UK says new powers signal crackdown on illicit wealth

LONDON — The British government has introduced new powers to seize suspicious assets that it says will help curb London's status as a haven for ill-gotten gains.

A measure called unexplained wealth orders, which came into effect this week, allows authorities to seize assets over 50,000 pounds ($70,000) until owners account for how they were acquired.

Security Minister Ben Wallace told Saturday's Times of London that the government was sending criminals a message that "we will come for you, for your assets and we will make the environment that you live in difficult."

The government estimates 90 billion pounds in illegal cash is laundered in Britain every year, much of it passing through London financial firms and the city's real-estate market.

Wallace said the government wanted to build on awareness generated by TV series "McMafia," currently running on the BBC. Adapted from Misha Glenny's nonfiction book, the drama series centers on a London financier entwined with Russian criminals.

Wallace said the series, starring James Norton, was "very close to the truth."

Russia has been less impressed. The Twitter account of the Russian Embassy in London has dismissed the show's depiction of Britain as "a playground for Russian gangsters."

"Crime rate among Russians in U.K. is well below national average," the embassy tweeted last month, accusing the BBC of spreading cliches.

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