A DURHAM-based property developer has agreed to hand over assets worth £850,000 to settle a civil recovery and tax claim. 

Ronald Morton was ordered by the National Crime Agency (NCA) to hand over property and land after his alleged involvement in drug trafficking, money laundering and tax evasion.

The order relates to four residential rental properties, a plot of land and the remaining proceeds of a house sale held in a bank account in his name.

The NCA’s case was that the property was obtained with the proceeds of Mr Morton’s unlawful conduct and was therefore recoverable property. 

The NCA alleged that Mr Morton was involved in the long-term supply of controlled drugs in the North East of England and that he had laundered the proceeds of his drug trafficking through the purchase, development and construction of the properties.

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The property portfolio had been amassed over almost two decades and was predominantly bought with cash payments.

During this period, the NCA alleged that Mr Morton spent over £2.1 million on the acquisition or development of 20 properties. At the time of the order, Morton held eight properties, five of which are subject to recovery.

In order to protect the properties from dissipation, the NCA obtained a Property Freezing Order in 2018 over Mr Morton’s properties.

This included a house that Mr Morton had built, that was being marketed for sale at £795,000. In December 2019, the NCA issued a claim for civil recovery in the High Court.

Following a settlement agreement between the NCA, Mr Morton and two other defendants who shared joint ownership of property with him, a civil recovery order was made by consent on 26 August 2021 and sealed by the High Court in London on 31 August 2021.

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Andy Lewis, Head of civil recovery at the NCA said: “The NCA will use all available tools at our disposal, including civil proceedings, to ensure those who benefit from criminal activity do not retain their illicitly financed assets.

"In this case, an alleged drug trafficker has lost property he thought was immune from law enforcement action. He was wrong.” 

Rachael Herbert, Head of Threat Response for Money Laundering at the National Economic Crime Centre said: “This case demonstrates the value of using civil litigation tools which do not depend  on a conviction to deny suspected criminals their illicitly-obtained wealth.

"The NECC works with the NCA, and all operational partners, to ensure that the wealth generated by those engaged in organised criminal activity is targeted by both criminal and civil financial powers”.

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