Israel Perry case tests NCA's powers to freeze assets

Soca's replacement tries out its new muscles with international clamp bid on Israeli businessman
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The expanded powers of the National Crime Agency (NCA) to freeze the worldwide assets of oligarchs and the super-rich is currently being tested in the High Court as the new agency seeks to enforce the seizure the foreign assets of Israel Perry, a controversial Israeli tycoon.

The Perry dispute was the biggest ongoing case for the NCA's predecessor, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), and will be a major challenge for the new organisation. Last year the Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal for Soca to seize Perry's possessions outside the UK. The court declared that the agency had over-reached its authority and could only freeze his UK assets – which included two £10m houses in Mayfair in London and office-blocks in the City. And in a further setback, the High Court recently ruled that as Soca's successor, the NCA should pay all the legal costs of the case – an estimated £1.5m.

Last week the court heard an application by the NCA to freeze some of Perry's assets worldwide, not just in the UK. It is based on new powers under the Crime and Courts Bill which has huge implications for foreign businessmen, oligarchs and international high net-worth individuals with assets in the UK. Mr Justice Popplewell said the new agency had to show a "good arguable" case, and indicated that it was currently unable to do so, giving it until 8 November to present all of its evidence against Perry.

Mr Justice Popplewell has been in Tel Aviv this week to hear Perry, who has been suffering from cancer, being cross-examined by the NCA's chief counsel, James Eadie QC. Four NCA officers have also been in Israel for the past week as part of their continuing investigation.

Soca had been investigating Perry for the past four years and froze his UK assets because it alleged these assets were derived from the theft for which the businessman was convicted in Israel. But lawyers for Perry told The Independent that their client was framed, saying they had recently obtained a witness statement from a former Israeli police chief who stated that evidence was tampered with.

Lawyers following this dispute argue that the new law to freeze worldwide assets is highly significant. The new powers, first revealed by The Independent last month, mean the UK authorities can apply to have frozen the worldwide assets of international oligarchs who own assets in the UK.

If the application for the worldwide freezing order against Perry fails, it will be an embarrassing postscript for Soca, but it could provide a handy escape route for the new NCA to abandon the case and blame it on its predecessor.