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Where do I store my jewels and cash? Not in a safety deposit box!

View profile for Seema Parikh
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Where do I store my jewels and cash? Not in a safety deposit box!

In 2008 the Specialist Crime Directorate of the Metropolitan Police raided 3 safety deposit centres in London and seized around 7000 boxes containing it is believed £14m in cash and millions of pounds worth of jewellery and art. They also found guns, counterfeit passports, credit cards and indecent images stored on memory sticks and other devices. This was the first swoop of its kind codenamed Operation Rize under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

Whilst the Metropolitan police were quick to emphasise that they were only targeting organised criminals who were using the deposit boxes as a means to safely squirrel away their ill-gotten gains from drugs supply, money laundering, guns running and tax evasion, this did not stop thousands of innocent individuals being caught up in the line of fire. The investigation took many months and in some cases years to reach a favourable conclusion with others losing the entire contents of their boxes. Russian Supermodels, WAGs of high profile entrepreneurs, girlfriends of known criminals, housewives, well to do professionals,  all got caught up and some lost everything to the government under the Forfeiture proceedings. Why you may ask if they were not involved in any criminal activity?

Under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, cash and any other high value items like jewellery can now be seized and there is no longer any requirement to establish an association with drug trafficking beforehand. The Act also ensures that once seized, the cash or item can be detained for a maximum of two years before any application by the police can be made for forfeiture. The proceedings are initiated solely against property rather than an individual. This means the proceedings are not criminal in nature and do not result in a criminal conviction. That is of very little comfort if you stand to lose precious heirlooms, designer jewellery or cash that you have saved for a rainy day. But before the property can be forfeited, the State must establish a likelihood on a balance of probabilities that the property is either proceeds of crime or intended to be used in crime (eg Terrorist Financing). The standard of proof is on a balance of probabilities and therefore a much lower threshold than the criminal standard which is beyond reasonable doubt. This makes it relatively simple for the State to take your assets away unless you can show legitimate provenance for your cash and valuables. Anything like receipts, a full audit trail especially for large amounts of cash. Sometimes, oral evidence would have to be given in the absence of documentary evidence.

Operation Rize saw a former supermodel give evidence at the Old Bailey by live video link from Moscow about the 100,000 euros in cash and her Cartier jewellery seized from her safety deposit box were not derived from criminal conduct. In the absence of any proper paper trail, the Court found against her and forfeited the lot. The lesson to be learnt is to keep good documented records as there is nothing illegal per se in keeping cash and valuables in a safety deposit box. But if ever challenged over its provenance, you can smile with confidence with the knowledge that the State will not be able to take it from you.

At MPR solicitors, we are specialists in the area of cash seizures, forfeiture and appeals against cash forfeiture orders. We have been successful in restoring to clients assets seized under Restraint Proceedings and Proceeds of Crime Act. We regularly advise and assist individuals and corporates who have lost property to seizures under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Recently we have acted successfully for a company director being investigated for Fraud and whose Ferrari was seized under a restraint order and subsequently released once we were instructed to act. We are currently advising individuals whose significant collection of Asian gold has been seized at Heathrow Airport; we are also advising company directors whose safety deposit boxes were opened by police and the contents seized.

Pre-emptive action: we can advise clients on how best to document a paper trail for cash and valuables in the event of any police raids so as to be able to satisfy the authorities of the legitimacy of the items.

We are specialists in this area and we also work with some of the very best sets of Chambers in London and all barristers that we instruct are personally vetted by our management team for experience, expertise, value for money and client satisfaction.