'Fat Cat' Banker’s Wife Can't Get to $29 Million in U.K. Assets

(Bloomberg) -- The wife of a foreign "fat cat" banker lost a bid to regain control of 22 million pounds ($29 million) worth of property in the U.K. that prosecutors say was bought with stolen funds. She may be able to keep her name out of the press for a little bit longer.

The woman, identified for now only as Mrs. A, had asked a London judge to block one of the first-ever "unexplained wealth orders," which freezes property when the owner cannot explain the source of the funds used for the purchase.

Judge Michael Supperstone rejected the motion to lift the order at a hearing Wednesday and ruled that she could be identified on Oct. 10 unless she wins an appeal on that issue.

Unexplained wealth orders have become a new tool for police in the U.K. to pursue the top level of suspected criminals. Uniquely, they place the onus on the owner to show that any asset worth more than 50,000 pounds ($65,000) was funded by legitimate means. The National Crime Agency, the only authority to obtain a UWO since they came into effect in January, has said it expects to seek several more this year.

"This demonstrates that the NCA is absolutely right to ask probing questions about the funds used to purchase prime property," Donald Toon, the agency’s economic crime head, said in an emailed statement. "We are determined to use the powers available to us to their fullest extent where we have concerns that we cannot determine legitimate sources of wealth."

The woman owns two properties in southern England and spent about 16 million pounds at the luxury department store Harrods in the past decade, sometimes splashing tens of thousands of pounds a week, prosecutor Jonathan Hall said during hearings in July. He described her husband as a "fat cat commercial banker" who was convicted of fraud in his home country, which is outside the European Economic Area.

Her lawyers declined to comment after the hearing, but told the court that they would appeal both the rulings on the property and anonymity. They have previously said that the NCA had used flawed evidence to obtain the unexplained wealth order.

While Supperstone didn’t grant leave to appeal, the woman has a week to approach the appeals court directly, which could continue to protect her identity. Supperstone said that keeping her name a secret would not be in the interests of public justice and revealing her name would not negatively affect her.

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