Gold and art worth millions and linked to crime is forfeited

30 Apr 2024 11:18 AM

Gold bullion and artwork worth millions of pounds has been taken out of criminal hands as a result of a National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation.

The criminal assets were seized by NCA officers during an investigation into prolific money launderer Lenn Mayhew-Lewis (69), whose clientele included drug traffickers.

Mayhew-Lewis, of Oxted in Surrey, was caught with eight kilos of gold bars and shavings when he was arrested in 2019 by West Midlands Police officers acting on NCA intelligence.

The officers found the precious metal – now worth more than £400k – stowed in a compartment of his Bentley.

LML custody image

A subsequent investigation by NCA officers identified that Mayhew-Lewis had also purchased a painting by artist Frank Auerbach.

It’s believed the painting was subsequently used by another individual as collateral to secure a £5m loan from a UK auction house.

The painting, “Albert Street, 2009”, was purchased in 2017 for £1.6m, but Auerbach’s works can fetch as much as £5.5m.

Mayhew-Lewis, who was last year convicted of money laundering, is being sought by the NCA after he absconded ahead of his sentencing. He was sentenced in his absence to five years in prison.

While the NCA has been working to locate and arrest Mayhew-Lewis, its specialist investigators have been striving to strip the money launderer of his proceeds of crime.

Gold 4

Officers from the NCA’s International Corruption Unit applied for the forfeiture of the gold and Auerbach landscape under the Listed Assets provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 – legislation which enables law enforcement to recover property such as precious metals and artwork believed to be derived from or intended for use in crime.

The forfeiture was subsequently granted at a hearing recently, Monday, 29 April.

The items will now be sold and the proceeds returned to the public purse.

Up to half the money from the sales will go directly into fighting more organised crime, under the Home Office’s Asset Recovery Incentivisation Scheme.

Senior investigating officer Barry Vinall, from the International Corruption Unit, recently said:

“The gold and the painting are proceeds of crime and would most likely have been used to finance further criminal ventures, resulting in more harm in our communities, or to fund luxurious lifestyles for criminals. It’s fitting that the money from these items will now be ploughed into fighting organised crime.

“By doggedly pursuing criminals’ cash, the NCA is disrupting some of the serious and organised crime harming countless people across the UK every day.”

Auerbach Albert Street 2009 oil on canvas

The NCA recovered around £70 million in criminal cash and assets in the financial year 2022-23, a significant portion of which was reinvested in tackling serious and organised crime in the UK.

Anyone with information on Mayhew-Lewis’ whereabouts is urged to call the NCA on 0370 496 7622.

Alternatively, give information 100 per cent anonymously by calling independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

This case shines a light on the abuse of art dealers and auction houses by organised criminals, who use the companies to hide and legitimise money from crime. It follows an alert sent by the NCA to the industry about the issue earlier this year.

In January, the NCA warned the art and finance industry of tactics used by criminals, including employing third parties to secure loans against art and hide true ownership of artwork.

Auction houses’ ability to provide loans secured against artwork can be abused by criminals who, often through the use of third parties, are able to access millions of pounds while auction houses take care of artwork as it appreciates in value.

The NCA urged industry to carry out due diligence on clients – including on people buying paintings for unknown third parties – and report suspicious activity to police.

Find out more about how the NCA strips proceeds of crime from criminals at Civil Recovery & Tax – National Crime Agency