LONDON — A British businessman with suspected links to "serious criminals" has agreed to forfeit his property empire worth nearly £10 million ($12.9 million) in an out-of-court settlement after an investigation by the U.K.'s National Crime Agency.
The agency secured an "Unexplained Wealth Order" (UWO) against eight properties owned by 40-year-old Mansoor Mahmood Hussain, a businessman based in Leeds in northern England who reportedly flaunted his lavish lifestyle on social media.
A UWO can be secured by several bodies, such as the NCA or Serious Fraud Office, and compels an individual to reveal the source of their unexplained wealth. They are designed to tackle economic crime like money laundering, cybercrime and fraud.
Anyone subject to a UWO who fails to account for the source of their wealth is liable to have assets seized.
In this latest case, the NCA said businessman Hussain "submitted 127 lever arch folders and a 76-page statement to explain where his money came from for the properties — but he inadvertently gave NCA investigators clues to make a bigger case against him."
The agency also noted on its website that "Hussain had failed to fully comply with the requirements of the UWO, and his non-compliance provided a good case that a number of the properties were funded by criminal associates."
The agency alleged that Hussain, reported to have no criminal convictions, "has links to a murderer jailed for 26 years, an armed robber and a convicted fraudster who acted as his accountant," and used threats of violence and blackmail to buy his properties.
A freezing order was obtained stopping the sale or transfer of the original eight properties, plus a further nine that were identified.
Hussain agreed to settle the case and he handed over 45 properties in London, Cheshire and Leeds, four parcels of land, as well as other assets and £583,950 in cash, with a combined value of £9,802,828, the NCA said. If his case had gone to the high court in the U.K., he could have reportedly faced a much more severe penalty.
Various U.K. media report that Hussain's social media accounts showed him "living a luxury lifestyle, with high-performance cars, executive jets, super-yachts and appearances at VIP events attended by celebrities," although there is no suggestion that any of celebrities he posed with knew who he was.
CNBC has contacted Hussain's company, Zarina Capital, for comment but is yet to receive a response.
"This case is a milestone, demonstrating the power of Unexplained Wealth Orders, with significant implications for how we pursue illicit finance in the U.K.," Graeme Biggar, director general of the National Economic Crime Centre, said.
"This ground breaking investigation has recovered of millions of pounds worth of criminally obtained property. It is crucial for the economic health of local communities such as Leeds, and for the country as a whole, that we ensure property and other assets are held legitimately."
UWOs came into force in 2018 to combat illicit finance in the U.K. They are a relatively new weapon that authorities can use to tackle suspected fraud and money laundering.
The UWO issued by the crime agency in Hussain's case was the first one obtained solely on an individual's alleged involvement in serious organized crime, the NCA said Wednesday.
It is also the first UWO to successfully lead to the recovery of assets from an individual, with several other UWO cases ongoing.