If your bank suspects that your bank account is being used in connection with crime, it will make a suspicious activity report (SAR) to the National Crime Agency (NCA) who may investigate you if they see fit. The account will be frozen and your bills and standing orders etc stopped.
The NCA will then have 7 days to respond to the bank and will either extend the time to investigate or lift the suspension, usually the former.
If it extends the period, the NCA will then have 31 days to investigate in which the bank is still unable to provide you with any information.
Your manager is not allowed to tell you that your account has been frozen, or why, on pain of a 5 year sentence for the offence of “tipping off”, under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA), which is why the banks do not provide account holders with any information during this period.
This often leads to heated stand offs between the bank and the customer.
If the NCA believes your bank account is being used unlawfully, it will apply to the Magistrates Court for an account freezing order (AFO) which if granted will be served on you and will explain and outline what has been going on.
The Criminal Finances Act 2017 introduced these AFOs which allow the freezing of a bank and building society accounts for up to 2 years while an investigation is taking place.
An AFO can be made for a sum as little as £1,000 in the bank account, and the NCA often hand the investigation over to police after the initial flurry.
The Magistrates Court will grant an AFO if it considers there are reasonable grounds to believe that monies are the proceeds of crime or are intended for a criminal activity.
The court will set the duration of the AFO, usually 3 months; the AFO can be extended for a total period of up to 2 years. During this time the AFO can be varied or discharged by the Court on the account holder’s application.
During an AFO the account holder does not have access to their funds in the account and money cannot be withdrawn or transferred.
At the end of the AFO, police can make an application for the monies to be forfeited to the government if they can show they are criminal property or intended for use in crime.
Our work assisting those whose finances are encumbered by Freezing Orders has enabled us to act on behalf of all manner of clients seeking to save their businesses and livelihoods.
In order to assist our clients, it has been necessary to advise on a broad range of issues including international trade in gold bullion, the supply of goods in breach of international arms embargos and even on behalf of clients more familiar with the catwalks of Paris than a courtroom.
Saunders Law have represented several clients through freezing order, and these include:
- Client G - a company whose accounts were frozen as the police believed their business was being used to launder money.
- Client K - A director whose business was under scrutiny for criminal activity.
Our elite private crime team has considerable experience challenging such cases. For a free consultation speak to a member of our team.