As set out above, the ECA received Royal Assent on 15 March. Key measures include:
- Enhancing the UK's ability to move faster to impose sanctions as well as increasing civil enforcement powers;
- The introduction of a new 'Register of Overseas Entities'; and
- Reforms to unexplained wealth orders, which remove certain barriers to their use.
The UK's Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said as part of the announcement that "this government has moved quickly to strengthen our response to Putin’s cronies and ensure that corrupt elites have nowhere to hide their dirty money in the UK".
Please see our briefing available here for details of the new Register of Overseas Entities.
ECA impact on the UK's sanctions regime
Enhanced enforcement regime
Back in 2017, the UK's Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation ("OFSI") was provided with a power, under the Policing and Crime Act 2017, to impose civil monetary penalties for breaches of trade sanctions based on the balance of probabilities (in addition to existing criminal penalties).
The value of the civil penalties can range from 50% of the total breach up to £1 million. Prior to the introduction of the ECA, the power to impose civil monetary penalties was subject to a requirement that the person "knew, or had reasonable cause to suspect, that the person was in breach of the prohibition or (as the case may be) had failed to comply with the obligation" (i.e. a knowledge qualifier).
The ECA has removed this knowledge qualifier and has replaced it with a strict liability test. This means that the person's intent/knowledge in connection with the breach is no longer relevant to whether or not the OFSI has the requisite power to impose the relevant civil monetary penalty. This position is more similar to what is already in place in the US and, while it will still remain a defence to a criminal sanctions offence that entity/individual did not know, nor did they have reasonable cause to suspect, that they were in breach of the relevant prohibition, this can no longer be relied on in relation to the OFSI's civil monetary penalty regime.
This materially expands the ability of the OFSI to bring enforcement action against entities/individuals and increases the likelihood of civil enforcement penalties, however it is yet to be seen how the OFSI will use this new power in practice.
Streamlined designation powers
In addition to changes to the civil enforcement regime, the ECA enables the UK to designate individuals and entities as subject to sanctions more quickly, especially where they have already been sanctioned by the US, EU, Australia and Canada (or any other country specified in regulations made by a Minister). The introduction of the "urgent" procedure under the Sanctions and Money Laundering Act 2018 (which is subject to certain other tests) is designed to make the process of implementing sanctions more efficient – and was used immediately on the 15 March by the UK to sanction 370 individuals already sanctioned by the EU.
Naming and shaming
Finally, the ECA enables the OFSI to publish a report where a monetary penalty has not been imposed but "the Treasury is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that a person has breached a prohibition, or failed to comply with an obligation, that is imposed by or under financial sanctions legislation.” While the OFSI already has a power to make public statements where a monetary penalty provision has been imposed, this naming and shaming provision is likely to enhance existing sensitivities around businesses carrying out operations in actual or potential breach of sanctions.
Unexplained Wealth Order ("UWOs") amendments
UWOs are investigatory orders that are available to organisations including the Serious Fraud Office, the National Crime Agency, HM Revenue and Customs, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Financial Conduct Authority. UWOs are placed on respondents whose assets appear disproportionate to their income to explain the origins of their wealth.
- UWOs require a Politically Exposed Person (PEP) or a person who is reasonably suspected of involvement in, or of being connected to a person involved in, serious crime to explain the origin of assets (minimum combined value of £50,000) that appear to be disproportionate to their known lawfully obtained income. It does not matter where in the world the property is situated, or where the respondent is based.
- A UWO is not (by itself) a power to recover assets. However, any response from a UWO can be used in subsequent civil recovery proceedings and a failure to respond means that the assets can be made subject to recovery action under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
UWOs were introduced in the UK in January 2018, following the implementation of the Criminal Finances Act 2017.
The reforms under the ECA enable UWOs to be sought against property held in trust and other complex ownership structures. They also increase time available to law enforcement to review material provided in response to a UWO and reform cost rules, to reduce the impact of legal costs on law enforcement where there is an adverse finding. Taken together, these changes are expected to make their overall use more likely.