Landmark appeal involving National Crime Agency raises crucial questions for the UK’s anti-money laundering regime

14 May, 2024 | 2 minute read

Spotlight on Corruption is intervening in support of a crucial appeal brought by the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), supported by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN).

In 2021, the WUC began a court challenge after the National Crime Agency (NCA), Border Force and HM Revenue & Customs refused to investigate the importation of cotton products from the Xinjiang region in China produced by slave labour. In particular, WUC challenged the NCA’s refusal to use their powers to investigate money laundering and recover the proceeds of crime under the UK’s Proceeds of Crime Act.

In January 2023, the High Court rejected WUC’s challenge. The Court of Appeal granted permission to appeal that decision because of the legal and public interest issues at stake. Spotlight is intervening because it is concerned that the decision:

  • establishes an unacceptably high threshold of evidence for opening a money laundering investigation. 
  • creates an excessively wide interpretation of a ‘get out’ clause, designed for tradespeople who receive criminal goods in good faith, which could actually make money laundering worse.

For more details on Spotlight’s reasons for intervening, see the briefing below.

Dr Susan Hawley, Executive Director of Spotlight on Corruption, said: 

“We are intervening to support GLAN and WUC because this appeal also has very serious and wide-ranging implications for the UK’s regime for confiscating the proceeds of crime, whether from slave labour, corruption, or indeed environmental crime. If the decision handed down last year were to stand, it could severely undermine UK law enforcement’s ability to investigate and forfeit the proceeds of crime – and also risks driving a coach and horses through the UK’s anti-money laundering regime.”

Dearbhla Minogue, Senior Lawyer with GLAN, said:

“UK consumers are entitled to expect that they are not unwittingly buying cotton produced through atrocity crimes – the National Crime Agency must help ensure this by investigating clearly available lines of inquiry, including by questioning UK companies who list implicated Chinese companies on their supplier lists.”

Rahima Mahmut, UK Director of WUC, said: 

“This case is about accountability. Doing nothing enables the Chinese Communist Party to continue profiting from these atrocities. The US and the EU have enough evidence to ban goods from the region – for Government lawyers to say they need more evidence of a link before they act is absurd.”

Spotlight is represented by Kingsley Napley LLP and Kennedy Talbot KC of 33 Chancery Lane. WUC is represented by Dearbhla Minogue and Leanna Burnard of GLAN and Bindmans LLP, Alice Hardy of Bindmans LLP, Jonathan Fisher KC, Tom Forster KC, and Anita Clifford of Red Lion Chambers, Russell Hopkins of Temple Garden Chambers, and Admas Habteslasie of Landmark Chambers.

Landmark appeal: The UK Court of Appeal at the Royal Courts of Justice, London.
The UK Court of Appeal at the Royal Courts of Justice, London. ©

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