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Cash forfeiture decision irrational

In Wiese v UK Border Agency [2012] EWHC 2019 the subject of the judicial review was the decision of District Judge snow at Westminster Magistrates Court to order the forfeiture of the sum of £674,920 from the Appellant which had been seized in cash at London City Airport. It was not disputed by the Respondent that the Appellant was a well known and very wealthy south African businessman. He was represented by Clare Montgomery QC both at first instance and on appeal. The Appellant had claimed that he was seeking to avoid exchange controls in south Africa which is not an offence in the UK and thus is not unlawful conduct which would permit forfeiture under the section 298 of the Act. Instead, however, the District Judge made a finding that the cash had been obtained through money laundering. Underhill J gave a fairly scathing assessment of those findings. He said it is prima facie unlikely that a businessman of previous good character, already enormously rich from legitimate business would become involved in money laundering. He found that the District Judge failed to give adequate reasons for finding that the cash was obtained through money laundering. In fact, Underhill J went as far as to say that the only conclusion open to the judge on the evidence before him was that the cash had been taken out of south African breach of exchange controls. He also rejected a finding by the Judge that argument in the witness statement of the officer was admissible. He did not decide a further ground as he considered it unnecessary to do so although in a helpful passage he reviewed the relevant authorities. Practitioners ought to note that in spite of his success, the Appellant did not recover his costs.


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