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Imagine if you could make a secret application to have your opponent’s global assets frozen and  disclosed to you, to limit their weekly personal and legal spend, to have their premises summarily searched,  their computers and papers seized, their Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo accounts secretly monitored, their  passport confiscated, their trust service providers gagged and required to give you disclosure in secret and  then, if these draconian orders are breached, have your opponent (or their company directors, trustees or  nominees) arrested, fined and imprisoned – all before trial.  

The English Courts and (to varying degrees) courts in other “offshore” common law jurisdictions  outside the USA (such as Cayman Islands, BVI, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Singapore, Guernsey, Jersey,  Isle of Man, Bermuda, ADGM and DIFC) have developed powerful and innovative remedies such as  these to assist victims of fraud and to punish parties that knowingly breach court orders. While they may  be familiar to English and offshore civil fraud lawyers, they are likely less familiar to lawyers in other  jurisdictions.  

In this article, we summarise some of the different types of aggressive and innovative measures that  are available in English and offshore civil fraud litigation, including asset seizures, orders to search  premises, email monitoring orders, fines and even imprisonment. These are effective remedies and  deterrents and one of the reasons why victims of international fraud frequently turn to the English and  offshore courts, sometimes in preference to US courts. Partly in recognition of these unique, wide ranging,  and creative remedies, civil fraud litigation is treated as a separate, specialized practice area in England and  offshore. 

We also consider how defendant parties faced with such orders can respond to them effectively  and minimize their risk exposure. 


Worldwide Freezing Orders – the “Nuclear Weapon” of English and offshore litigation

“Worldwide Freezing Orders” (WWFOs for short) are referred to as the “nuclear weapons” of  English litigation. They force potential fraudsters to (i) disclose their assets in very short order, wherever  they may be, freeze those assets, and ultimately prevent them from being dissipated. WWFOs can be made  in support of both English proceedings and foreign proceedings. They can be made against parties  domiciled outside England. 

Compliance with WWFO’s can be extremely time consuming and burdensome. Very frequently  the respondent may attempt to breach a WWFO in an effort to conceal assets or in the mistaken belief that  there will be no consequences. The Court, however, has developed numerous devices to police compliance.  In view of its powerful effect, an application for a WWFO is almost always made without notice, so that  the respondent cannot dissipate its assets after it has been given notice of the application.  

Assets Covered: the definition of assets for the purposes of the WWFO is broad. In addition to  encompassing traditional assets (bank accounts, properties, investments, etc.), it can also extend to less  obvious assets: for example, loan facilities, assets owned by wholly owned companies, interests in a trust  fund, and assets owned by a trust. It includes assets in which the respondent has a legal or beneficial interest including cryptocurrency.1 WWFOs also cover assets acquired during the duration of the order, while it is  also possible to freeze assets that the defendant holds as a trustee or nominee for a third party.2 A Supreme  Court decision recently allowed for freezing of assets which the defendant was empowered to directly or  indirectly dispose of – this means that the WWFO can even extend to assets held by a company in which  the defendant is the sole creditor and director.3

“John Doe” WWFOs: it is even possible to obtain a freezing order against “persons unknown”  in the context of fraud claims, for which it is sufficient to make reference to particular bank account  transfers. English courts are also able to grant John Doe disclosure orders requiring an unknown trustee  of a known trust to disclose its identity, so that it can be added as a defendant to a pending claim and  required to comply with a WWFO in the meantime. 

Generally No Priority or Security: a WWFO does not give the innocent party any priority or  security over the frozen assets in question. Rather, it seeks to preserve the assets so that any subsequent  judgment in favor of the applicant can be enforced against the assets so preserved. In certain circumstances,  a WWFO may also be made against other parties who appear to hold assets on behalf of the respondent.  This is a very effective tool where a respondent controls (directly or indirectly) third parties and uses those  third parties to create an artificial separation of ownership of assets. Where however a plaintiff alleges an  ownership (proprietary) right over assets, a WWFO can help the plaintiff preserve security over them. 

Legal Test for WWFOs: in order to obtain a WWFO in England, the applicant must demonstrate  to the Court that: (i) it has a cause of action, i.e., an underlying legal or equitable right that has been  breached; (ii) the English Court has jurisdiction; (iii) it has a good arguable case against the potential  fraudster – i.e., a case “which is more than barely capable of serious argument and yet not necessarily one which the judge  believes to have a better than 50 per cent chance of success”; (iv) there is a real risk that, without the WWFO, the  fraudster will seek to dissipate assets beyond the reach of the innocent party—the court may infer a risk of  dissipation from the parties’ previous conduct, particularly if there is evidence of fraud or if the assets could  easily be transferred to third parties; and (v) under the circumstances, it is just and convenient for the order  to be granted. Out of all these conditions, risk of dissipation is often the most difficult to prove – the mere  existence of a strong claim for a substantial amount is not sufficient. The courts will consider, objectively,  whether there is a risk of dissipation, taking into account all the circumstances.  

