It was announced on Wednesday that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has recovered half a million pounds worth of jewellery from a safe deposit box under the listed asset provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA). The forfeiture is part of a civil recovery investigation arising from the Birmingham Mortgage Fraud case: a £50 million fraud investigation/prosecution that began in March 2006.
The listed asset provisions are a relatively new law enforcement tool that was introduced by the Criminal Finances Act 2017. They allow ‘relevant officers’ – including constables, and certain officers of the SFO, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the National Crime Agency (NCA) – to seize an item of property if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that:
- it is a listed asset;
- it is recoverable property or intended by any person for use in unlawful conduct; and
- the value is not less than £1,000.
The ‘listed assets’ that can be seized are precious metals (silver, gold or platinum), precious stones, watches, artistic works, face-value vouchers and postage stamps. ‘Recoverable property’ is property obtained through unlawful conduct.
Where an item of property is seized under the listed asset provisions it can be detained for an initial period of 6 hours and a further period of 42 hours if authorised by a senior officer. An application must then be made to a magistrates’ court (in England and Wales) or sheriff court (in Scotland) for an order detaining the property for six months. This can be extended up to a maximum of two years from the date of the first order. During this period, the law enforcement authority (e.g. HMRC, NCA or SFO) can apply to the court for forfeiture of the property.
Since the listed asset provisions came into force in April 2018, they have been used in several high-profile cases to target the alleged proceeds of crime. In October 2018, for example, the NCA seized 49 items of jewellery (worth approximately £400,000) from Christie’s auction house in connection with the UK’s first Unexplained Wealth Order. The following month, HMRC used the provisions to seize eight gold bars (worth approximately £780,000) at Manchester Airport; the gold was forfeited in July 2020 and sold at auction earlier this month. The Birmingham Mortgage Fraud case is the first time the SFO has used the listed asset provisions. This could be the start of an emerging trend.