Investigators have used the new “McMafia law” for the first time to find out whether two properties worth a total of £22 million were paid for legally.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) has been granted unexplained wealth orders (UWOs) to look at two properties, one in London and one in South East England, that they suspect are owned by a foreign figure who is at risk of bribery.
UWOs, which came into force on January 31, are seen as a way of making Russian oligarchs suspected of corruption account for their luxury lifestyles in Britain.
They allow investigators to force a so-called politically exposed person, someone in a position of power that makes them liable to bribery; or someone with suspected links to organised crime, to explain the source of their wealth.
The owner of the two properties is barred from selling or transferring them while the inquiry is carried out.
Donald Toon, director for economic crime at the NCA, said: “Unexplained wealth orders have the potential to significantly reduce the appeal of the UK as a destination for illicit income.
“They enable the UK to more effectively target the problem of money laundering through prime real estate in London and elsewhere. We are determined to use all of the powers available to us to combat the flow of illicit monies into, or through, the UK.”
The new powers have been dubbed the McMafia law after the BBC drama series, based on a factual book of the same name by journalist Misha Glenny.
The TV series followed the story of organised crime bosses including Russian oligarchs who live a life of luxury in the UK on laundered money.