Burdensome Compliance: once a WWFO is obtained and served, the respondent is required to  give disclosure of his worldwide assets over a defined de minimis amount, for example USD 5,000. This  disclosure must be given in an extremely limited timeframe—often a matter of days. This makes  compliance both burdensome and time-consuming, particularly where the respondent holds assets around  the world in complex structures. 

The information provided must include (among other things) the value of the assets; their location;  and whether or not the assets are individually or jointly owned. In addition, within a further few days, the  information must be verified by a sworn affidavit from the respondent to the Court. The obligation to  provide the information is on-going and newly acquired assets must also be disclosed on a rolling basis.  There is very rarely sufficient time to apply to set aside a WWFO before the deadline for asset disclosure.  

It is therefore a draconian ex parte remedy which can put a defendant on the back foot before the litigation  has even commenced.  

WWFO’s typically also limit a defendant’s ability to spend funds on living expenses above a  specified amount and legal defense costs. 

Non-Compliance with a WWFO: failure to comply with a WWFO (including third parties, such  as banks, trustees and company directors, that are placed on notice of the terms of the WWFO) is a serious  offense. It may result in imprisonment, fines or asset seizures. If the disclosure provided by the respondent  is deficient, there are a number of steps that the applicant can take to further increase pressure on the  respondent: so called “sanction based litigation”.  

Contempt of Court – Imprisonment: when a respondent has failed properly to comply with its  obligations pursuant to a WWFO, it may be open to the applicant to issue contempt proceedings. These  can be brought on an urgent basis soon after a respondent has breached its obligations, the purpose being  to seek relief from the Court in an attempt to secure compliance with the order and to secure available  assets. Sanctions are severe. In recent years, for instance, there have been many instances of respondents  being given prison sentences of up to two years for breaches of WWFOs. Border authorities keep records  of parties in contempt of court, who are liable (if they are in transit through England) to be arrested and  immediately taken to court for sentencing and imprisonment. Every year, there are stories of unwary fraud  defendants who are imprisoned after they are caught in deliberate breach and they fail to escape the long  arm of the law. 

Debarring Orders: the Court is also increasingly issuing so-called “Debarring Orders” if it is  satisfied that the defendant has failed to comply with a WWFO. The plaintiff victim obtains an “unless  order”, which requires the respondent to properly comply with the WWFO, failing which the defendant  will be barred from defending the claim against it. While this can be seen as a draconian measure, the  English Courts have traditionally considered that the overriding interest of justice includes orders of the  court being respected and obeyed. 

Receivership Orders: the courts of some jurisdictions, including in particular BVI and Cayman,  can sometimes be persuaded to appoint provisional liquidators or receivers to preserve assets which are at  risk of dissipation.  

Third-Party Disclosure Orders: a plaintiff’s priority is invariably to position itself so that it can  recover the assets that were taken from it as quickly as possible. If a defendant complies fully with a  WWFO, the innocent party will learn not only the location of the defendant’s assets but will also know that  they are frozen by the WWFO. If, however, the defendant has been less than honest with its asset  disclosures, the innocent party must locate the fraudulent proceeds as a priority. This can be far from  straightforward, with potential fraudsters becoming increasingly sophisticated in hiding funds, often by  means of complex corporate structures spread across numerous offshore jurisdictions. 

In order to enable victims of frauds to trace the flow of funds from source to their current location,  the English Courts have developed a number of different forms of disclosure orders (“Disclosure Orders”),  which can be used to obtain information from third parties as to the whereabouts of the stolen assets. In  many cases, Disclosure Orders are obtained against trust/corporate service providers and banks that  the respondent is known to have accounts with. The trustees or banks can be required to provide the  applicant with banking records held in relation to the respondent, including (but not limited to) client  opening information, bank account statements and copies of checks. Critically, they can be ordered to 


provide the information in a very short time frame (usually a matter of days) and to provide it not just in  relation to the known bank accounts of the respondent but also in relation to any other account held by  that individual. The innocent third party can therefore effectively “trace” the flow of funds through various  accounts. 

