Landmark assets win for British FBI
The National Crime Agency (NCA), dubbed Britain's FBI, has won a landmark battle to claw back cash squirrelled away overseas by criminals.
A court in Luxembourg ruled the agency can use its civil powers to seize 500,000 US dollars (around £328,182) worth of assets "hidden" there by convicted international drug trafficker Amir Azam.
The move has been hailed a "landmark" decision by the NCA, which say it could "open the floodgates" to reclaim money and assets hidden overseas.
Stephanie Jeavons, deputy director of the NCA's economic crime command, said: "This decision is a significant step forward for the NCA, and for all UK law enforcement, in the fight to recover the millions of pounds worth of criminal assets hidden abroad.
"The NCA is working with a number of countries to retrieve the criminal proceeds squirrelled away overseas, and this ground-breaking judgment paves the way for other countries to follow suit."
Azam is serving four years in jail for drug trafficking and money laundering, the NCA said.
He used his ill-gotten gains to splash out on a string of homes in the UK.
The NCA had already seized his seven London homes and cash from UK bank accounts. Taking into account the ruling by the court in Luxembourg, the assets seized totalled £3.3 million.
The ruling, handed down yesterday by the District Court of Luxembourg, means his assets there can be seized on a civil basis by the NCA in the UK.
It is the first time a foreign state has recognised and enforced a UK civil recovery order, which are granted by the High Court in London. These orders allow the authorities to seize assets which are the proceeds of crime.
Unlike criminal confiscation, civil recovery is not dependent on there having been a criminal conviction relating specifically to those assets. Instead, the High Court can impose the order if they decide, on the balance of probabilities, the assets are the proceeds of crime.