persons) cases because of the court defeat we had with Aliyev.
Nurali Aliyev is the son of Rakhat Aliyev’s ex-wife, Dariga Nazarbayeva, the current chairwoman of the senate in Kazakhstan and daughter of former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev
‘They (UWOs) are quite limited in their utility, things have to be exactly right for us to use to be able to use it.
‘Over time we may see criminal PEPs taking their money and investing it in other jurisdictions because they don’t want to be exposed to the fact they may have assets that have been derived criminally.
‘Similarly with organised criminals, the hope is not only to take away assets but deter others from investing their ill-gotten gains and criminal money in the UK
‘It’s also a deterrent effect to make the UK a safer, stronger place where money invested is not dirty money.
‘In the example of Hussein we suspect he was laundering for a number of high-level criminals in the Leeds-Bradford area.
‘Those people are controlling drug trafficking down to street level, that impacts on county lines, knife crime, so that’s a read-over from the high level money launderer to street crime.
‘In terms of PEPs, you could look at them buying high-end properties, skewing the property market, they can inflate the cost of how much property is sold for.’
Mr Lewis also said the NCA would continue to use intelligence from campaigning NGOs despite a judge’s criticism of their reliance on a Global Witness report ON the Aliyev case earlier this year.
‘They (NGOs) do a really good service of shining a light on areas that are perhaps not known to the general public, they are doing a service to show alleged corruption in overseas jurisdictions,’ he added.
‘We speak to them on a regular basis, they assist us where necessary, we have a relationship for obvious reasons.
‘They have access to overseas material and we will review that, some of the material for various reasons couldn’t be used in a court of law
‘It can certainly guide us in our investigation, at least in the initial stages anyway.’