On 14 August 2019 the National Crime Agency (the “NCA”) announced that it had obtained account freezing orders (“AFOs”) on eight bank accounts containing more than £100 million which the NCA considered to contain funds “suspected to have derived from bribery and corruption in an overseas nation”. AFOs allow the NCA and the Serious Fraud Office (the “SFO”) to apply to freeze and potentially subsequently forfeit funds held in bank accounts suspected to contain illicit funds, through the use of Forfeiture Orders or Account Forfeiture Notices.
The NCA declined to identify the individual or individuals involved but noted that £20 million held in accounts by a linked individual was frozen as a result of a previously unreported hearing in December 2018. This latest round of AFOs is the largest amount of money frozen since the powers were introduced in the Criminal Finances Act 2017 (the “CFA”), which received royal assent on 27 April 2017.
Between April 2010 and March 2018, a total of £1.6 billion has been seized through use of powers contained in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (“POCA”), where the AFO powers are now contained. Despite the relative lack of media attention, the use of AFOs in particular has been enthusiastically embraced and this latest case brings the total amount frozen by AFOs in 2018/19 to more than £260 million through the use of around 650 separate orders.