The embattled Serious Organised Crime Agency heads into fresh controversy on Tuesday as it emerges it has won sweeping new powers allowing it to freeze assets of super-rich foreigners suspected of fraud.
Under the new rules quietly inserted into the Crime and Courts Act after extended lobbying from SOCA, the agency is allowed not only to freeze a person’s assets in the UK, but all over the world, even if the alleged crime did not take place in Britain. The only hurdle for SOCA is to prove that the person has at least one asset in the UK to launch a global hunt.
Such wide-ranging powers of seizure represent a huge extension of the organisation’s existing remit and could deter wealthy businessmen from unstable countries from investing in the UK.
London and the home counties have become magnets for wealthy foreigners from countries such as those in Eastern Europe where politically motivated litigation against business executives is common.
The new powers have come to light in a case SOCA is fighting against an Israeli businessman, Israel Perry, who has been convicted of pensions fraud in Israel.
Soca is trying to confiscate his London properties, assets and investments all over the world.
After the Supreme Court ruled last year that it was illegal for SOCA to seize Perry’s non-UK assets, the agency successfully pressed the government to change the law. This it did with amendments that came into force this summer.