Finding fraudsters' hidden property
It's no secret that wrongdoers often hide their ill-gotten gains by investing in real estate, and the Pandora Papers have once again reminded us of this issue in the UK. But what can victims of fraud do to identify UK properties that a fraudster owns? Most people wrongly assume 'not much'. This is because you cannot search the UK Land Registry by an individual's name. Victims of fraud may therefore consider it impossible to identify what properties a fraudster owns, against which a judgment can be enforced. However, there is a little-used weapon in the English Court's armoury which lets people search the Land Registry by name, greatly assisting a fraud claim.
In the recent case of Barfoot Farms Limited v Revuckas (2021), it was alleged that an employee had falsified employment records for seasonal workers, who did not in fact work for the employer. Over a period of around 8 years, the wages of these fictitious employees were actually going into the bank accounts of the employee and his mother-in-law. The English court granted a freezing injunction but, of particular interest, is the order that the English court made in respect of searching the Land Registry.
In this case, the English court ordered that the Land Registry must search the list of proprietors against the names of the employee and his mother-in-law. Such a search would confirm if the employee and his mother-in-law owned any land or property, or were a beneficiary of a registered charge, and, if assets were found, the innocent party could then extend the freezing order or seek some security.
This is therefore a very useful method of recovering monies from fraudsters.
Finally, fraudsters often use aliases or different spellings of their name to try to hide assets or confuse paper trails, so it is important check the Land Registry against all of these different names.