Gagging Orders: when seeking Disclosure Orders is the innocent party can request a “gagging  order” from the Court. The gagging order prevents the disclosing party from “tipping off” the fraudster  (who is likely to be a valuable customer of the disclosing party) to the fact of the application or resulting  disclosure. This allows victims to stay ahead of a fraudster seeking to dissipate assets or avoid orders of the  English or offshore courts. It maximizes innocent parties’ prospects of locating both where funds have  flowed since the fraudulent scheme took place and where they presently are. 

Email Monitoring Orders: more recently, in addition to Disclosure Orders against banks and  trustees, the Courts have been willing to grant Disclosure Orders against Internet and email providers, such  as Yahoo. Such an order allows victims of fraud to secretly access and review electronic communications  in relation to a fraud that had been committed. This order was obtained in the JSC BTA Bank v.  Ablyazov litigation and had devastating consequences as it effectively granted the Court a private window  into the fraudster’s activities. This type of order is demonstrative of the extent to which courts are  increasingly prepared to help victims who are faced with a recalcitrant opponent which repeatedly ignores  the court’s orders. 

Passport Seizure: if an individual defendant is considered a flight risk, the Court is sometimes  prepared to order the respondent to hand over his/her passport to the applicant’s solicitors, preventing  him/her from fleeing the jurisdiction.  

Enforcement Abroad of WWFOs: to avoid abuse and the potential for conflicting orders from  multiple courts, it is generally the English court’s practice to require the plaintiff to seek specific permission  to enforce or recognize a WWFO abroad (or to apply for similar relief in another jurisdiction). In practice,  WWFOs are often given effect by service on banks or trust providers who have a presence in England or  offshore, or by the obtaining (with permission) of parallel freezing or attachment orders where banks and  providers have a presence.  

Search and Seize Orders: plaintiffs are in sufficiently serious and urgent cases able to seek Search  and Seize Orders from the English Court. Search orders are a form of mandatory injunction, which require  a defendant to allow the applicant’s representatives, under the supervision of an independent “supervising  solicitor” appointed by the court, to enter the defendant’s premises and to search for, copy, remove, and  detain documents, information, or material. The purpose of a search order is to allow applicants to preserve  evidence or property which is, or may be, the subject of an action. Under certain circumstances, search  orders can even be issued with regard to premises located abroad. Where search orders are considered  by the court to be too invasive, “doorstep” or “delivery up” orders have been issued, requiring the applicant  to hand over relevant documents at his/her doorstep or to the court respectively. 


Responding to WWFOs – Defense Strategies

Defendants who receive WWFOs need to move quickly. It is a rare case where a Defendant is able to get before the court and set aside a WWFO before having to give asset disclosure. Defendants are  therefore best advised to focus their resources on short term compliance with an order before turning  defense into attack by applying to set aside or vary the WWFO. 

  • Set aside applications: the most common ground to set aside a WWFO is where a plaintiff fails  to give “full and frank disclosure” at the ex parte stage, for example by failing to disclose material  points which operate in a defendant’s favour in relation to the claim or the alleged risk of dissipation  of assets, or where (even if proper disclosure was given) the court is not satisfied on the return  date, having heard from the defendant, that the claim is sufficiently strong or the risk of dissipation  so great as to justify the continuation of the order. 
  • Security payments: another common defense strategy is to require a plaintiff, particularly an  impecunious one or based overseas, to make a substantial payment into court or provide a bank  guarantee. Failure to make such a payment or guarantee by the mandated deadline results in the  automatic discharge of the WWFO, with a defendant then having a right to seek damages for losses  suffered as a result of the WWFO. In 2021, for example, we obtained an order for a defendant  client requiring an overseas plaintiff bank to provide GBP 10 million of cash security, which it  failed to do, resulting in the immediate discharge of the freezing order and the release of GBP  100m of London real estate assets which had previously been frozen.  
  • Variation applications: finally, defendants often apply to vary WWFOs to allow them to increase  their permitted weekly expenditure on living or legal expenses and to carve out certain assets from  the scope of the WWFO, particularly where a plaintiff is obviously “oversecured”. 


  1. JSC BTA Bank v Ablyazov [2015] UKSC 64; Vorotyntseva v Money-4 Ltd (T/A and others [2018]  EWHC 2596 (Ch). 
  2. JSC BTA Bank v Ablyazov [2015] UKSC 64. 
  3. Lakatamia Shipping Company Ltd v Nobu Su and others [2014] EWCA Civ 636.

Written by:

John B. Quinn

Nick Marsh (Partner, London)