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UK lawmakers pass bill allowing ‘crypto’ freezing and seizure

United Kingdom’s upper house of Parliament has passed a bill that expands enforcement agencies’ authority to confiscate digital assets.

Legislators in the House of Lords has passed the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill which expands the reach of British authorities in their pursuit of financial criminals. It amends the country’s laws regarding company registration, reporting of financial crimes, financial confidentiality, and digital assets.

The House of Lords passed the proposed legislation after its third reading without making any new changes. It will now return to the lower house—the House of Commons—which can make further changes before forwarding to the king for his signature.

The bill was introduced in September 2022 as the U.K. Parliament’s most comprehensive effort in decades to stamp out organized criminals and terrorists from its financial system.

It gave law enforcement agencies, including the National Crime Agency, the power to “seize, freeze, and recover crypto assets.” It claimed “crypto” use in fraud had shot up in recent years, and the bill would allow authorities to keep pace with criminals.

“Domestic and international criminals have for years laundered the proceeds of their crime and corruption by abusing U.K. company structures and are increasingly using cryptocurrencies,” Graeme Biggar, the Director General of the National Crime Agency, commented at the time.

“These reforms—long-awaited and much welcomed—will help us crack down on both,” he noted.

Last month’s amendment to the bill extended its scope on digital asset seizure. This includes allowing ‘appropriate officers’ to access digital asset wallets suspected of aiding crime and seizing and retaining the assets. It also gave courts the authority to order the seizure of such assets.

Seized assets can be reclaimed for up to a year after their release, failure to which authorities can retain them legally, sell them, or destroy them. The bill allows the government to put some of the proceeds from such sales toward cracking down on financial crimes.

While the bill grants them more authority, U.K. law enforcement agencies have seized digital assets for years. In 2021, the London Metropolitan Police seized a record $408 million in digital assets from a money laundering ring.

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