RUSSIAN oligarchs are too rich and powerful to be hit with a so-called McMafia orders to explain the source of their wealth, the National Crime Agency (NCA) has admitted.
After the Novichok poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March 2018, then Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a crackdown on Russian money laundered through the London property market.
She hailed new Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) power as a key tool in the Kremlin clampdown, earning them the nickname the "McMafia Law" after the BBC drama about Russian corruption and organised crime.
A successful UWO application creates a legal requirement for wealthy individuals to explain the source of assets of over £50,000 if it is suspected to have arisen from crime or corruption
However, last December it was revealed that only four had been applied for by the NCA and none against Russian nationals.
That position remains the same and the Intelligence and Security Committee Russian Report said the NCA had admitted they were difficult to use against oligarchs.
Its report said: "While the orders appear to provide the NCA with more clout and greater powers, the reality is that it is highly probable that the oligarchy will have the financial means to ensure their lawyers – a key group of professional enablers – find ways to circumvent this legislation.
By contrast, the NCA lacks the resources required in terms of financial investigators, technical experts and legal expertise."
ADMISSION: Lynne Owens told Mps of the difficulty in taking legal action against powerful oligarchs (NCA)
It quoted Lynne Owens, director general of the NCA, saying: "Russians have been investing for a long period of time …you can track back and you can see how they will make a case in court that their wealth is not unexplained, it is very clearly explained."
UWOs served on non-Russians have also posed problems, with the NCA left with a £1.5 million court bill earlier this year after the Court of Appeal rejected it's bid to serve three UWOs on an £80 million property empire owned by a Kazakh family.
The report said Ms Owens added: "We are, bluntly, concerned about the impact on our budget, because these are wealthy people with access to the best lawyers and the case that we have had a finding on …has been through every bit of court in the land, and I’ve got a very good legal team based within the NCA but they had a lot of resource dedicated out of my relatively small resource envelope on that work."
An NCA spokesman said: "We will use all the legislation at our disposal to pursue suspected illicit finance.
"UWOs are one of those tools, and will be relevant in some circumstances and not others.
"To date we have considered more than 150 cases for use of UWOs, including those involving Russian individuals."
The Russians were all ruled out.
He added: "The NCA’s team of specialist in-house lawyers and financial investigators continue to deliver numerous asset denial successes, and are recognised nationally and internationally as being at the vanguard of use of proceeds of crime powers.
"The NCA continues to pursue Unexplained Wealth Orders through the courts.
"Three remain active with an estimated total value of £43.2m, while in the last financial year alone, the NCA has frozen or seized almost £160m of criminal assets.
"We will use all the legislation at our disposal to pursue suspected illicit finance. UWOs are one of those tools, and will be relevant in some circumstances and not others."